“Leadership is the privilege to have the responsibility to direct the actions of others in carrying out the purposes of the organization, at varying levels of authority and with accountability for both successful and failed endeavors”.  What leader made this statement? It sounds modern and something right out of current leadership books. Actually, the statement is from Attila the Hun.

Attila the Hun was a barbaric tyrant, whose armies ruthlessly destroyed the beautiful countryside while on their way to plunder and pillage numerous cities and villages inhabited by the more civilized people of European nations. However, even the most dreadful of people, if they are the leader of a group, use certain leadership principles that can form an effective base on which to build other skills important to success.

It has been said that to lead, one must simply have followers. When Attila became Chieftain, he was faced with a number of disorganized tribes that he forged into one nation of Huns. This was not accomplished simply because he was the chief.  Attila’s leadership was inspiring, he was a great listener and communicator, and he had a vision. Leadership principles that are sound, reasonable, and proven will work for anyone who has the skill to use them properly.

Attila knew the leadership qualities that were necessary for the success of his organization. They included;

  • Loyalty
  • Courage
  • Desire
  • Decisiveness
  • Timing
  • Responsibility
  • Empathy
  • Credibility.

It is no coincidence or surprise that a leader like Attila would expect the same qualities in his time that are expected of a leader of a successful organization today. Even as King, Attila was forward thinking enough to realize that even his decisions would not be accepted by everyone. Leaders today should expect no less. However, like Attila, successful leaders press on with the self confidence that their plan will succeed. Self-confidence begins with a desire to lead, a want-to-be-in-charge attitude. For leaders to be successful this self-confidence must be evident to the organization around them.

As a leader, you must have a passion to succeed. This passion must be obvious (Lead by Example) to your subordinates and is the quality that effective leaders use to inspire employees to want to accomplish bigger and better things, to seek results that make the organization a success. Effective leaders exhibit by their actions the standards the people within the organization are expected to uphold. Leaders establish the morale, integrity, and sense of justice of their subordinate leaders by their own actions. Attila recognized the fact that he was not the only leader in his organization. However, he expected his subordinate leaders and the entire organization to perform at the highest level and to abide by the standards he set and exhibited.

The people of the organization are important to the success and longevity of the organization. Attila realized this early in his career and expected his subordinate leaders to hold the same belief. Attila realized that providing small tokens of appreciation would result in a more dedicated and committed army of followers.

And finally, Attila had a vision for his people. He was able to effectively communicate this vision to his organization by setting the example for expected standards, by his actions as a warrior, and by his ethical positions in regards to the importance of the tribe. Attila ensured everyone in his organization knew the history of the Huns, their survivability, their warrior skills, and the long line of ancestors. His vision included the past and built on that to create a vision of the future. With this vision, Attila was able to energize his people to accomplish great things.

Attila was able to accomplish many things during his tenure as leader of the Huns. He brought numerous separate tribes together and formed one nation. He ruled with an iron hand but was well known for his fairness. He involved his subordinates in creating the plans for the future. Attila possessed many of the qualities that effective leaders of today possess. These qualities are tools for any leader to use to keep their organization on the road to success.

If you have a formal book review group or policy, this one is a good source for leaders at any rank.

Remember, Stay Safe – Everyone Goes Home

Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun Paperback

February 1, 1990

by Wess Roberts

ISBN: 0446391069

ISBN-13: 9780446391061


Much has been written about what leadership is, how management is different than leadership, and what you can do as a leader to improve your department. Do we remember what it was like to be a firefighter and how we reacted to the many different leadership styles we were exposed to? I remember thinking, in some cases, that the behavior my superior was exhibiting is a good behavior to forget. In other cases I saw the benefits of different styles and felt I would easily remember them. Basically we all learned good things and bad things from the many leadership or management styles we were exposed to. With that in mind, here are some and certainly not all behaviors that the personnel who work for us should expect from us.

Practice honesty, be fair, and treat personnel in a consistent manner. At the very least, personnel management is a difficult job. However, by consistently enforcing clear and concise guidelines and defining a course of action for personnel in various circumstances, it will eliminate unfair treatment and strict enforcement of department policies as personnel know exactly what is expected of them. Nobody likes surprises; whether you are the Chief or a firefighter recruit.

