Although the rewards are great, managing a volunteer fire department can seem overwhelming at times. I mean really, with all of the work, both tactical and administrative, the internal and external politics, and outside responsibilities such as family and work it is amazing that anything gets done. Here are three things that you can do to help get rid of some of that stress.
Get a calendar. I know it is April, but if you are not utilizing a calendar, now is the time to start. If you have a smart phone that is great, but I have found that it is hard to replace the good ole paper calendar. A calendar will help you to visualize your schedule. The first thing you should do is write down all of the standard, non-optional meetings you need to attend. This includes family and work obligations. No one can be at two places as once. Using a calendar will help to reduce those troublesome circumstances of double booking meetings.
Ask for help, just because you are the chief doesn’t mean that you need to do everything. Identify those tasks that require your attention and then begin to delegate those that others can do for you. This serves several purposes. First, it reduces your workload, allowing you to focus more time on the tasks that are directly related to your position. Second, it serves as an opportunity to mentor those that will be future leaders within your organization. Third, it gets members involved and increases buy-in. Finally, the more people that are involved (active) in the organization the stronger it will be. Sometimes as leaders we just need to get out of the way. If we have done our job, we will be surrounded by strong, competent people, who love the organization as much as we do.
Take time for yourself and your family. I know people that have not left town for ten years because they are afraid they are going to miss a call or there won’t be enough people to respond. It is okay to miss a call and we will respond. YES, you are important and we value and appreciate your commitment. However, we also know that you will be around longer if you take some time for you and your family. Doing so will allow you to re-energize and will allow your family to continue supporting the cause. Employers learned this a long time ago, that is why they give you vacations. Taking a break is one of the most important parts of retaining volunteers. It should not only be encouraged, it should be required. One way of doing this is to schedule a month during the year when there are no activities other than responding to emergencies. This may seem difficult with all there is to do, but I assure you that it will re-energize you and your members.
Doing these three simple steps will help lighten your load and most likely lengthen your career. It is too difficult to find good leaders, please do your organization and the volunteer fire service a favor by helping us by helping yourself.