Who’s Gonna’ Fill Their Shoes
In 1985 the late great George Jones release the country music hit, “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?” The song talks about the old great country singers that were getting old and winding down their epic careers. I guess the same holds true for all industries but lately I have noticed a VERY VERY disturbing trend. In many departments the best and the brightness have stopped seeking to promote into the chief ranks at all levels (of course this in not a 100% fact in every department but the street talk supports the theory). There have always been some in the departments who enjoy what they do and just don’t want the responsibility that comes along with promotion. Our departments need career firefighters, apparatus operators and company officers. These are most often some of our leading industry experts. We also need some of these individuals to promote up in the chiefs ranks so that the expertise that they have developed can help shape the decision making at the higher levels in the organization.
I have asked many who have openly turned down promotions or not even participated in processes and the common theme seems to be the frustration with growing bureaucracies and the move towards general management vs specialization. In other words, “You don’t have to know anything about what you’re managing, anyone can manage anything if you just apply the management principles.” These members have worked for those type of managers and they want no part of it. A good friend of mine described it like this, “They just need somebody down there to look good and smell good.”
Some in our industry contend that current promotional boards are not evaluating the essential job skills and knowledge as well as the personality that is best suited for the job. They insist that these processes are just systems used to protect the agencies from legal liabilities associated with promotions. This strategy doesn’t always prevent the lawsuits despite the best efforts and certainly doesn’t always produce the best candidates.
I guess the bottom line here is that there is a tremendous amount of cynicism that exists among those in the fire service. A cynicism developed over years of disappointment and departments not being able to meet their motivated members’ expectations and in some case the broken promises that were made to the members’. A cynicism developed from CYA management, internal CYA disciplinary charges, the lack of accountability for incompetence, and the dreaded punishment assignment. All in all it appears that many factors contribute to this lack of interest in the upper ranks. This has led to a whole industry of traveling chief’s sometimes referred to as the “Gypsy Chief’s” who take hold for a couple years and then move on to the next bigger department. It has also opened the door to the opportunist who happen to be willing to step up despite a lack of the correct skill set and not always for the right reasons.
There are some great fire service leaders out there but when we look up and see that those who are still out there promoting the service, teaching and writing have been retired for 10+ years and there is a void of new talent it makes you wonder. Who are the new guys that are leading and representing the industry? So who is “gonna fill their shoes?”
If the best and brightest in your department have stopped short of the latest chief’s (any level) process or turned down positions I would like to hear your theory as to why. Write me back. Meanwhile enjoy a little number from ole “Possum” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xi3GgoLtlWk