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May 16, 2013, Prince Albert, Sask. – The concept of succession planning has been around for quite some time; this is a healthy sign of the progression of our profession and, to some extent, it is also a sign of the times, as boomers (1945-1964) are retiring from officer and chief-officer positions. This leaves opportunities for those wishing to move forward in their careers.

May 16, 2013
By Les Karpluk

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May 16, 2013, Prince Albert, Sask. – The concept of succession planning has been around for quite some time; this is a healthy sign of the progression of our profession and, to some extent, it is also a sign of the times, as boomers (1945-1964) are retiring from officer and chief-officer positions. This leaves opportunities for those wishing to move forward in their careers.

The typical succession plan is about building your internal capacity so members of your department can progress up the chain of command when individuals in key positions leave for other jobs. This, of course, is a good thing and a sign of a healthy department.

I must confess that when I read and studied succession planning, my thinking was really focused on the career departments; that is, until a recent meeting with the chief of a volunteer department at which the importance of succession was brought up.

The anticipatory succession plan is similar to the thought progress of emergency planning; you anticipate the vacancy (pending incident) due to a retirement, and prepare before the event happens. This is sound business planning, and when it comes to developing leaders within any fire department, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of anticipatory succession planning: create the plan, implement the plan, and prepare for the vacancy.

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From a career perspective, I believe we are seeing a shift and a potential decrease in the number of internal candidates who want to venture into chief-officer roles. I’m not really shocked, though, as the added responsibilities, pressures and qualifications required for those positions seem to be weeding out those who just want to test the waters. This may be a good thing, because today’s fire service requires those who are willing to dedicate their time and effort to develop themselves in preparation for career advancement.

Unfortunately there is a great deal of truth to an observation by many of my colleagues that members in full-time/career departments are not being enticed into chief-officer roles because the remuneration simply isn’t enough to attract potential or prime candidates. This is worrisome, and it should give us a heads up to a trend that will surely haunt us if we do not deal with it. I can hear it now: remuneration is out of our control. This is a valid statement and should cause our creative juices to flow so that we can come up with added benefits other than remuneration.

I have spoken to numerous firefighters who are seeking promotion to the chief officer rank because they want to make a difference in their departments. This is certainly commendable, but I have yet to speak with a colleague who has not communicated to me that the added responsibilities being placed on chief officers in the department is cause for concern. This, too, seems to be a growing trend, and I believe that the added responsibilities and lack of remuneration will start to impact succession planning.

Maybe it all comes down to a career risk-benefit analysis. The added risk and lack of benefits become a detriment to internal candidates, who ultimately choose a less-stressful strategy for their careers.

Certainly there are numerous success stories from best-practice fire departments that employ programs to develop leadership qualities, promote post-secondary education, and develop enhanced competencies. These departments also invest the time and energy in coaching and mentoring individuals who are preparing for career advancement; by doing this, they demonstrate through their actions that leadership development in the department is prized and a part of the culture.

When all goes according to plan, what does a department do when a career development program exists and is working according to schedule, and suddenly the day comes when another department reaps the benefits of your succession plan?

I guess it demonstrates that your career development program is effective. I would even suggest that it could become a good performance indicator. In life we all take chances in our investments and we determine if they were worth the time and effort.

Congratulations to one of my deputies for moving forward to bigger and better opportunities in his career with a metro department.

Until next time, lead from within and grow.

Les Karpluk is fire chief of the Prince Albert Fire Department in Saskatchewan. He is a graduate of the Lakeland College Bachelor of Business in Emergency Services program and Dalhousie University’s Fire Administration program. Follow Les on Twitter at @GenesisLes


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