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Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS)

Original Author: Wolf, Dennis
Date of Material: 09/13/2001


Fire Chief Is In The Driver's Seat

Reviewed Date: 05/20/2021
An article answering the question regarding the responsibility and scheduling of the Fire Chief's position in a fire department.

Fire chief is in the driver’s seat

Dear MTAS Maven,
We’re hiring our first full-time fire chief. What’s this person’s position in the fire department’s chain-of-command? Which work schedule is the most efficient?
Council Blazing New Path

Dear Blazing Council,
First and foremost, one person should always be accountable for a fire department’s success or failure. That person is the fire chief. Accountability in city government is extremely important. If the chief’s duties spread beyond him, finger-pointing and the "blame game" begin. Avoid this management structure at all costs. Your city does not want to turn back the calendar 50 years.
The best schedule is the business world’s traditional 40-hour week. Also, the chief should attend functions related to the fire department’s success, such as city council meetings, planning and zoning meetings, and seminars and workshops.

The fire chief should live in your city and remain in town most of the time. If you plan to hire someone from outside the community, you should institute two major restrictions: Require the new chief to move to your city, and forbid him from holding any other job. Financial ties to another employer may weaken a fire chief’s leadership. Even if you allow limited outside employment, you must guard against apparent or actual conflicts of interest or ethical violations. These could expose the chief and city to lawsuits.

The fire chief’s entire purpose is managing the fire department. Even in the smallest communities, sometimes the chief works 40 hours a week and he’s the only fire department employee! Cities that have allowed the fire chief to work shifts have witnessed failure, and city officials have regretted this decision. The chief needs to work regular business hours so he:

  • sees all shifts to ensure uniformity in the department’s operations;
  • can handle the fire department’s business and administrative functions when city hall is open;
  • knows all the firefighters instead of only those on one shift to prevent favoritism or excessive criticism toward the familiar group, which could affect promotions and discipline both critical and legally liable issues; can meet with representatives from the state Fire Marshal’s Office, TEMA, or other state officials who visit between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m.;
  • is available to salespeople who make calls during traditional work hours;
  • and can team with the fire department’s training officer to ensure that all shifts have access to and complete necessary and mandatory training.

    Ray Crouch Sr.
    Fire Management Consultant