As a rule, and with very few exceptions, Firefighters are mature and professional. These are the same men and women who are buying a house, paying monthly bills, getting their kids to school, and planning for the future. Why then, in so many cases, does it seem like the administration staff makes decisions that are based on the assumption that these same men and women are uninformed or just not sharp enough to understand. Firefighters are on the job because they want to be, paid or not, and as leaders we should remember they are our number one resource. Remember how we felt when we were there? Did you ever think no one was listening? They probably weren’t. We need to listen and understand what our personnel are saying. They have a lot of very good ideas. We need to lead by example and set the standard. I believe they expect that.

Whenever possible, we should take a personal interest in our people as individuals. A simple question about their significant other makes a difference in how they perceive you. And how our personnel see us as leaders is more important than how we see ourselves. Identify signs of stress, talk about their worries at home if they have any, and let them know you care. Theodore Roosevelt put it best when he said, “Most people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

Firefighters can be fiercely loyal, but only if they have a trust in you as a leader. As a group, we have been called a fraternity, a close knit group, and an extension of one’s family. Firefighters look to their leaders for dependability, confidentiality, allegiance and reliability. These attributes combined are the mortar that holds your team together

Firefighters expect that their needs are anticipated and provided for. We need to provide adequate resources to accomplish tasks such as training. Many of these needs are met through the budget process, but we can still be pro-active in providing for the never ending and forever changing needs of our personnel.

As the leader of our organization, or even as a company officer, we need to make and convey clear-cut, positive decisions and orders which are not constantly changing. This is part of our responsibility. We should only ask our personnel to accomplish those things which are commensurate with their capabilities. It is important to know the talents individuals possess and challenge them in their thinking and in their tasks.

Finally, firefighters want their good work to be recognized and publicized where appropriate. A simple, sincere thank you or a pat on the back for a job well done goes a long way. In today’s social media world, it is a good idea to research these outlets for information sharing. If we don’t, somebody else will and has. Whenever possible, get photographs and send them in with a story to local news outlets. These will be published in many instances.

Our number one resource looks to us as their leaders to provide and promote their interests. It’s part of our job.

Stay Safe – Everyone goes home.

Idea from an article in Responder magazine, 1998, written by Assistant Chief David Fulmer.

To summarize so far – As part of the National Fire Academy (NFA) Executive Fire Officer Program (EFOP), the student is required to author an Applied Research Project (ARP) within six months of completing each of the four classes. For the executive Leadership class ARP, I sent a  survey to 50 metropolitan departments including my own department at the time. I then compiled the results and completed an ARP that culminated in describing the top 10 leadership qualities that my own department and outside fire departments felt were important for their leaders to have. In this, the last installment in the series, the last two qualities are presented.

2.  Approachable

Be approachable; Listen to both good news and bad news. Be aware of what your body is saying. We all speak with body language, and you don’t have to actually say anything to communicate a message to others. Unfortunately, your body may not always say what you want it to. Approach others. If people aren’t approaching you, why not go to them? Nothing makes you look more outgoing and approachable than actively seeking out people and talking to them. Compliment others. Ask questions. For success, you should be good at making others feel comfortable and important while feeling comfortable yourself.

1.  The number one quality identified by other departments, business leaders, and my own department at the time is Integrity. Today if one performs a google search for top leadership qualities, integrity, honesty or being trustworthy are at the top of almost every list.

As a leader, or as a first year firefighter, one should practice honesty and integrity and treat people the way we would want to be treated. People want to do as good as job as possible. We need to supply them with the tools and allow them to perform. As leaders, a climate of trust and participation is much more important today than ever before. Build ownership by building trust. As a leader, you should never shed the cloak of honor, morality and dignity. As a leader, you should hold a profound conviction of duty above all else. By your own actions, not your words, you establish the morale, integrity and sense of justice of your subordinates. You cannot say one thing and do another.

While there are many definitions of leadership that are published each year in hundreds of books, one thing remains certain, we do seem to think that we know leaders when we see them: they are those individuals who, in their inimitable ways, inspire confidence, undermine despair, fight fear, initiate positive and productive actions, light the candles, define the goals, and paint brighter tomorrow’s.

