By: Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer
Each of us who serve in the fire service, especially those of us privileged to have a leadership position, wants to leave
a legacy. We want to feel that our time, energy, and contribution will have a lasting positive influence of the organization long after we hang up our helmet for the last time.
I think this is especially true for those of us who—in addition to holding an officer rank—also embraced our roles as a teacher, coach and mentor.
A couple of recent events in my former department, Chesterfield County (VA) Fire and EMS Department (CFEMS), have shown me that the next generation of leaders in the organization has arrived and is doing a great job. I’ve learned this through postings on Facebook by some of my former peers and colleagues who now serve in senior leadership roles in the department.
It’s now been seven years since I retired as Battalion and rode off into the sunset. (OK, Ohio, but it was the western frontier at one time!) In those posts and news accounts of incidents I see the names of many of those folks that served with me or whom I taught in our Officer Development Programs and Applied Leadership for Company Officers. I also see many posts on Facebook and LinkedIn showing recently earned promotions. And, yes, it feels good!
The success of my successors at CFEMS is attributable to several factors, among them being the organization’s commitment to officer development activities, beginning with the development of Officer Development Program Level I circa 1986. Even in the face of budget reductions in the late 1990’s, the department’s commitment did not waiver. Our Fire Chief at the time, Steve Elswick, made it very clear when he said, “We’re soon going to start retiring the leadership of our organization and if we don’t prepare the next generation of leaders now, then when? The money we would save in the short term is very small compared to what that impact would be if we don’t train our people.”
The Chief was not being hyperbolic with his comments, and I knew that because at the time I’d seen “the numbers.”
See, Chesterfield Fire Department hired its first career firefighters on October 1, 1969 and the bulk of the department’s staffing by 1998 had taken place in the years 1970-1989. Beginning in the early 2000’s, that first generation of Chesterfield firefighters would begin retiring and many of those 1st generation career firefighters had risen to officer positions with the organization.
So we “stayed the course” and made it through the tough fiscal times while still delivering the officer development programs that targeted both those seeking promotions as well as incumbent officers (Continuing education, if you will.) And when those retirements started happening (Including mine in 2007), the next generation of leaders was well on its way.