November 17, 2021 | View as webpage | Too many emails? Update Subscription Preferences


With so many competing priorities, it’s often hard to know where to direct our attention. 

In today’s newsletter, I offer four simple reminders to help you stay the course and lead your members on a path to success. We also zero in on recruitment and retention, with a focus on how best to prioritize our efforts. 

Finally, as we approach Thanksgiving, I’d like to extend a heartfelt thank you to everyone in the FireRescue1 and Fire Chief community for your service.  

Stay smart, keep safe and take care.  

— Chief Marc Bashoor  
Executive Editor, Fire Chief, FireRescue1 


Stay on target: 4 critical components of fire service leadership
By Chief Marc Bashoor 

Leadership comes in many forms, fashions, readings, writings, actions, reactions and educational opportunities. Our challenge really should be to get ourselves, those who follow us and our organizations to the right place at the right time.

It’s not rocket science; heck, even rocket scientists know they want the rocket to go from point A to point B. However, in the fire service, our paths and destinations are less defined but still riddled with perilous opportunities for failure.

It’s vital that fire chiefs focus on four critical components to keep moving forward, in the right direction, all for the greater good of the department and the community.

Follow the path of successful leaders

These four guide posts can help chiefs earn the respect of their members, connect with fellow leaders and serve the community to the best of their abilities.

1. Do as I say AND as I do! Unfiltered and spontaneous demonstration is the simplest and most sincere leadership trait. This is the “I’ll never ask someone to do something I wouldn’t do” approach. Are you participating in physical training with your firefighters? None of us should be naïve enough to think I’m suggesting that’s an everyday affair – you’ve certainly got to spread yourself around. However, physical standards and expectations of fitness shouldn’t just be “for the troops.” Whether it’s exercise, operational training, timeliness of feedback, on- and off-duty moral behavior, wearing your seatbelt, observing traffic control devices, or just general professional behavior, it is critical for chiefs to demonstrate the actions they expect those working for them to project.

2. What do you think? How often are you asking others’ opinions or simply soliciting their feedback? Again, there is no expectation on my part that this is constant action; however, there should be a regular and open opportunity for give and take or Q&A with the chief. Pick the mechanism that works for you – email, online polls, face-to-face planning sessions, station visits, newsletter solicitations, community events, “listening sessions.” Whatever it is, having a regular opportunity for interaction, connection, feedback and simply allowing other to be heard will go miles toward building your leadership system. You likely often hear someone say, “I have an open-door policy.” And yes, that’s part of the discussion. But I remind you, and have counseled others in my time, that even though you have an open-door policy, you still have a door and it’s important that you use it from time to time!

3. A politician, a fire chief and a leader walk into a bar … The punchline: They’re all the same person. You can espouse whatever style of leadership you choose – the beauty of living with the 1st Amendment to the Constitution. As such, keep these points in mind. First, I previously underscored that as a fire chief, you ARE a politician, whether you like it or not. Second, remember, the right to choose your leadership style does not excuse you from the potential consequences of that choice, so choose wisely! The first step in a successful fire chief role is to learn your political process (e.g., what it takes to get projects lined, who actually runs what), then determine what makes these three things tick: your department, your community AND your politicians. As you’re honing your politician-esque role, you’re honing your leadership capabilities – whether you realize it or not.

4. Lead, follow or get out of the way. Whether you’re delivering a program, attending a training session, working the floor at a convention (or working a ZOOM call), speaking to the media, listening to the troops, developing a safety culture, building a fitness program, speaking at a community meeting, attending a regional chiefs meeting or simply sitting behind your desk, your people expect YOU to be the leader. “Lead, follow or get out of the way” doesn’t mean that you always have to be the one in front of the camera or the only person in charge at a scene, or even the only person who can come up with an idea. “Lead, follow or get out of the way” means that you need to be ready to do any or all of those things at any given time. The bigger challenge is demonstrating the capacity to lead from the front, the rear, on top, underneath or from afar – whenever and wherever the opportunity occurs.

Let the personal tetrahedron be your guide

It takes physical strength, mental toughness and moral focus to succeed in this business. The job of fire chief is certainly not for the faint of heart. Our mission – the base of our personal tetrahedron – requires each of the other sides of your character and capabilities to produce successful outcomes. And your personal exercise side of the tetrahedron will be necessary to navigate the challenging environments you will face over time. Take the time to build your tetrahedron, demonstrate your capacity to lead, ask questions, listen, massage the political environment and then, ultimately, to leader, follow or get out of the way – there are things we need to get done!

