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‘Not mine, ours’: A practical New Year’s resolution for fire service leaders

Replacing the phrase “my department” with the more inclusive “our department” highlights teamwork and accountability


One simple word can make all the difference.

This content originally appeared in FireRescue1’s Fire Chief Leadership Briefing newsletter. Sign up here for the latest leadership insights.

As 2023 takes the forefront in a few days, New Year’s resolutions will become top of mind – and many will have a positive effect on our behavior. Some of us will concentrate on eating healthier, exercising regularly or attempting to get a consistent amount of quality sleep. Some may decide to move from operations to staff duty, or vice versa. Others may make a resolution to spend more time with family, especially if their children are growing up and soon may be away at college, or on their own.

But what about resolutions related to our work? Do the major issues affecting the fire service require us to be cognizant of changes in perspective as to how we lead and manage?

For example, most every department is looking for answers to how we can improve the recruitment and retention of personnel in the department or how we can better relate to an incoming generation who learn, communicate and process knowledge in a different way than more seasoned members. How can we retain some of the traditions we cherish while making cultural changes within the department that better fit the expectations of our newer firefighters?

My suggestion to this might seem over-simplified, but it could serve as a starting point, especially in helping our newer members feel included. How many of us, when talking about the fire department to the community we serve, refer to it as “my” department? Or when relating to members of the department, we talk about how things have changed since “my days as a rookie.”

One resolution that really shouldn’t be hard to implement: Change our perspective and refer to the department, not as “mine” but rather “ours.”

Saying “our department” – no matter how large or how small, no matter if addressing a group of 20-year veteran firefighters or the newest recruit class – immediately shows others that they are recognized as an integral part of any success the department has achieved as well as the failures the department has incurred.

“Our” also includes family – not only spouses and children but also friends, elected or appointed governing officials, and community organizations whose support allows us to have the ability to respond to the needs of those we protect. “Our” is all-inclusive without having the need to name every group or a particular supporter, and without the potential cost of omitting someone’s name.

“Our” can also have a supportive and even persuasive effect. For example, at times I’ve had both city managers and governing councils decide that the fire department budget, including EMS, needed to be cut because of “other” pressing municipal needs. Reminding those officials that the department was really “our” department – one to which they also had ownership and accountability as it related to public safety – swayed enough of these officials to drop the idea. “Our” is also a term that may help in labor negotiations, reminding all parties that the common good of the community is the responsibility of everyone on the department

“Our” is not a panacea, but it is a New Year’s resolution to consider. Let me know if you see this shift making a difference with your personnel or your community leadership.

Chief Robert R. Rielage, CFO, EFO, FIFireE, is the former Ohio fire marshal and has been a chief officer in several departments for more than 30 years. A graduate of the Kennedy School’s Program for Senior Executives in State and Local Government at Harvard University, Rielage holds a master’s degree in public administration from Norwich University and is a past-president of the Institution of Fire Engineers – USA Branch. He has served as a subject-matter expert, program coordinator and evaluator, and representative working with national-level organizations, such as FEMA, the USFA and the National Fire Academy. Rielage served as a committee member for NFPA 1250 and NFPA 1201. In 2019, he received the Ohio Fire Service Distinguished Service Award. Rielage is currently working on two books – “On Fire Service Leadership” and “A Practical Guide for Families Dealing with a Fire or Police LODD.” Connect with Rielage via email.