So You’re Not the Fire Chief

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John M. Buckman III

Submitted Fire Engineering 02/18/19

This time of year many volunteer staffed fire departments select the fire chief for the next year or two years. Elections can create turmoil within the organization because there is always a winner and a loser. If you are currently the fire chief who stood for election and was not successful in maintaining your position here are some tips to make your life better. The selection process is accomplished in a variety of ways.The process can include elections by popularity; elections based upon a set of professional credentials – still an election; appointment by a board or other elected officials and others.Whatever process is being used there can be a winner and loser in any kind of contested event.What the loser does and how they react is a key to long term satisfaction.It is never a pleasant experience to be rejected for whatever reason by whomever.Most fire chiefs put their heart, soul and existence into being an effective fire chief.Being a fire chief is not a popularity contest and that is one way an individual can be unelected. Fire Chiefs have to make personnel decisions and enforce policies – that is your job. Discipline is not a negative word. Discipline is about expectations. Fire Chiefs need to set clear performance expectations, communicate those expectations continuously and enforce those expectations. Discipline is about training and holding individuals accountable for their performance or lack thereof.Here are some suggestions for those persons who have been unelected for whatever reason.Hold your head up and be proud of your accomplishments. The fact that you are no longer in the position does not detract from all of the good you did or projects you implemented.Remember – you are not in charge – your opinion does matter but not in the same way when you were in the position. You can still influence the department and the membership but you must do it in a more diplomatic way.First there is life after being fired. Yes, I said fired because you will feel just like you have been fired. You may find that you can now engage in activities you have neglected for so long. Because of your commitment as a fire chief you weren’t able to do pay attention to those activities. What is you like to do? Now is the time get those golf clubs out dust them off. Spend extra time with your spouse. Reconnect with your kids. Connect with your grandchildren. Go hunting. Go fishing. Clean out the basement. Do some yard work. There are lots of things you might consider an enjoyable If you’re feeling anxious or have anxiety about not being fire chief it is normal. Actually it could be diagnosed as Abandonment disorder. The fear of abandonment often goes hand-in-hand with being unelected or fired. Being unelected or fired can create depression. Depression is not something to ignore. Anxiety can be another symptom. If you worry about people leaving you or rejecting you all the time, your relationships and mental health will suffer as a result. We all experience anxiety. However, when feelings of intense fear and distress become overwhelming and prevent us from doing everyday activities, you may have crossed the line and your mental wellness is threatened. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental diagnose. All anxiety disorders have one thing in common: persistent, excessive fear or worry in situations that are not threatening. Your attitude will determine your success. The new Fire Chief needs your support. If you are truly committed to the success of the organization you will remain positive. It is HARD. Your feelings are bruised. You will want some kind of revenge. BUT none of those negative will actually make you feel better in the long term. Yes, it might feel good at the time but your conscious will continually remind you that what you might have done was inappropriate. Attitude is a way of looking at the issues in front of you. Being positive in this kind of situation will require a tremendous amount of personal effort. Positive attitude is a conscious decision and learned behavior. Your mental attitude is very important. You will have to make a positive mental attitude to everything you do at the fire department. Remember when you joined? It was all about making the responses and helping Mrs. Smith with her emergency situation. How you react will also impact your integrity. Your actions today after the unsuccessful election must be similar to your actions when you were the Fire Chief. The loss of integrity if you behave in a different manner will be extensive and may not be recoverable. Starting rumors and gossiping about members is not an appropriate action. Words are very powerful. Choose your words carefully. Conduct yourself always in a professional manner. Be kind to others. Don’t insult the new Fire Chief or put them down. Harassment and bullying are totally unacceptable behavior. Don’t become insubordinate. Watch that you don’t advocate for any of the above behaviors with other members.Turn any negative energy into positive actions. Continue to work for the improvement of the fire department and the firefighters. Do your best under trying circumstances. This will take some of the pressure off and for many other members they might be surprised that you continue to work so hard for the fire department. You will have to overcome significant personal challenge to be successful in continuing to be involved in the fire department.You should have confidence in yourself and in others ability to be successful without you being in the official leadership position. After all, did you not prepare them to lead without you? When you accept that your path changes and learn how to talk about your challenges, you will recover faster and become more effective as a person with informal power not as a person with formal power.Rivals act as an extreme, external motivator that helps us go deeper to find our best and worst qualities. We can find our inner truth when exposed to these external motivators. How hard are you willing to work on overcoming these negative emotions.  How skilled are you?  How well did you prepare for the day?  What stops you from displaying your best self?  What does it feel like when your best self shows up? Be mindful of your reactions, but do not judge them.  Observe your behaviors and take note. Noting your reactions to outside inputs will give you the important questions needed for improvement. Time after time I see over-confidence and personal pride destroy the potential of a leader.  Your ideas are only valuable if they are good enough to be adopted by your firefighters.  If your opinions are rejected, let them go.We need mentors in our life that can be honest and challenge us with powerful questions. These questions drill down into our core and uncover the deeper motivation we need for world-class success.