Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

November 16, 2010

Getting by Giving

Filed under: Futures,State and Local HLS — by Mark Chubb on November 16, 2010

Today I am starting a new job as a deputy fire chief in a fire district near Seattle. As such, I have been pretty consumed with the details of moving and starting a new job rather than keeping up with my homeland security reading and preparing this week’s post. Nevertheless, it strikes me that the odyssey upon which I am embarking offers a new prism through which to observe what’s happening in our field at the state and local levels.

Over the past several months, I have commented often about the importance of leadership in dealing with the challenges we face. As such, it should come as no surprise that I was attracted to my new position by a charismatic fire chief with a reputation for innovation and integrity. During the interview process, his commitment to these ideals became more than evident.

The commitment of the community and the firefighters to his success was also evident. This is not to say he has enjoyed a smooth tenure since taking up the position a bit less than a year ago. Indeed, the burgeoning fiscal crisis, the annexation of a portion of his district by a neighboring city and a campaign by the union local representing firefighters from his last department to pass a vote of no-confidence in his leadership have presented personal and professional challenges. Fully aware of these issues when I applied, it was was his pleasant (cheerful really) demeanor and ability to see the opportunities in these challenges that convinced me to join his team.

From what I can see so far, the community, the elected fire commission and the firefighters themselves see in their chief the hope of a better future despite the challenges they face as well. His ability to articulate a clear and shared vision, involve others in charting a way forward, give the work back and manage the pace of change so the challenges remain manageable have given people tangible evidence of his commitment to their welfare as well as that of the organization and the community.

One of the things that seems to distinguish the agency I am joining from some of its peers is its commitment to learning. My role comes with an unusual and unexpected title for a fire department: chief learning officer. Besides overseeing training, I am responsible for the fire district’s emergency management, risk management, research and development, and safety and wellness programs. The combination of these portfolios reflects an appreciation of the changing nature of fire and rescue services and a desire to shape the service in ways that reflect the relative shift in emphasis away from fire-related services to other activities that address risks arising from natural and technological hazards.

I have a lot to learn about my new community, the fire district, my new colleagues and my new role. In the process of getting settled, I will undoubtedly learn a great deal about myself and my capacity to endure change. One of the most important things I have learned from past moves is the importance of accepting both my limitations and the assistance of others. In the process I have become much more aware that when I recognize and maximize others’ strengths by asking for their help we both get something valuable in return.

What are the most important lessons you have learned from the experience of taking a new job or assuming a new role in homeland security? How have you shared these lessons with others and how did you benefit from that experience? How can we maximize the strengths of others to benefit the whole of the homeland security enterprise?

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Comment by William R. Cumming

November 16, 2010 @ 3:08 am

Change for Chubb! Chubb for change! First congrats on new job and good luck. Being a change agent is always a difficult task. Oddly, while ususally a stepchild in DHS and FEMA, the United States Fire Adminstration and is administrator, Gordon Vickery, a highly regarded Fire Service Chief in Seattle, ran FEMA from its opening of its doors on April 1, 1979 until September when John Macey was sworn in as the first Senate Confirmed Director. Vickery had been Senate confirmed as US Fire Administrator. The agency could have done a lot worse than Gordon. Macey’s tenure was not to be a happy one and he was not a well man and died shortly after leaving office.

Well, your new job makes me very happy. Because I have spent considerable time and effort trying to figure out exactly why EM arose when it seems logical that the FIRE SERVICE could have ended up with primary EM responsibilites but in an odd way voted with its feet and head not to do so. And of course, in addition to Vickery, FEMA now led by a FIRE SERVICE person and previously a FIRE SERVICE person, FUGATE and PAULISON. So MARK I am giving you a promotion and look forwards to your one day running FEMA. That is not a joke as I think you may well have what it takes despite your long stay in NZ. Adopting that posture on your posts and comments will also allow me to vent on why I think the FIRE SERVICE could pull a heavier load than it does, but it does need to have more skill, daring, and competence in its Washington relationships. Here is why?

Out of the blue there is a huge amount of hostility to the FIRE GRANTS provided by FEMA’s grants division and in conjunction with the FIRE SERVICE. Don’t ask me why these periodic conflagorations occur but once again powerful HILL members and staffs are muttering things like “Why are we buying local fire departments equipment and fire engines?” Actually since joining FEMA in 1979 I heard that line many times. Probably has some basis but is unfair and ignores the reality that the first responder base is almost 60% Fire Service. Although I have no documentation for my guesstimate. I also still include as part of the FIRE SERVICE the relatively new professions of EMT and HAZMATS.

I will give a specific example of how the FIRE SERVICE could become more of a national asset. Standardization both voluntary and mandatory. I understand only two states, Florida and New York have mandated statewide standards for fire hookups, even trucks. This would seem obvious need, but maybe not. I do know I have seen a row of Fire Trucks each with bumpers at different levels. But while important standardization and standards setting is not my main theme. Although NFPA 1600 and other goodies have made their way through the morass. I believe I count a dozen different lobbying groups and NGO’s specializing in the FIRE SERVICE in the DC area.

The one thing they seem to agree on is the display of uniforms and honors during the annual Fire Caucus Dinner in DC when they arrive and are feted by high ranking officials and Congress and then almost totally ignored.
I actually purchased out of my meagre federal retirement funds a table for two years at that dinner. I did this in part as tribute to many friends in the FIRE SERVICE and because of my interests. Both evenings I was treaed to oral promises by high ranking federal officials during their speeches, with one speaker literally repudiating his promises the next day in Congressional testimony and another within weeks. Both were Secretaries of DHS!

So good luck to the FIRE SERVICE and hoping that you can lead in the morass known as (1) interoperable communications; (2) incident management; (3) understanding of federal policies that impact the FIRE SERVICE [there are many that are undocumented but significant]; (4) protection and safety of all first responders, including SCBA standards; (5) mutual aid; (6) diversity; (7) insurance issues; (8) CBRNE training and standards; (9) maximizing the potential technological leadership of the many federal firefighters including the 50,000 civilian firefighters under DOD purview; and (10) better explaining the reasons for treating the FIRE SERVICE not just as heros or potential heros or heorines but as leadersh in technology transfer to public safety and to the public generally.

Again Mark you are the right man, in the right place, at the right time. Congrats and my belief your new Chief and organization is very very lucky to get you on board.

And while we are at it the Fire Prevention and Control Act of 1974, as amended, now reauthorized through 2012, came out of Senator Magnuson’s efforts. Of course “Maggie” was a powerful US Senator for many years from Washington state. Also a Senator FEMA failed to deliver on its promise of almost a million shovels when Mt.St. Helens blew up in 1980. By the way how many vulcanologists in the FIRE SERVICE? And not just joking!

Comment by Philip J. Palin

November 17, 2010 @ 4:45 am

Mark, my principal lesson learned is very active listening. Asking questions, listening patiently, returning to ask follow-ups, offering summaries of what I hear for clarification and correction. Being new the questions are accepted and the attention is usually appreciated. The questions also help the receiving organization see itself through new eyes… learning as you learn.

Congratulations and thanks for letting us know.


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