Note from Chief Avsec: It gives me great pleasure to once again introduce Chief Susanna Schmitt Williams as my latest Guest Blogger in this space. Her first contribution, The Influence of Training, was a “big hit” with our readers (Check it out if you missed it the first time).
By: Chief Susanna Schmitt Williams
Early this year, 2014, while looking around the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) website I stumbled across a program, the Fire
Service Executive Development Institute (FSEDI) sponsored by Motorola Solutions Foundation. This year long program was seeking applicants for its second cohort to begin in May 2014.
The program on the IAFC website touts itself as, “open to new and aspiring fire chiefs who have demonstrated commitment to career advancement.” I was a little over a year at having completed graduate school and waiting to hear of acceptance into the Executive Fire Officer Program at the National Fire Academy.
Being an avid learner and lover of education, I decided to apply for FSEDI and was accepted. Being such a new program, my research didn’t produce much about the program. Being offered by the IAFC, however, I had faith it would be a solid program, but it has truly far exceeded my expectations.
With my acceptance into the program, I joined a cohort of 21 other members who are newly appointed fire chiefs and aspiring fire chiefs from around the nation. Before our first session in May, retired Fire Chief Mary Beth Michos, the coordinator for FSEDI, sent out biographies of each cohort member. As I read through the other 21 biographies, I was “floored”, awed, daunted, and honored.
Impressive is an understatement for the biographies. I fumble to find the right word to describe the group of individuals I was reading about: remarkable, inspiring, extraordinary, amazing…
As I read through the biographies, I saw that I and my cohorts participate in a wide variety of fire service areas in addition to duties assigned as chief officers. Many had completed, or were in the process of completing, the EFOP; all had bachelor degrees and most had graduate degrees; and many were published authors or adjunct instructors at colleges and universities.
They were members of IAFC committees, representatives on national committees, consultants to other departments, executive committee members for iWomen (International Association of Women in Fire & Emergency Services), national and state level presenters, and possessed a plethora of designations and certifications. We also participated in high level executive committees, serve as board members in the non-profit sector, and coach youth sports teams. It is a group of high achieving, Type-A personalities. It was a cohort ready to undertake in this program what we have since coined as “finishing school” for fire chiefs.
It was interesting come the first day of the first session at the National Conference Center outside of Leesburg, Virginia (aka, the “concrete maze”). During introductions, some were brave enough to admit feeling intimidated after reading the biographies; I was glad to know I was not the only one. As we spent the first week getting to know each other during full day and evening sessions, we each realized we all belonged there. That intimidation we felt, while natural I suppose with such a high performing group, was unfounded. We each belonged and brought value to the program and to the fire service as a whole in our own individual way.
Since our first session in May, we have met twice more: once during FRI (Fire Rescue International) in August, and again in October at the National Conference Center. Our final formal session will be April 2015. I can truly say the FSEDI program has prepared me like nothing else has to feel adequately prepared to step into the role of Fire Chief.
Our presenters have been, as the IAFC website explains, experts from the fire and emergency services field, the private sector, and elected public officials delivering on topics such as:
- Leadership in the new era;
- Emerging concepts in fire and emergency service organizational design and delivery;
- Effective use of science and data;
- Budgeting and financial management;
- Labor–management relations;
- Successful recruiting/hiring processes; and
- Coaching on how to be a successful candidate in a fire chief process.
We have had access to mentors and executive coaches since beginning the program and five members of our cohort have already successfully
obtained fire chief positions. Many of the cohort have been finalists in fire chief selection processes.
We are now a tight-knit group of brothers and sisters that supports each other at a level I have not had in my time as a chief officer in the fire service. From across the country we have helped each other as we have faced sometimes overwhelming situations: family issues, new fire chief positions cross country, participation in fire chief selection processes, and just our day to day lives as chief officers. For example, on the recent Ebola situation, two of our chief officers work for departments that were directly involved: Dallas, Texas and Omaha, Nebraska.
As we embarked on fire chief selection processes, we have shared in the celebrations and sympathized in the “almost” celebrations. There is a level of honesty and frankness in this cohort and a support network that makes me wonder how I survived before having it. We continuously strive to build each other up to be the best we can be. I know in my heart these relationships will continue long after we have graduated from the program.
Our final session in April will include continued presentations by experts in the fire and emergency service field and additionally, presentations by our cohort members. Successful completion of the program includes two requirements of cohort members during our final formal session:
- Develop and implement a program/policy for the betterment of the fire service and our individual departments; and
- Presentation to a “mock” panel of municipal management and elected officials on an assigned topic.
We are ushering in a new era for fire and emergency services in service delivery and this will require an overhaul of our thinking processes, leadership styles, and expectations of fire service leaders. I can say it has been exhilarating to be a part of FSEDI Cohort #2. To be instructed by experts in the fire service who are helping to usher in this new era and ultimately as a cohort member to be a part of the leadership taking the fire service to the next level.
In the words of the Fire Service Executive Development Institute, cohort #2, Class of 2014:
(Leads by example)