It has been observed over the years that countries, provinces, cities and lesser organizations rise and fall on the strength of their leaders and on the ability with which their leaders carry out the responsibilities of office – seeking first the good of the people. The fire service in general has strong traditions that bind all of us magically together.

Leadership is not for everyone. If you become one or are one, the rewards can be great and the act becomes fulfilling.

Stay Safe – Everyone Goes Home


Roberts, W. (1989). Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun. New York: Warner Books

Hersey, P. Dr. (1984). The Situational Leader. New York: Warner Books

Bennis, W., & Nanus, B. (1986). Leaders: The Strategies for Taking Charge. New York: Harper

& Row.

Smith, P. (1998). Rules & Tools For Leaders. Garden City Park, New York, US: Avery

Publishing Group.

Ziglar, Z. (1986). Top Performance. New York: Berkley Books

Maxwell, J.  The 21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader

To summarize so far – As part of the National Fire Academy (NFA) Executive Fire Officer Program (EFOP), the student is required to author an Applied Research Project (ARP) within six months of completing each of the four classes. For the executive Leadership class ARP, I sent a  survey to 50 metropolitan departments including my own department at the time. I then compiled the results and completed an ARP that culminated in describing the top 10 leadership qualities that my own department and outside fire departments felt were important for their leaders to have. In the next few weeks I will present these qualities and in this article are qualities four and three.

4.  Consistent

A leader must constantly adhere to the same principles, course of action, and ethics. Our personnel want decisions that are consistent with those decisions made in the past. For any organization, a consistent leader will stay the course, make decisions based on facts, and changes course when presented with new technology or faced with uncontrollable outside forces. Consistency of purpose, of objectives, decisions, and character are all important for successful leadership. While his actions are arguably “the right thing,” President Reagan understood that it’s not necessarily the direction (the angle you take), that counts, but sticking reasonably to the direction you choose.

3.  Educated

In the broadest sense, education includes all those experiences by which intelligence is developed, knowledge acquired, and character formed. For most people today, education means training for a particular career. It is expected that the leaders of our organization will be educated. Formal education (college), seminars, technical bulletins, fire service magazines, and job experience are all means of receiving an education. How the individual uses that education is a decision each one has to make.

Are you the leader in your organization? Are you consistent with decisions or courses of action? As a leader, every decision you make is being watched for consistency. Stay the course. Do you keep up with the latest technology? You should be at least be aware of the basic ideas of new technology. If you haven’t considered the National Fire Academy, at least research it. Start teaching, it is the best way to stay educated. Remember, all eyes are on you.

The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined efforts of each individual in the organization working toward common objectives. These objectives should be realistic, should be clearly understood by everyone in the organization and should reflect the organization’s basic character and personality. Author Unknown

Stay Safe – Everyone Goes Home

To summarize so far – As part of the National Fire Academy (NFA) Executive Fire Officer Program (EFOP), the student is required to author an Applied Research Project (ARP) within six months of completing each of the four classes. For the executive Leadership class ARP, I sent a  survey to 50 metropolitan departments including my own department at the time. I then compiled the results and completed an ARP that culminated in describing the top 10 leadership qualities that my own department and outside fire departments felt were important for their leaders to have. In the next few weeks I will present these qualities and in this article are qualities six and five.

Through research, we learn that no single management style or leadership trait is the best. Situational management and flexible leadership are descriptive terms for the best suited style for a given situation. There are good managers and good leaders; however, very few of those in a supervisory position do both well.

6.  Confident

Managers at various levels of organizations seem to share a respect for the abilities of their colleagues, and the belief that they enjoy the confidence of their superiors. This atmosphere of pride andconfidence is infectious. Self – confidence is critical to decisiveness, for without it, an officer loses his following in challenging situations. Proper training and experience develops in officers a personal feeling of assurance with which to meet the inherent challenges of leadership. Those who portray a lack of self-confidence in their abilities to carry out assignments give signs to their subordinates, peers, and superiors that these duties are beyond their capabilities. Wear confidence on your sleeve.

