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Leadership Development

Updated: Nov 25, 2021

Creating a Foundation for a Sustainable Future in the Volunteer Fire and EMS Service

What we know is that we are losing membership and having funding challenges. But what is really behind these negative trends? That’s not an easy question to answer because there are many reasons behind it. In this series, we are taking a stab at some of the more prevalent issues resulting in our member and financial downturns.

We need to take bold action and make a significant change if we want the volunteer fire service to be around for decades to come.

Part III - Leadership Development

When we think of leadership in the fire service we often think of that person in the front seat. Their ability to size up an incident and employ proper tactics is essential to a positive incident outcome. Never can we diminish the importance of a strong officer in the front seat. However, we often fail to apply this same standard to our leadership in our organization when it doesn’t involve an emergency incident.

Leadership is your organization’s everything. The leaders develop and nurture your organizational culture and your members. Leadership is your make-or-break. Leadership is ultimately the difference between success and failure.

The traits and experience that our leaders come to the table with can be from a vast collection of sources. We can classify these sources as the good, the bad, and the ugly. Consider some of these:

  • Experience from a management job outside of the fire service - This can be a good source if the company has a positive culture and placed a value on developing their managers.

  • The example learned from another fire-service leader - This source is only as good as the other leader. Your organization will get some variation of the person whose leadership skills are being imitated.

  • Mentoring by another fire-service leader - By using the word “mentoring”, we mean it to be a deliberate act of teaching someone. Deliberate mentoring is a positive method of developing leadership. Not every mentor is a good one. Mentors can pass along bad traits also. Look for your good leaders to be mentors for your next generation. Perhaps not everything needed is taught or coached but it is certainly better than many other options.

  • Educational experience - A person who has been educated in some discipline can bring value to your organization as long as the education has had some practical experience behind it. What works in theory (what is taught in the classroom) does not always work in reality. A little dose of actual experience helps tremendously.

  • Fire service courses - Courses offered by the fire service and fire-service organizations often focus on incident management and what is needed behind the scenes of incident management. Even the series of Fire Officer programs fall short of what we need in our volunteer leaders. These classes are imperative to operational management but don’t go anywhere far enough on teaching officer traits and handling in-station and member issues.

So what is the best path towards developing our leaders? Certainly, the points above are what we are handed today but each can have faults or are incomplete by themselves. You can develop a solid program moving forward. Below is a checklist that will help you assess where you and your officers are today. During your self-assessment or when completing an officer assessment, determine whether the traits are satisfactory or need improvement. We encourage using it to assess yourself and your staff. Assessments should be conducted in a top-down and bottom-up approach. It is important to understand what your subordinates think of you, just as much as it is important for them to understand your assessment of them. With an assessment complete, you can begin working on a development plan to address shortcomings.


HIGH INTEGRITY (FAIR, HONEST, TRUSTING, UPFRONT) CONFIDENT OPTIMISTIC DECISIVE SUPPORTIVE MOTIVATING COMMUNICATOR OPEN TO CHANGE Refer to our past Blog, “ WHAT MAKES AN EFFECTIVE LEADER IN THE VOLUNTEER FIRE SERVICE” where descriptions of the traits above are provided. For more information on leadership classes designed for the volunteer officer, email us at

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