A week in the life of a deputy chief
The week starts with motivation, weaves through myriad activities, and concludes with a restorative weekend – and possibly some duty officer work
A day in the life of a deputy chief of a metropolitan-sized department is nothing comparable to what I believed it was like when I was a much younger firefighter 30 years ago. The days of just relaxing at the office NEVER happen. Ever. Even the elusive “holiday routine” that we enjoyed at the fire station or “the boss is off” mindset are very rare.
Every single day is different, making it difficult to explain just how busy it really is – but I’ll try. Following is a brief description of a normal week for me as deputy fire chief of Support Services within my agency, the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department, based on one particular “week in the life.”
Starting the day with motivation
Many years ago, I read an article stating that many CEOs and top-level executives get their day started well before the break of dawn. Although I would like to be, I am no exception to this approach. I honestly cannot recall the last time I used an alarm clock to wake up.
My day usually starts somewhere between 4 a.m. and 4:30 a.m. Sleeping in late for me is no later than 5:15 a.m. I never acquired the taste for coffee, but fortunately, I typically wake up well-rested and at 100%.
I read, watch or listen to some type of motivational media almost every day. My favorite speaker is Les Brown. Getting into the right mindset is essential to a productive day. My thought is that as problems or issues arise throughout the day, one should aggressively address them and not allow them to fester and become bigger problems or issues. My morning motivation puts me in a place to expect the unexpected and expect to successfully traverse over, around or through whatever issues arise.
Office time is connection time
With the introduction of COVID-prompted teleworking or more relaxed work schedules for some employees, many leaders have chosen to ease back into their office work schedules as well. I am all in favor of work-life-balance, but the reality is that I still enjoy being in the office and visiting each section within my division of labor. This offers me a chance to catch up with the team and even meet new members of the division. As such, I make it my business to be in the office Monday through Friday.
My arrival time at the office varies from day to day, but typically lands somewhere between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. Headquarters is always quiet before 8 a.m., so I use this time to edit plans or agendas for the day, punchout any important documents or emails, finalize meeting schedules, or complete document reviews.
Each day of the week brings its own challenge, and I use the early morning hours to preemptively develop strategies or plans that will mitigate them. Thinking back on my old paramedic school days and the Wenckebach analogy, my weekdays are consistently inconsistent.
Mondays: Catch-up days
Mondays are usually filled with several prescheduled or standing meetings. This day always feels like the “catchup day” and serve as an opportunity to set the pace for the new week ahead.
Many professionals cry about the Monday morning blues. I actually enjoy and embrace Mondays. I once heard someone say, “Find something fun to do and call it work ….” So my Mondays start with a big, “Let’s get to WORK!” Note: This energized attitude is only possible and directly influenced by me taking advantage of a recharging weekend.
My slate of meetings for this Monday was not too bad. I attended our weekly Deputy Chiefs Meeting, making plenty of notes to give to my team, and held my weekly Support Services Leadership Team meeting.
At the end of each meeting, I try to leave the team with a “leadership nugget.” These nuggets usually come from something that have seen, read, heard or had a conversation about during the previous days. Today’s nugget was from an article by Marlene Chism, 3 Behaviors that Diminish Teamwork, identifying mismanagement, lack of initiative and allowing power of attorney as those behaviors. The team and I briefly discussed these behaviors and how they could negatively impact us and ultimately our organization.
Shortly after the meeting, I buffed a working fire on the radio while editing a new standard operating procedure (SOP).
The day ended with me working to gather documents for two of my professional re-designations and preparing for performance evaluations.
Tuesdays: Overflow days
Tuesdays are my overflow days. I use these days to land meetings that were not possible during the previous week or not possible on the busy Mondays.
I anticipate Tuesdays to be long days that may involve late-afternoon phone calls or other fire department-sponsored events, such as evening recruit graduations and city council meetings. Today’s popup meeting involved a collaboration with one of the local universities to assist us with a new and refreshed recruiting video. We are looking for a top-shelf video to represent our profession, so why not reach out to a top-shelf university’s film and media director? Both groups are excited about the possible end-product.
On this Tuesday, I also found myself mediating a disagreement. It can be a challenge to have super-sharp Type A personalities working together and toward the same goals.
All is quiet now, and this old engine is purring.
Wednesdays: Station visits with a dose of ‘anything is possible’
Wednesdays are mild but seem to always get filled with external meeting requests from other agencies, departments, vendors, training, etc.
I try to use Wednesdays as days to visit stations, catch lunch with a coworker, or visit our newest members in our training academy. Popup meetings are a real possibility for this day, but none came on this particular Wednesday.
I visited three stations today and found that at one of my old stations, I did not know anyone. I may have heard the name or seen it on some paperwork, but didn’t personally know anyone (not even the captain or lieutenant).
One of the recruits reported an injury earlier in the week, so the day ended with me reviewing the documentation of the injury and having a conversation with training staff to determine if there is anything that we can do differently to prevent such injuries in the future.
Thursdays: Bringing on new members
Currently staffed by approximately 1,100 members, the department is pushing hard to train more new hires – and this makes Thursdays quite busy.
At the time of this writing, we have approximately 130 fire recruits (five classes) in various stages of training at our training academy. We onboard six to 15 new hires, for the most part, every other Thursday. On this Thursday, we brought on 13 hires, and I had our human resources manager come in to chat with them about the need-to-do’s for all of their paperwork.
I have made it a point to spend as much time as possible to engage our new personnel in real conversations about the profession, expectations and personal demands they will likely encounter as they navigate our industry. I work to encourage them to lead at every level and to not be afraid to provide feedback, suggest a policy, develop new strategies and tactics, and so on. Many members within our ranks are amazingly talented individuals. We as organizational leaders must allow these people, within reason, to unbridle their talents to build a better fire and EMS industry.
Today ended with me visiting an apartment complex to find out why they were unable to have someone test a “special hydrant.” This is totally not my job, but somehow, they called me and it was on the way home. It turns out that it was a regular hydrant, but they simply didn’t have the appropriate wrench. I got them in contact with our city’s water department and resolved the issue.
Fridays: Ideally meant for winddowns
Fridays are meant to be a winddown day, but this week’s started off anything but clam as we hit another deadline for some mandatory online HR training.
Many of my members are recruits. This presented a small problem because the new building where they work does not have building-wide internet yet. My chief of training and other managers did an outstanding job getting everyone’s training completed by the deadline.
Late afternoon, I received a call mentioning that the students who are in the car-seat training program will be participating in a big event on Saturday. I committed that I would attend and support the team as they ensured families across Atlanta had safe and properly secured car seats in their vehicles.
Weekend time: Rest and recharge – with some work, too
Saturday started off with a bang as the newly car seat-certified recruits showed their skills during a successful event. Great attitudes doing something fun and calling it work.
Sunday was quiet for the most part. There were a couple of working fires, but nothing too serious.
As an executive officer, it was my turn to serve as the duty officer today, so if there are any major incidents or organizational needs, I am responsible for representing the department at the highest level. The duty officer position will attend retired members’ funerals, staff the Joint Operations Center (JOC) if needed, handle news media with the public information officer (PIO), go to hospitals when members are injured on incidents, as well as make phone calls to provide information to the fire chief of issues as needed. Each duty officer produces a report of the day’s events so that all executive chiefs can stay abreast of the daily situations and circumstances.
Now it is time to get recharged for Monday. Let’s do this!