Is It Time to Require Volunteer Chiefs To Pass Knowledge Based Testing?

First, let me say I hope to provoke thoughtful discussion amongst our community on this issue of how to elect our Chiefs into office. In a majority of volunteer departments, it, unfortunately, is still a popularity contest. In other departments, they require some sort of length of service time with a certain number of required courses to be eligible to run. Still, others hire a paid chief to run a volunteer membership. Usually hired by the town, city, or district. They may and may not be selected using a testing method. It very well may go on college degrees and verifiable experience also.

Most of us know departments who elect chiefs with which we say really? It may be well known the elected individual does not have a clue between a flashover and a backdraft. Some departments elect chiefs who can not operate a pump or ladder. The best yet is “Earl is a good guy, and he deserves his time as a chief.” This, unfortunately, is the reality in a lot of our local volunteer agencies in this country.

I recently spoke to a friend who is on the job and also a volunteer. He was telling me about how two of the chiefs in his volunteer company are really great guys but never have been inside on a working fire. He also said that when he suggests strategy or tactics, there are comments being made of him that he is a paid know it all. Also, I recently had a conversation at a meeting of several associates and talked with a chief that said simply he had been re-elected because he was the only one with all the required courses. I have mentioned to a few in my department maybe we look into a fair knowledge-based testing process so all of our candidates can meet a true standard. If we follow civil service testing as a blueprint, then everyone who passes can be eligible to run for a spot.

I would also recommend they be qualified as a chauffeur on all pieces as well as have interior clearance. Testing a seasoned member on tactics, building construction, how fire travels/spreads in different types of structures, disciplinary issues, budgeting, mentoring, coaching skills an in-depth ability to reason and use judgment, and the ability to be able to adapt to rapidly changing conditions all seems reasonable. After all the volunteer chief usually in most departments is not simply an administrative job like a lot of larger paid departments. We encounter a lot of the same issues but not on the grand scale. Is this not a smarter way to select chiefs?


I would think that it would be a level of comfort to know the chief is in the street and understands all the variables and issues that crop up in operation to keep us ahead of the situation as well as now when to get us out of it.

After all “Earl,” may be a good guy but that means nothing when a wood frame in the middle of the block is going. We can keep said “Earl” and our team from failing by not electing “Earl” in a position he does not have the knowledge to handle.

This can be a very controversial topic. I feel strongly. However, the volunteer fire service should demand our chiefs who ultimately are leaders of the team have a good understanding of all that they will be called upon to handle. This to me has always left me bewildered how we have no true way to gauge knowledge of our leaders. I get we all have had chiefs that are well respected due to how they have trained, read reached out to learn from others and can put acquired knowledge into practice on the fire ground.


This idea I have talked about may not be the answer. If it gets us talking, then one of you reading this may have the answer. It’s all about being better as a volunteer service/community and ensuring we demand the best people to lead us. If anything I hope this article gets us as a community to re-evaluate the way that we elect volunteer chiefs. If we fail to do better with electing chiefs at least in my state, the writing is on the wall, and they will eventually place the requirements or demands they deem fit.

If anyone does or knows of anyone that currently tests for their chiefs’ position, please reach out to me.

As always stay safe all.