5.  Decisive

Making the right decision at the right time has always proved to be an elusive prospect. While it is possible to do so, as a leader you will also make incorrect decisions. Many of these decisions will have little or no effect on the organization as a whole, but if you are fortunate enough to reach upper levels of management, the decisions you make will affect an individual, a group, or the entire organization. Decisiveness is a learned skill. Through experience, past practice and precedent one can learn not to repeat the same errors as those before. Initiative in decision making is not sufficiently demonstrated by an officer when it occurs only in relation to easy assignments. It must be exhibited when facing difficult and high risk tasks as well. A resolve to do the right thing is characteristic of good decision making. Responsible decisions are hard to improve upon and the perfect decision is rare. The best decisions are usually the more prudent of the logical alternatives. Every decision is an opportunity to improve the conditions of the organization. Officers must learn to be decisive, knowing when to act and when not to act, taking into account all facts bearing on the situation and then responsibly carrying out their leadership role. Procrastination confuses and discourages your subordinates, peers and superiors.

The responsibilities of leadership are great. In the end, vision, drive, energy, singleness of purpose, wise use of resources and a commitment to the mission of the department become a characteristic of an officer who excels. A leader should always put forth their best effort, listen, learn, walk the talk and be committed to the organization.

Remember – Stay Safe – Everyone Goes Home

To summarize so far – As part of the National Fire Academy (NFA) Executive Fire Officer Program (EFOP), the student is required to author an Applied Research Project (ARP) within six months of completing each of the four classes. I completed an ARP that culminated in describing the top ten leadership qualities that fire departments felt were important for their leaders to have. A survey was sent to 50 metropolitan departments including my own department at the time. Each department identified their top ten leadership qualities. In the next few weeks I will present these qualities and in this article are qualities eight and seven.

The term leadership has many definitions and many (too many to count) books have been written about it.  One simple definition is, “Leadership is any attempt to influence the behavior of another individual or group.”

When my daughter was eight years old, she took our dog, a 120 pound Akita, out to the garage and began teaching the dog hand signals, and of course, all this without Mom and Dad knowing. When our daughter had completed what she determined was enough, she then proudly showed us what she had accomplished. It a simple way, this was leadership as defined by the definition stated above. Our daughter attempted and succeeded in influencing the behavior of our dog.

The act of leadership is not difficult, however, becoming a leader that others respect, admire, and use as a role model is the difficult part. In one “Family Guy” episode, Peter is walking by a stable of horses and passes each one as they stand in the doorway. After walking by several, Peter passes by one horse, stops and backs up, and says, “I don’t know what it is, but you – have – got – IT!” I think that’s a good way to describe what a leader is. They have it.

8.  Vision

Develop a vision. A Leader must provide direction to those theylead and never let them wander aimlessly. A corporate vision is a short, succinct, and inspiring statement of what the organization intends to become and what intends to achieve at some point in the future. Vision refers to the category of intentions that are broad, all-inclusive and forward-thinking.  It is the image that a business must have of its goals before it sets out to reach them. It describes aspirations for the future, without specifying the means that will be used to achieve those desired ends. Successful leaders must have a vision for the workplace and the community that ultimately results in a significant improvement of the organizational culture and the workplace environment.

7.  Honesty

The concept of honesty applies to all behaviors. For example,one cannot refuse to consider information that is factual and still claim that their knowledge, belief, or position is an attempt to be truthful or is held in “good faith.” Such willful blindness is clearly a product of one’s own desires and simply has nothing to do with the human ability to know. Basing your position on what you want — rather than unbiased evidence gathering — is dishonest even when good intentions can be cited — after all even villains could cite good intentions and intended glory for a select group of people. Clearly then, an unbiased approach to the truth is a requirement of honesty. Practice honesty, base your decisions on known facts, and make decisions based on the good of the organization.

