Courtesy of Dennis Rubin
Editor of FireRube.com and Former Fire Chief

Being chosen fire chief is an emotional thing. You feel tremendous pride for the achievement, but that slowly fades into an overwhelming sense of responsibility. The City of Dothan, Alabama announced me as its fire chief Jan. 2, 1996. I was tasked with overseeing the departments 144 members. Later in my career, I was named Chief in Washington D.C. where I commanded a staff of more than 2,000 employees and managed an annual budget of more than $180 million.

This article takes a quick look at 12 key traits needed as a commanding officer. These rules can be studied in greater detail in my new book, Rubes Rules for Leadership. Those preparing for higher levels within the fire service despite rank or position can benefit from these recommendations:

Be Nosy: Upon arrival, develop a list of critical items and issues that must be addressed to improve efficiency and success. It is essential to continuously follow up on the various system checks and confirmations to help ensure nothing goes wrong.

Be A Good Communicator: Good communication during situations, emergencies or non- emergencies, is vital as a commanding officer. An introductory presentation should be conducted to state organizational goals, objectives, personal philosophy and rules on how the department will be run.

Be Patient: Its valuable to understand that not everyone within the department mirrors the pace of a proven fire chief. Everyone within the system is willing to make contributions to the overall goals of the department in their own way and at their own pace, no drastic change happens overnight.

Be Prepared: Since 1971, education requirements as a career firefighter have shifted, from possible completion of high school to a top job requiring a bachelors degree or higher. Through continuing training and education, a fire chief must always be prepared for whatever comes their way.

Be Honest, Direct and Clear: Maintaining public trust is the most critical and crucial task as a government official. The truth is not always pleasant but its a chiefs duty to be honest.

Learn New Systems: Immerse yourself in new systems to help improve your departments work agency. There are few members who just know how to make most systems work properly; quickly learn who these people are and distribute information and tasks accordingly.

Role-Model Behaviors: As a commanding officer, every muscle moved and action taken is being observed by your department. The best test to apply to your every day actions is the Momma Test. Ask yourself, what would your mother say about your behavior?

Be A Lifelong Learner: The firefighting career requires a brief period of intensive training that only begins the need for continuous education. There is an ongoing need to stay current with the changing environment that exists all around us; therefore, we must continue our learning and growth within the community.

Community Involvement: Fire chiefs are greatly appreciated within any community and therefore should involve themselves. Many opportunities can be found among various groups seeking information about fire and accident prevention.

Departmental Involvement: It is critically important that you are involved in all aspects of your departments activities. Maintaining involvement with stations through informational visits will help to improve overall department success.

Develop Members: Fire-rescue officers have a huge responsibility to develop their members abilities and maintain compliance. A lot of departments are choosing to decrease costs and use online and other computer-based training programs, which is smart. In order to build the most successful training system, consider all delivery methods.

Network: In order to have the best input on planning and decision making a chief should be effective at networking. A chief that stays connected within the department, community, region and industry so they are well equipped with the widest network to attain the best insight possible.

For more on Rubes Rules for Leadership, please check online at www.firerube.com.

About the Author
Dennis Rubin is the former chief of the District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department. Chief Rubin graduated with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Fire Administration from the University of Maryland. He is the author of a book entitled “Rube’s Rules for Leadership” and is a long-standing contributing editor for FIREHOUSE magazine. Rubin can be followed on twitter @chiefrubin.