FRI Seminar Challenges Common Notions about Being a Chief Officer

FRI Seminar Challenges Common Notions about Being a Chief Officer


Have you ever caught yourself thinking, “If I was chief, this would never happen. We’d have new apparatus every 7 years. We’d have four people on an engine and we wouldn’t have to kowtow to the city council.”

If so, you’re not alone. Chief Tom Jenkins V and Deputy Fire Chief Jake Rhoades, both of the Rogers (Ark.) Fire Department, shared a whole host of misconceptions they had before getting promoted to the chief officer level in their FRI session, “Things I Wish I Would Have Known Before I Became a Fire Chief.”

Here are some of the myths they busted:

  • I’m smart, so I can overcome all the challenges I’ll face based on knowledge and experience. But you can’t. “What seems clear cut from the firehouse kitchen table doesn’t seem so clear cut from the chief’s office,” Jenkins says.
  • Now that I’m chief, I can finally say what I want and do what I want. But decisions aren’t made in vacuums. You need to solicit feedback from the troops. How often do you meet with your company officers? Your BCs?
  • Distinguishing between loyal followers and butt-kissers will be easy. No, it won’t. Some people are masterful chameleons, and their motives aren’t genuine.
  • Budgeting will be easy, because it’s all about justification. Unfortunately, it’s not. Justification is very important, but you need a whole host of other things–political connections, communication skills, timing–to be able to get the funding you’re after.
  • I’m a chief, not a politician. Chief officers of all ranks can’t afford to be apolitical. If you’re not a politician, you’re not doing your job. “Quit being scared of politics,” Jenkins said.
  • The hard work was getting here. Wrong. If you think 40-hour work weeks are in your future, think again. Chief officer positions are demanding and time consuming and will test your best work/life balance skills.
  • I’ll be able to stay here as long as I want. Your time as chief officer will eventually expire, and you might not see it coming. The skills that got you here won’t necessarily keep you here. That’s why your education must continue, every day.
  • I’ll never be the parent of an ugly baby. An “ugly baby” in the fire service can take on many forms–it could be the policy you regret, the apparatus that was a big mistake because it didn’t meet your response area’s needs, it could be equipment you specced and only later realized you’ll never need. It could be rookies or officers that you protected, believing in them when everyone else could see trouble a mile away. Regardless, you will be the parent of an ugly baby, and that’s OK–it’s in how you deal with it that matters.

For more from  Jenkins and Rhoades, see 10 Things You Need to Know about Becoming a Chief.