Remember to Stay Safe – Everyone Goes Home

As part of the National Fire Academy (NFA) Executive Fire Officer Program (EFOP), the student is required to author an Applied Research Project (ARP) within six months of completing each of the four classes. After attending the NFA for the Executive Leadership course, I completed an ARP that culminated in describing the top ten leadership qualities that fire departments felt were important for their leaders to have. A survey was sent to 50 metropolitan departments including my own department at the time. Each department identified their top ten leadership qualities. In the next few weeks I will present these qualities starting with numbers ten and nine. You may agree or disagree with the ten qualities, and may or may not agree with the order, however, these qualities were identified by fire departments serving populations of over 250,000 citizens and your department, larger or smaller may have differing positions on the list. But it is only one list, and if the same survey were sent today, a different list would more than likely result.

10. Commitment

The leader must have a total commitment to the organization. Leading by example will promote and encourage commitment. Commit to honesty. Build consensus, resolve conflicts, and discourage turf guarding.  Leaders committed to their organization will have a strong desire for leadership, a willingness to serve, will be distinguishable by their wisdom, sincerity, benevolence, and authority. They will have a human quality and a strong commitment to the organization and to those they serve.

9. Intelligent

Intelligence is an umbrella term used to describe a property of the mind that encompasses many related abilities, such as the capacities to reason, to plan, to solve problems, to think abstractly, to comprehend ideas, to use language, and to learn. In some cases, intelligence may include traits such as creativity, personality, character, knowledge, or wisdom. Our leaders are expected to be intelligent. Take the time to refine your knowledge, learn to reason, practice planning, solve problems, and always – learn.

Stay Safe – Everyone Goes Home

On a sunny spring day in April of 1999, at approximately 1119, a suburban high school in Jefferson County, Colorado, found itself under attack by two of its own. In less than fifteen minutes of the first-lunch period on that Tuesday, two student gunmen killed 13 and wounded 21 before they turned the guns on themselves – the most devastating school shooting in U.S. history.

While this attack took place on April 20th,  it must be noted that April 19, 1999 was the fourth anniversary of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma and the sixth anniversary of the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco, Texas.

Up to that date, the Incident Command System (ICS) had been in use mostly by Fire Departments for many years. While there were attempts to involve other agencies in the use of ICS, there was some hesitancy (and there still is today) by law enforcement to use ICS for incidents and especially large scale incidents. This was before the NIMS requirements which came out after 9/11.

This incident clearly highlighted the need to use the ICS by everyone on the scene.

Some of the lessons learned at the Columbine shootings include;

Major incidents draw a substantial number of people and assets to the scene. Plan for this too.

Terrorist-style assaults compound the usual risks associated with a major incident. Active shooter or shooters, secondary devices. Fire departments are usually first on scene and your plan should include a staging requirement for any type of violence reported.

Violence associated with terrorist-style assaults is intended to inflict both physical and psychological injury. Incident Stress Management is very important in these types of incidents.

High-occupancy public assembly areas are especially vulnerable targets. This leads to the possibility of people of all ages being injured or worse. (Boston Marathon incident)

Joint forces – Unified Command for Major Incidents – This concept has to be used to get all of the agencies on scene to work together. Joint operations and unified command between law enforcement and fire/ems are critical to successfully manage response to incidents ranging from natural disasters to terrorism

At the scene of violent, multi hazard incidents, fire/ems services usually function in a support role to law enforcement. In some cases, the incident may be too large and the need  for the EOC to be activated will be apparent. The EOC is a great place for the press to get information and for city leaders to keep informed of the events. It also will serve to relieve some of the stress on the incident commander in the field.

For large scale, multi hazard, multi casualty incidents, planning is the key to managing the events as they unfold. There should be multi agency training and information sharing before an incident occurs,NOT AFTER.

Remember – Stay safe, Everyone Goes Home.

There have been many articles, papers, policies and procedures written regarding a LODD. The last thing a parent wants to get is a phone call at 2 AM from the hospital regarding one of their children having been involved in an auto crash. I know, I got one of those calls. Fortunately it was only injuries. The absolute last thing a Fire Chief wants is a call regarding one of his firefighters that answered their last alarm.

While a Fire Chief is in a leadership position every day and on a daily basis exercises that leadership, it is in a LODD that their leadership will be under the national spotlight, and under a microscope from his own department. This is a case where the firefighters look to their chief and ask, “Lead us through this – please”.

