In what Chief Randy Bruegman called a “milestone” for Anaheim Fire & Rescue, 18 firefighters graduated last week from the agency’s first-ever Fire Leadership Academy.
The academy was developed to groom future leaders of Anaheim Fire & Rescue — a priority of Bruegman’s since he became chief in October 2010, and the result of the efforts of several agency personnel to best position the fire department for the future.
The Fire Leadership Academy, which totaled 24 hours of classroom instruction that began in March, had more applicants than there was room. It was open to all fire suppression and fire prevention personnel.
Two more academies are planned for next year.
The last class was held Oct. 5 at the North Net Training Center in Anaheim and included a talk by Bruegman on “Servant Leadership” and the presentation of certificates and commemorative coins to members of the pilot class.
Firefighter Engineer Brad Oye said he learned more about his personality and communication style.
“I can recognize better my own strengths and weaknesses and work on them in order to communicate better so we can be more successful as a team,” Oye said.
Capt. Nick Colonelli, after receiving his coin and certificate, told his fellow students:
“The one thing this program brought to light to me is the tremendous amount of pure respect I have for all of you guys. I feel very fortunate to be swimming in a very deep gene pool of talent, and I learn a lot from you guys every day.”
Deputy Chief Jeff Alario noted that several months of planning went into developing the academy curriculum, which included input from city staff members and fire agency retirees.
City employees who were critical to the academy’s success were Sandy Witz and Lauren Laski, members of the city’s Human Resources development team. Anaheim Fire & Rescue retirees who helped with the leadership academy were Larry Waterhouse, deputy chief of operations; Dennis Hambleton, battalion chief; Dave Gonzalez, captain; and Joe Gutierrez, captain.
“I think this is probably one of the most important programs this fire department is doing right now,” Alario said.
In his 45-minute talk, Bruegman emphasized the importance of not leading out of self-interest.
“A lot of people in power are self-serving and don’t do what is best for (the organization),” Bruegman said.
A true leader, the chief said, has mastered the art of authority. This means that the leader has gotten people to willingly participate and support his or her vision because of his or her personal influence. Bruegman contrasted authority with power, which he defined as forcing or coercing someone to do your will because of your position or power.
Bruegman cited honesty and trustworthiness, being a good role model, holding people accountable and being a good listener as among qualities necessary for a leader to exert a positive influence.
He quoted Margaret Thatcher: “Being in power is like being a lady. If you have to remind people that you are, you aren’t.”
And quoted Vince Lombardi: “I don’t necessarily have to like my players and associates but as the leader I must love them. Love is loyalty, love is teamwork, love respects the dignity of the individual. This is the strength of my organization.”
Bruegman said developing leadership skills is critical for Anaheim Fire & Rescue.
“The calls (for service) actually are sometimes the easiest part,” Bruegman said. “It’s the management of the personnel and the competing demands that you do each and every day that are complex.”
The chief said good leaders need to be consistent.
“If you say you’re going to do something,” he said, “you need to do it.”
And good leaders should expect to make mistakes, Bruegman said.
“I’ve made a lot of wrongs, and you will too,” the chief said. “But good leaders will make bad decisions and learn from them, while bad leaders will continue to make bad decisions.”
Deputy Chief Pat Russell said resilience is a key quality to being a leader.
“One small crack in our organization doesn’t mean we ‘re broken,” Russell told the graduates. “It means we were put to the test and we didn’t crumble. Resilient leaders look at a problem and ask, ‘What is the solution?’”
Added Russell: “It’s not how hard you get hit, but how willing you are to get up and take the next shot. That’s what’s going to make us more powerful as an organization.”
Assistant Fire Marshal Fred Chun said the academy was effective because students learned and shared experiences in an open environment where they could master new techniques in management and leadership, and get constructive feedback.
“This will enable us to be better coworkers, supervisors, captains and chief officers,” Chun said.