Climbing the career ladder

Aspiring chiefs need to embrace the concept of lifelong learning
October 23, 2018
Written by
Lyle Quan, emergency services and risk management principal at LPQ Solutions.
Lyle Quan, emergency services and risk management principal at LPQ Solutions.
Fire chiefs and those aspiring to move up the ladder to become leaders of departments must be fully dedicated to the profession, embrace change and demonstrate a commitment to lifelong learning, says Lyle Quan, an emergency services and risk management principal at LPQ Solutions in Guelph.

“Being a fire chief or a chief officer isn’t easy and getting there can be a challenge,” he told personnel attending a webinar in August entitled Marketing Yourself as a Fire Chief - Present and Future. The event was sponsored by A.J. Stone Company Ltd. and hosted by Fire Fghting in Canada.

During the hour-long webinar, Quan, retired fire chief of Waterloo Fire Rescue in Ontario, provided some insight for those in the service who are looking to become chiefs as well as those who are already leaders on what they should be doing to ensure they are best positioned to lead their fire departments.

Quan has been in the field of emergency services for more than 30 years and is working on an executive development program for the Ontario Fire College (OFC). He has a Bachelor of Business in Emergency Services and Bachelor of Education and has helped many in a teaching capacity through his posts as an instructor at the OFC, Emergency Management Ontario and other schools and offices.

He said when teaching at the OFC senior officers often ask him how they can better present themselves to CAOs, and younger officers question what they should be doing to take the next step.

First, he said, those aspiring to lead should ask whether they’re merely interested or fully committed to being at the helm because “when you’re interested in doing something, you do it only when it’s convenient,” but “when you’re committed to something, you accept no excuses, only results.”

When a CAO or council is looking to hire a fire chief, they look for recruits that have a solid record of growth in career development, stability within their field, and demonstrated commitment to learning, said Quan, in addition to an understanding of strategic planning.

Quan, who is on a number of recruitment boards for fire chiefs, said that some job postings have caveats, noting that firefighting experience is preferred, but not essential, so they’re seeking other skills.

The concept of lifelong learning is important, he said, and CAOs and councils are looking for candidates who are taking courses and looking at opportunities.

In other words, he said, they are looking for candidates who have not stagnated and are looking forward and for a chance to grow.

These days, he said, candidates also need to have a strong track record in human resource management and financial experience such as working on budgets and request for proposals (RFPs).

“I find it quite surprising how many fire chiefs are struggling in dealing with budgets and RFPs and proposals. So, what’s the answer? Taking courses and networking with fire chiefs around you and building those credentials so that when you do go to that big interview for chief or deputy fire chief you can show this solid record of growth, that you’ve embraced lifelong learning, that you’re strategic thinking in nature.”

To be a chief officer, he said, candidates must alos have strong ethical standards, be honest and able to successfully manage and embrace change because it’s unavoidable.

Quan said that he often asks candidates how they’ve effected change in an organization and is surprised many are stumped at the question.

If they have nothing to say in response, he said, the city manager will not have confidence that the candidate should be considered for the position because they didn’t go above and beyond in the past.

So, he said, when candidates are being interviewed they should think about how they changed the status quo, perhaps when they were a platoon chief at a fire service.

Candidates should be able to show what they’ve done lately and why they’re worth the investment, Quan said.

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