IFSJ Influencer: Dr. Reginald D. Freeman, CFO, FIFireE, Fire Chief for the City of Oakland, CA

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Fire Chief for the City of Oakland, CA, Dr. Reginald D. Freeman, CFO, FIFireE, shares his views and predictions for the fire and safety industry for the year ahead

There is no question that the 21st century fire service not only has its challenges but is equally well positioned for proactive leadership to leverage opportunities. As baby boomers continue to retire, not only are members of Generation X ascending to positions of authority but so are Millennials.

There is twice the number of Millennials in the world than Gen X’ers so that should not come as such a shock. What is shocking is our lack of preparation to pass the baton to individuals who are well trained, well educated but lack actual executive officer experience.

If we were proactive, we would have a five-year community driven strategic plan that included at least one goal, objective, and task that spoke to the need of having a robust professional development program (PDP). Designed for the members, by the members. Now, you cannot have a strategic plan that calls out a PDP and not also mention the need for a relevant succession plan.

 A professional development program, succession plan and strategic plan go together like a cheeseburger, French fries and a milk shake. You cannot enjoy one to its fullest potential without the other two. Having one on its own would be, ok but it’s just not the same. I call the utilisation of all three of these initiatives, “Tri-Advancement Planning” or TAP.

Addressing the retirements of current persons in positions of authority through TAP allows you to focus on the next challenge that we will face as a profession within the next 12 months which is decreased funding and consolidations.

Approval for capital expenditures will possibly be reduced which is why if you already do not have a codified 10-year capital improvement plan in the hands of your elected officials and or city managers, you need to make it a priority. By doing so, you will demonstrate that you proactively manage and will not have to gather the team to develop a list of priorities when city finances become strained, and your boss asks for it because they must determine what they will fund and will not fund. Oftentimes, proper and proactive management gets a vote of confidence, and you just may put yourself in the front of the line ahead of your peers because of it.

Lastly, in the next 12 months, persons in positions of authority from Lieutenant up to fire chief will be challenged significantly by things mostly out of our control. Because of the lack of funding, minimum staffing may be reduced which inherently will negatively impact morale. Fire chiefs will have to stand up for their members when city hall comes to reduce the budget.

Recruitment nationwide is at record lows which mean a lot of departments will be forced to implement mandatory overtime rules which again, negatively impact morale, health and safety as well as home life for our members. How do we address all these issues? Take all your arrows to the chest. Lead your members and put service over self.

About the influencer

Dr. Reginald D. Freeman, CFO, FIFireE, is the 31st Fire Chief for the City of Oakland, CA. Prior to Oakland, Chief Freeman served as Fire Chief/Emergency Management Director for the City of Hartford, CT and Fire Chief for Lockheed Martin. He also served as a civilian Fire Chief in Iraq for the U.S. Department of Defense from 2004-2008. He has worked in many fire service capacities in his career including Firefighter/Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), Fire Captain, Fire Service Instructor, Assistant Fire Chief, and Fire Chief.

This article was originally published in the November edition of IFSJ. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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