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RANDOM THOUGHTS ON PROMOTION

The teletypes would start to click and in all fire houses across the city and the watch person would announce that the results of the written portion of the promotional process had come out. Interested members would move to the desk to see the results. How did I do, how did my friends do, who is moving on to the assessment center and who is not?

I remember seeing both disappointed and satisfied faces and hearing the chatter, the maybe next times, that’s a surprise or this person or that person is always near the top and so on. I also flash back to a time when I traveled to a strategy and tactics class on my dime and retired FDNY Fire Chief Edward McAniff announced to the class that both of his co-instructors Captain Matthew Murtaugh and Captain Martin Henry had just been promoted to the rank of Battalion Chief in FDNY.

I remember the pride on the face of Chief McAniff and humility on the faces of the two new Chief Officers as we applauded their accomplishment. I have felt that same humility each time that I was promoted and also that pride as I have attended promotional services and watched young people receive promotion, whether they were my Rookies, friends and associates and whether the promotional ceremony was in my department or if I attended as an honored guest in other departments.

I remember all of my promotional test results as if I received them today. I remember brushing off the comments about my young age, my years of service, my experience and the like. I remember the assessment center scenarios and interview questions from the Fire Chief and my answers.

Random thoughts on promotion.

I remember the fellow who administered all written exams and how he seemed offended when I filed appeals of five of his questions/answers and won all five. Know you material.

The assessors introduced our group problem and told us to move to the stage where unassigned chairs were arranged in a horseshoe formation, facing the assessors. I hadn’t studied the scientific, tactical or strategic advantage of where one should place their butt in a group exercise, so when the seating rush ended I found myself seated at one end of the horseshoe.

A chairman was appointed who was seated in the center seat and one of my peers suggested that I record the minutes since I had a notebook and a reasonably good handwriting. I accepted this position with the understanding that I have a place in the discussion. The chairman asked me to present first and I offered up the three top traits that I felt were important for a new employee evaluation form. The discussion proceeded around the horseshoe ending at the other end. I was not interested in knocking out my fellow candidates I just tried to remain standing through the fight and to demonstrate principled skills.

The second group exercise began the same as the first. Each candidate took the same seats and the chairman asked me to begin the discussion. I indicated that I was prepared to present my ideas but I suggested that in the interest of fairness that the discussion begin at the other end since by the time the discussion got there most of the best ideas had been expressed. Do unto others. I scored off the charts in these exercises for teamwork, consideration for others, cooperation and initiative. I didn’t read how to do the right thing in an assessment center book somewhere; it just seemed at the moment to be fair.

On one assessment center, a snow storm impacted travel. One of our peers was delayed and those of us who made it on time were asked by the assessors if we wanted to proceed or wait for our peer to arrive. I am proud that I quickly spoke up and said that I preferred to wait for him and we as a group waited. Be fair because one day it might snow on your house too.

I remember receiving eight days notice that the Captain’s exam was occurring. I had a scheduled vacation trip to Myrtle Beach with my family during five of the eight days. My family enjoyed their week while I stayed at home and reviewed material for most of eight days and nights. The key word is reviewed, prepare in the off season. In spite of my effort, I screwed up the Captain’s process – I came in second.

The Fire Chief asked me a question on a promotional interview concerning how I would handle a personnel matter. After I answered the question, he told me that my answer was much different than most of the other candidates. My reply earned a smile when I said “Chief I came here for a Captain’s job – not for the Academy award.” Relax, be yourself and tell the truth – it’s easier to remember.

A short time after my promotion to Captain, the Fire Chief pulled me aside out of concern. He said that he had noticed that I was perspiring heavily during the pinning ceremony and he asked if I was OK. I explained to him that I had pneumonia during the ceremony and that I was now fine. He told me I could have asked him to reschedule the ceremony. He laughed when I responded that I didn’t want him to have a chance to change his mind. Be there and be ready when your number is called.

My last interview was for Battalion Chief (Deputy Battalion Chief at the time) I was thirty-two years old and the Fire Chief said that my first place ranking had put him in a H_ _ _ of a position. He explained that each of my fellow candidates was older and had more years of experience. My response was that all of my fellow candidates were friends and that any one of them would do a good job. I said that he could promote me and that I would be the best Chief Officer that I could be or he could promote one of my friends and I would go back to my fire house and continue to be the best Captain that I could be. I then offered one caveat and that was that on each promotional test he gave in the future I would be the first smiling face to come through his door. It ain’t braggin if you can do it. Be confident and hardware humble.

I did receive the Battalion Chief promotion before my peers. The Fire Chief called me in and gave me the news. He also stated that after he interviewed all the candidates he purposely waited four weeks to announce me as his choice. He said that during those four weeks he had heard a number of comments attributed to nearly all of the candidates except me and he asked me why. “Chief my Mother raised ugly children, not dumb children.” The old IFSTA Company Officer book – “Guard speech both on and off duty.”

Promotion is a personal choice. Some of the best and brightest people I know are Firefighters.

If promotional candidates DO NOT have an opportunity to review both their written and assessment center results, that AIN’T transparency. How do candidates improve? How does the service improve?

Past performance is most certainly one indicator of future performance.

Promote the best or clean up the mess.

Appeal wrongs – you may be right.

A failure is not a failure until you quit. Never say Never.

I don’t arrange the seats, put down, trip up or block out my opposition – I just control the finish line.

Thanks for reading and sharing.

Have a great day – it’s a GREAT day for it.

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Comment by Joseph Kitchen on January 24, 2015 at 9:23pm

"Promote the best or clean up the mess." - With your permission, I plan to use that quote often.

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