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Succession Planning


EMS and Fire service leaders shouldn't stay at their post forever -- some would argue after a decade it can actually become detrimental to the organization. Even George Washington realized this some 225 years ago. That is why his precedence early on limits presidents to just two (4) years terms. Imagine a world where leaders reign unchecked, their power growing with each passing year. Now envision a world where fresh perspectives and ideas are constantly infused into the fire service. Hence the need for adequate succession planning.


Succession planning is crucial as it helps provide a guideline for training and development. This is true all of the way through the organization, from the rank and file to the chief administrators. This planning can also reduce costs related to recruiting and help you hire for the most talented candidates. It can also help you identify key leaders early on - both within and outside of your department. It mitigates risk and helps you promote long term, sustainable planning at its core. These processes are continuous in nature and your agency should never stop planning. Contingencies should also be baked in as emergencies (unexpected vacancy) will happen. Be prepared to execute and back fill with little notice, even if it's on an interim basis.

THE HOW (10 steps +1)

  • Be explicit and specify requirements for EACH role within the organization

  • Identify roles that are strategically important - will there be imminent vacancies?

  • Perform employee reviews on a regular basis, including their preferences for career development

  • Identify potential candidates for those strategic roles (have a strong pipeline)

  • Identify competency gaps between those candidates and the roles

  • Provide relevant learning opportunities to address the aforementioned gaps

  • Offer new role to potential candidates

  • Select the RIGHT candidate

  • Offer mentoring and educational activities to the chosen individuals

  • Measure success and monitor for issues (check-ins @ strategic intervals)

  • +1 - Encourage diversity throughout the entire process


Succession planning affects all of us. Orient your agency towards the future. It is more effective and a best practice to determine which positions are best qualified to succeed another position rather than the individual people filling those positions at any given time. Focusing on the qualified positions rather than people offers many benefits, such as:

Fostering a culture of trust and fairness.

A competitive process that promotes diversity and inclusion.

Discovering unexpected and highly qualified candidates that may emerge through the competitive process.

Reduced risk that a pre-selected candidate may leave the organization before they’ve assumed the successor position.

Hey! Change is inevitable. Like many things in our job, it is best managed with preparation. The value of succession planning is that it keeps your operation intact. Although as a Chief, you might not start counting the days until your retirement just yet, your team and the entire department will thank you for planning ahead.

April 15, 2024

Author: Joshua Ishmael, MBA, MLS(ASCP)CM, NRP

Pass with PASS, LLC.

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