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Doing more with less: Tips for agencies facing staffing shortages

By Jason Klink

Several reasons account for the declining number of fire service personnel joining our ranks, ultimately leading to our current staffing crisis:

  • The global environment over the last two years has decimated the ranks of many public safety agencies.
  • Long hours, stagnant salaries, and exposure to the most difficult scenes the brain can conceive have made a career in public safety less desirable.
  • The baby boomers have hit retirement age and are walking out the door with many years of experience.
  • Many Gen Xers have taken advantage of early retirement or positions that better suit their family lives.
  • Millennials have weighed the option of a 30- or 40-year career in public safety versus a career in the private sector that offers more money and better work-life balance – and public safety is losing.
  • Generation Z is expected not to give much consideration to a career in public safety due to the draw of working in the high-tech industry.

Workforce management has clearly taken on a whole new form and will continue to evolve over the next 5 to 10 years. This leaves a conundrum for public safety leaders as to how to keep their departments staffed while continuing daily operations. It comes down to recruitment and retention.

Retention: If you are a leader of a department and not putting most of your staffing efforts toward member retention, you are moving the department toward a perpetual staffing crisis. The answer to managing short-staff shifts should not be more overtime. Multiple hours of overtime or forced overtime are a quick way to burnout the members who are still dedicated to the department. Allowing personnel with 10 to 15 years of experience to leave the department without a strong effort to retain their service is an injustice to the entire agency. Retention of staff needs to be a top priority of the senior leadership of the department.

Recruitment: The recruitment of new candidates for your agency should contain new initiatives that catch the interest of those who may be seeking employment in the high-paying tech field. This means, however, that recruitment may come with a heavier price tag than in decades past. Offering a new candidate a $55,000/year salary with only a promise of health benefits and possibly a retirement benefit sometime in their 60s isn’t that attractive to a candidate in their mid-20s. Not to mention a $55,000 per year salary is borderline poverty level in some areas of the country.

Department leaders are facing a delicate balancing act, attempting to fund a recruitment effort while increasing salaries on government budgets that are often restricted. The old saying “pay me now or pay me later” is very applicable. You can either find the ability to pay higher salaries now to attract new candidates or pay the price of being short-staffed later, furthering the problem of reduced services to your community.

For volunteer departments specifically, despite many agencies’ ranks being decimated over the past 10 years, many departments have failed to recognize the need to adopt recruitment and retention efforts so that they can continue serving their communities. Many volunteer departments are relying too heavily on aid from neighboring departments to provide a continuation of service. If volunteer department leaders continue to rely on operational models of the 1950s, their departments will continue to struggle to survive. This approach leads to increased property damage, increased risk of injury or death to personnel, and overall liability to the department. A risk analysis should be completed that weighs the current staffing situation against any new staffing initiatives; that requires increased funding; but does not negatively impact the continuation of services. Any proposed solutions could be a heavy lift for many volunteer departments across the country.

So, how do public safety agencies do more with less? Here are three approaches to consider hand in hand with increased recruitment and retention efforts:

  1. Public safety agencies should consider consolidation or regionalization of services to combat short staffing situations. Consolidation and regionalization efforts have created success stories for many public safety agencies across the county, achieving budget savings not yet calculated within current staffing models.
  2. Outsourcing of services is not an operational model readily adopted by many public safety agencies. In many cases, outsourcing of public safety operations would be a difficult achievement but could make a positive logistical impact by lowering the liability of staffing shortages while guaranteeing the same or better service to the community. Outsourcing certain operational activities could ultimately create budget savings that can be redirected to improve staffing numbers for essential services.
  3. Lastly, you may need to involve a third-party expert who can examine your workforce management strategies. Some of new ideas could be difficult to accept on face value but will help reduce liability to the department in the long term.

Take the time to research and evaluate all viable options that would best suit your department. As a department leader, you have the responsibility to your staff and, most importantly, your community to have optimal staffing procedures in place that meet the current standards of the industry.

About the Author

Jason Klink is a former first responder with more than 25 years of industry service. He began with the fire service before also working in a 911 communications center. He ultimately reached the positions of fire chief and dispatch supervisor.



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3. Nominate a leader for CFSI awards: The Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI) is accepting applications for its four national awards that spotlight outstanding leadership in fire and life safety. Learn more and nominate a fire service leader here.

2. Download the updated Yellow Ribbon Report: The IAFC’s Volunteer and Combination Officers Section (VCOS) has released an update to its Yellow Ribbon Report, “Best Practices in Behavioral Wellness for Emergency Responders.” The updated draft includes a new set of 11 best practices, an emotional tactical worksheet, survey results on behavioral wellness, and key resources. Share this resource with your members.

1. Make #GivingTuesday a #FireHeroTuesday: Nov. 30 is #GivingTuesday – a day to give back and support causes important to you. The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation encourages you to consider supporting the families of firefighters who have given their lives in service to their communities. Learn more about how to give back.
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