When I was invited to my daughters 5th grade class many years ago for career day my little girl gave me some invaluable advice. She took me aside for what I assumed to be a tender moment of her thanking me for taking the time to be there but instead she looked me in the eyes and said these magic words, “Dad, please don’t be boring.” Little did I realize that 18 years later those words would still serve to guide me. This will be my final article as the President of the Wisconsin State Fire Chiefs Association so I will try to make it a memorable one.
This past year has shown me how much I have come to depend on those around me for their support, their wisdom and their sense of humor. I could not have gotten through it without their guidance and willingness to help whenever help was needed. When I became your President I did not realize the time and effort that goes into doing this job the right way. I also failed to understand just how large a role others would need to play to keep the ship moving in the right direction. Whether it was Kevin Bierce serving as mentor, Dave Bloom guiding me through the intricacies of dealing with the elected officials, Nate Melby and Tim Bantes testifying on the volunteer recruitment issue or Jon Cohn heading up the EMS issues, all played a very important role.
In addition, Mike Romas’ willingness to drive across the state to spread the gospel of the State Fire Chiefs, Joe Pfaff attending the disappointing meeting with Secretary Ross and Mark Rohlfing’s willingness to stand at my side as we did a press conference on Arc and Ground Fault Interrupters was much appreciated. The dedication of Tracey Kujawa, who came to a weekend meeting so sick that she had to go home early the next morning, and Aaron Paul attending multiple funerals at my side are also examples of the selflessness and empathy your Board of Directors display on a regular basis. Suffice to say that we are fortunate to have such committed people looking out for your best interests and I am forever grateful to each of them.
Meanwhile, the current state of the Wisconsin State Chiefs’ Association is very good. We have talented people assigned to areas they are excited about and are willing to fight for. In addition, we sent a strong message to the Governor and the Legislature this past year by turning out over 200 Fire Chiefs to challenge the proposed code changes. The days of the State Fire Chiefs’ Association being a paper tiger is over. Lastly, the financial status of our organization is also good in that we are in the black and we have money in reserve.
So, what does the future hold? The current fire service is changing faster than ever. In my 38 years of service I have lived through the changeover from typewriters to computers, from Pong to Call of Duty and from dial up internet to today’s click and search, but I have never seen us move so rapidly in directions that were once rejected as bad voodoo. NIST and Underwriters have turned firefighting science on its head as they have proven that putting water on heavy fire through a window, controlling flow paths and no longer wasting time trying to attack from the unburned side of the fire are truly best practices.
I can recall attending the Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC) years ago and sitting through three different classes/speakers instructing us on how to fight basement fires. One after the other they spoke about attacking the beast (the fire), going down the chimney (basement stairs) and the beating your people would invariably take and I remember thinking why do we do this? Thankfully, this is another area the new information has impacted as it’s no longer ok to do unnecessarily dangerous things on the fireground unless there are lives at risk.
I could go on and on about what has changed in the fire service from silent responses using apparatus computers to computerized voices announcing calls while the dispatcher is still on the phone but that would be preaching to the choir. Instead, I want to close by touching on the importance of how we Fire Chiefs’ deal with change.
As Fire Chiefs, we set the tone for how our people will react to new ways of doing things. If we are resistant to new ideas, then most likely our people will be too. As a Fire Chief, I must be open to change, whether I am comfortable with it or not, as long as it makes sense and it’s better for the organization. This may mean that I have to delegate something to personnel who understand the technology or the concept itself better than I do. That doesn’t make me less of a Chief because I delegate, instead it makes me a stronger leader. I learned a long time ago that I don’t have to be the smartest person in the room. I just need to surround myself with sharp minds and be willing to listen to them when they have a better idea than I do.
Are you willing to change in order to keep up with today’s world? One of my Assistant Chiefs said it best when trying to explain the current status of the fire service to our employees. He simply told them to get used to it because change is the new norm!
Be Safe and Do Great Things!
Chief Rob Ugaste
President, Wisconsin State Fire Chiefs' Association