Any department today will more than likely have a LODD policy. If not, there is a ton of resources on-line. A top priority is to get that policy out and get it in motion. The chief will probably have someone who can actually implement the policy, leaving the chief to attend to other important matters. The most important thing a chief can do in the beginning is to be the one to inform the family of the firefighter involved. The chief also has to let the family know that the department is there to take care of anything they need during and after the funeral process.

As the plans come together, the chief should meet often with the family to keep them informed of the funeral process and to let them know that the department is preparing all of the necessary paperwork for death benefits.

Probably the most important speech a Fire Chief is asked to make is the eulogy for a fallen firefighter. In a large department, chances are the chief did not know the firefighter personally. A good source for suggestions is the department Chaplain. In a small department, the chief will probably know the firefighter and may even be a friend. This would make it harder for the chief but maybe a bit easier to write the eulogy. The important thing here is that the eulogy needs to be sincere and it needs to be directed to and for the family members. Not only will department members remember the speech, but the family will hold it dear to their hearts for a long time to come. So get this one right.

During this time, the chief needs to be visible, approachable, and genuinely affected by the event. All eyes are watching and they will remember.

Thanks and remember, Everyone Goes Home.

A good source for a LODD policy is from an Applied Research Project by Donnie P. West, Jr, Fire Chief for the Center Point Fire District in Alabama


Emergency scene size up can be defined as “A rapid mental evaluation of various factors related to an emergency incident”, or “An initial on-scene report by the first arriving unit that is clear, concise and relevant”.

The fire service loves acronyms and of course we have some for scene size-up. Some of these acronyms are long and difficult to remember. This one for example, COAL WAS WEALTH, may be easy to remember until you try to recall what all the letters stand for. Here they are;

Construction, Occupancy, Apparatus (and staffing), Life hazard, Water supply, Auxiliary appliances, Street conditions, Weather, Exposures, Area (including height), Location of fire within the structure, Time, and Hazards/Hazardous materials. While it is good practice to consider all of these during an initial scene size up, practice and experience are needed to become efficient at using it.

Another easier acronym is “A-B-C-D Size-up”. This is an easy one to remember and can especially be used by any firefighter or officer who is first on the scene. The letters stand for;

A-        Address- Sometimes the address you receive is not the address of the incident

B-        Building Description- Includes construction, floors, and occupancy

C-        Conditions- Smoke and or fire conditions, location of fire, weather conditions

D-        Deployment and directives- Which operational mode, (investigating, rescue, offensive or defensive). Provide additional instructions to specific units or to dispatch.

There have been thousands (I’m guessing) of articles, books, and training sessions devoted to scene size up. As humans, we all do size up every day. When we meet someone new, look at new apparatus, read an article, or sit in training, we are performing a mental size up of what we think about any of those particular items. And there are a ton of size ups we do in our everyday off duty life. It really is not that hard and is certainly something we shouldn’t be intimidated by. Take the first example above, COAL WAS WEALTH, and once you see what the letters stand for, you realize that you don’t really need to memorize each word in the acronym. Most of what you do in your initial size up is included in the first two words, COAL and WAS.

A sample size up could be something like this;

Engine X on scene of a one story, wood frame residential structure with smoke showing from side B. There is no apparent life hazard, the street is clear for placement, have Engine W secure a water supply.  The only letter missed was A for Apparatus, and we should know how our units are staffed before we leave the station. I would include exposures in the initial size up, if there are any, we know what the weather is, and fire is close to or at Side B. So we hit all the letters without mentally checking them off. As a last item and after taking command, the officer should report the mode he is in (fire attack, rescue, protect exposures, passing command to another unit on scene, etc).

We must remember there usually is not a lot of time to identify these points, develop a plan of action, communicate that plan to incoming units, and start whatever action you have decided on. Most of the time putting the fire out is the plan and may be done before other units arrive. However, we cannot fail to mentally develop a plan and communicate it so others, including whatever ranking officer is responding, will know what you are doing.

The objective is to implement a structured size-up process in your department, then educating your officers and firefighters in your department’s size-up policy.

Remember to stay safe – “Everyone Goes Home”

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