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Editor’s pick 2016: Leadership Forum

During my career in the fire service I have heard many hours of debate and discussion about what it takes to be prepared for promotion. In my inaugural column in November I discussed the fact that luck happens when relentless preparation meets opportunity. Now I will delve into the concept of preparation.

November 22, 2016  By Matt Pegg

The only thing worse than not getting a senior position for which you have applied is getting a senior position for which you are not adequately prepared. In today’s fire services, expectations of officers is very high, and is steadily increasing – and rightly so. The competencies required of today’s fire chiefs more closely resemble that of a corporate CEO than a traditional fire officer.

So, how do we prepare for the duties and expectations associated with today’s fire-service officers? The recipe for preparation is the combination of education, experience and exposure.

The debate about education in the fire service is certainly not new and I don’t believe that there is a one-size-fits-all solution. The importance of being sufficiently academically prepared for the position you seek can’t be overstated. However, contrary to what some may believe, your degree alone will not get you promoted or hired. It is, however, an important ingredient in the preparation recipe. Your formal education provides you with the ability to think critically, with perspective and with foundational knowledge and skills that you will require to succeed. Choose your education carefully and ensure that it helps to prepare you for the career or position that you seek. If you don’t believe that formal post-secondary education is relevant in today’s fire services, consider this: the people with whom you will compete for the position you seek will be well educated. Do you measure up?

Experience is an equally debated issue among fire-service colleagues. Experience is much more than the length of your tenure within an organization; experience is defined by as “the process or fact of personally observing, encountering or undergoing something.” Being prepared for a senior fire-service leadership role includes bringing demonstrated experience to the table. There is a significant difference between a fire officer who studied labour relations in school and one who has been working in that world for some time. Likewise, there is an obvious difference between a promotional candidate who has taken incident-management training and a seasoned incident commander – and that difference is experience. I strongly encourage you seek out and seize opportunities to sit on committees, consider taking lateral transfers into different fire-service roles, get involved in your regional, provincial or national association, and be open to assignments and opportunities in roles outside your primary areas of competence. For those who seek deputy chief and fire-chief positions, consider moving laterally into roles that will afford you experiences that you are unable to attain through the positions you are in today. Experience builds perspective and broadens competence, and in the competitive environment of today’s fire services, it is invaluable.


Exposure is an interesting concept and one that is often overlooked by many candidates who enter promotional and recruitment processes. Allow me to use a photography analogy to define exposure: in the days of film, a picture was taken when the film inside the camera was exposed to a controlled and calculated burst of light and colour. Today, images are captured when the camera’s digital sensor is exposed to light and colour.  Nothing happens in photography, regardless of the quality of the camera and lens, without exposure.  

Likewise, the talents and capabilities of exceptional fire-services leaders are never revealed until they are exposed to circumstances and opportunities that allow their expertise and potential to shine. When interviewing potential candidates for senior leadership positions, selection panels commonly assess how well-rounded an interviewee is. Seek opportunities to enhance your exposure to the broader fire service. Expose yourself to challenges that are outside your core competencies. Get involved in provincial and territorial issues. Attend council meetings and learn the processes and terminology of government. Exposure determines the quality of the finished product, and enhancing your overall exposure will help to prepare you to succeed.

Education, experience and exposure are three important factors that I encourage you to consider in your personal fire-service career plans and in your personal development plans. There will be many senior leadership opportunities in the fire services over the next few years.  

Are you prepared?

Matthew Pegg is a deputy fire chief with Toronto Fire Services, having previously served in Georgina, Ajax and Brampton, Ont.  Pegg was president of the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs from 2013 to 2016 and has served on the national advisory council to the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs. Contact Matt at

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