Musings of a 1st Year EFOP Student

Note from Chief Avsec:  Previously I wrote about what the Executive Fire Officer Program meant to me and my career development, but I graduated from the program in 2001 (Yikes, has it been that long?)  So I thought it would be interesting to get a “fresh perspective” from someone who’s just started their four-year journey to become an Executive Fire Officer Program graduate.

By:  Chief Susanna Schmitt Williams

I was asked by Chief Avsec to reflect on what I learned in completing my first applied research project (ARP) for the

Susanna Schmitt Williams, Division Chief of Training & Standards, Jacksonville (NC) Fire Department

Susanna Schmitt Williams, Division Chief of Training & Standards, Jacksonville (NC) Fire Department

Executive Development course of the Executive Fire Officer Program (EFOP) at the National Fire Academy (NFA). I don’t know that I can limit my learning experiences to just the ARP as it is so closely linked to my experiences at the Fire Academy as part of the EFOP. Over the course of the past year I have learned a lot about myself: both personally and professionally.

Learn to say “No” 

I am a geek, nerd, academically gifted, call it what you will, and my EFOP experiences have re-confirmed that for me. (As if I really needed this program to do that for me.) I have always gravitated towards learning experiences, especially experiences that challenge me. EFOP was no exception. What was the exception this time in my geekiness that has blatantly come to light the past year – I inserted myself in too many of these challenging experiences at one time causing added stress.

Not only did I embark on my first year EFOP, I also applied and was accepted into Cohort #2 –Class of 2014 – of the Fire Service Executive Development Institute. (Exemplo Ducemus!) See my previous blog on the FSEDI program. For the last year I have been balancing projects for both EFOP and FSEDI in addition to added assignments at work above and beyond my assigned duties. Add to the aforementioned items: I am one of the coordinators for our NC FireHouse Software Regional Seminar, co-chair of the NC Accreditation Support Consortium, an instructor at our regional Fire Academy, a team manager for my son’s lacrosse team, the Pinewood Derby Chair for our local Cub Scout Pack, a mother of two young boys, and a wife. Personally and professionally I need to learn to say “NO”.

Don’t Procrastinate

Procrastination PhotoWhen it comes to writing papers I am a procrastinator. I always have been and probably always will be. (My mom and dad will confirm this). My mom remarked after I called her with my score of 3.7 on my first ARP, “I don’t know how you always do it. You wait until the last minute and get high grades. All through school you did that. Your siblings would work on projects from the time assigned until due and still not get as high a grade as you.”

I really didn’t mean to procrastinate with the ARP. I finished the first class, Executive Development, came home all excited, ready to embark on the ARP, and I didn’t. Do you know how much stress I added to myself finishing writing well into the night the day before it was due?

One of my above and beyond assigned projects at work is I have been tasked with developing our strategic plan. My due date from my supervisor is June and, yes, I have been diligently working on writing the strategic plan. It is in progress as we speak. Just like I have started and am almost finished with the pre-course work for the Community Risk Reduction, Year 2 of EFOP.

Read between the lines.  I still haven’t learned. I really need to be more diligent about setting small goals and making sure I meet them.

The Scoring Rubric Proved to be Very Valuable

One of the resources provided to us during Executive Development was the scoring rubric utilized by the assessors

Scoring Rubric, not Rubik's Cube!

Scoring Rubric, not Rubik’s Cube!

who would score our applied research projects. To tell the truth, I forgot about it until I was about half way through the paper and going over some of my notes from the course.

I stumbled upon it in my binder, and I am so glad I did. I went through my paper with a “fine tooth comb” making sure I hit all the benchmarks identified in the rubric. Not only was it a valuable resource to be able to pinpoint specific pieces I had missed, but it gave me an outline for how to structure the paper.

My suggestion to others would be to follow the scoring rubric to a “T”. When my scored paper was returned to me, I could clearly see where my assessor had followed the rubric. There were slash marks on my pages as I met (and the ones I missed) of each identified benchmarks in the scoring rubric. The things I missed were clearly obvious to me—after the assessor got a hold of my paper of course.

I Owe My Family (Big time!)

Not the author's family, but a representative "happy family"!

Not the author’s family, but a representative “happy family”!

My final take away, or lesson learned, would be that more and more I see how the love and support of my family has allowed for my successes, not only with the Executive Fire Officer Program but every other one of my personal and professional achievements.   I was away at the National Fire Academy for two weeks. My family accepted this and assisted where they could. They never complain while I am away at any professional development or while at home completing research papers, articles, or participating in group discussions. I have dragged my family to conventions and to other states when I interviewed as a finalist for a Fire Chief position.

So, my final lesson learned is dedicated to my family.

I love you and thank you:

  • My mom and dad, Johanna and William Schmitt, for the free grandparent childcare / summer camp services. And for introducing my children to the nostalgic pastime of hailing the ice cream truck in Philly.
  • My sister, Johanna Kreibick, for the free aunt childcare services and never ending arsenal of things to do with children: her three plus my two. Yes, people did think all five were yours.
  • My husband, Clint Williams, for being a loving, supportive husband, and at times Mr. Mom, molly maid, and head chef. (You’re really good at those things feel free to continue all the time!)
  • My boys, Caleb and Charlie, for just being you. Don’t ever change.

My family’s love and support has granted me the successes in my life and it would take me multiple lifetimes to repay.   None of us are successful on our own. It is the support from friends and family around us that provides for the successes. Don’t forget to take the time to thank yours! But don’t tell my family I told you this—they might try to “cash in” big time.


About Susanna Schmitt Williams

Susanna Schmitt Williams is the Fire Chief for the Carrboro Fire-Rescue Department in Carrboro, North Carolina. She has 17 years of experience in the fire service having served as Firefighter, Master Firefighter, Driver Operator/Firefighter, Administrative Captain, Volunteer Program Coordinator, and Division Chief. Chief Williams holds many fire service certifications, has earned two Bachelor degrees and a Master's Degree in Public Administration (concentration in Fire Service Administration). She is currently enrolled in the Executive Fire Officer Program at the National Fire Academy and is working on her CTO credentialing. Chief Williams is also an instructor for the annual FireHouse Software Education Training Seminar and coordinates a regional seminar held annually in Wilmington, NC.