Wednesday, February 1, 2012

El Paso FD Embraces Leadership

El Paso Fire Department
L-280 Followership to Leadership

Pictured Above (not in any particular order):
El Paso Fire Department personnel:  Vincent E. Frausto, James A. Younger, Rafael Reyes, Dennis A. Huff, Larry A. Hernandez, Carlos A Peidra. Gilberto Ramirez, Michael S. Bell, Troy V. Reister, Marcelo R. Morales, Jorge A. Rodriguez, Jorge V. Cortez, Jonathan P. Killings, David Valero, David W. Zeiger, Ricci J. Carson, Efrain Jr. Robles, Mathew S. Hiett, Richard Carpio, Jose Ortiz, Samuel Pena, and Kenneth C. Persinger. NWCG Leadership Sub-Committee Support Cadre: Heath Cota, Shane Olpin, Rob Morrow, and Randy Skelton

Story submitted by Randy Skelton, Deputy Fire Staff, Payette NF, USFS NWCG Leadership Subcommittee Agency Representative (interim)
El Paso Fire Department is on the path of the ultimate leadership challenge.  Similar to several other emergency response agencies, El Paso Fire Department is aggressively taking steps towards providing their personnel with a suite of leadership classes in order to promote cultural change within their fire department.  They began this endeavor by bringing in Mission-Centered Solutions (MCS) who provided Five (5) – Point of the Spear: Fire Service Leadership (NWCG L-380) courses since September 2009 to 106 individuals with cross-agency participation for El Paso Police Department, Fort Bliss Fire Department, Las Cruces Fire Department, Horizon City Volunteer Fire Department, West Valley Volunteer Fire Department and the Round Rock Fire Department.

El Paso is a city in, and county seat of, El Paso County, Texas. Encompassing 260 square miles and boasting a population of more than 650,000, El Paso is the sixth largest city in Texas and the 22nd largest in the United States. Located along the Rio Grande and just across the border from Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, it lies at the intersection of three states (Texas, New Mexico, and Chihuahua) and two countries (United States and Mexico). The varied terrain features the Franklin Mountains which extend into the city from the north and nearly divide it in two sections.

US-Mexico Border Perspective
El Paso County was established in March 1850. The town of El Paso was developed later by pioneer Anson Mills and incorporated in 1873. The town’s population began to grow after World War I. Various industries developed in the area and major business development emerged in the 1920s and 1930s. The population declined in the Depression era, followed by rapid economic expansion post World War II. Expansion slowed again in the 1960s though the city has continued to see growth through increased trade with Mexico.

The City is proud to be home to the University of Texas at El Paso, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, and Fort Bliss, the military complex located just east/northeast of the city.

Today, the El Paso Fire Department has 844 career firefighters and 41 civilian employees. EPFD is the primary city agency responsible for responding to and mitigating incidents involving fire, aircraft accidents, medical emergencies, hazardous materials incidents, building explosions, search and rescue events, and water rescues. All these services are delivered by fire service professionals, apparatus and equipment from thirty four neighborhood fire stations, one airport fire station at the El Paso International Airport, and six support facilities. Support facilities include the administrative offices, maintenance, fire prevention, training academy, communications, and reserve center.

The “leadership movement” began at the El Paso Fire Department in 2007 through a grass roots effort.  When Chief Otto Drozd came to the El Paso Fire Department in April 2009, he soon became a staunch supporter of this effort and approved the first pilot L-380 course for the department which was delivered in August of 2009.  Chief Drodz understood the department needed something significant to affect the culture and was courageous enough to take a chance.  In February of 2010, the vision and mechanics for the Leadership Enhancement and Development (LEAD) program was laid out and began with informational sessions at the training academy.  During the summer of 2010, they delivered their first L-80 (with a train-the-trainer assistance from Nick Zambito of Mission-Centered Solutions). 

Chief Drodz approved five L-380 courses for the department over the last two years.  For all five classes, the Chief has been the keynote speaker and shows his support by sitting in the L-180 and the most recent L-380 in April 2011.  He has given El Paso firefighters ownership of the program and has let them guide it from a genuine bottom-up, grass root effort and they are uncertain as to where they would be without his support.       
Jorge Rodriguez, a Captain with the El Paso Fire Department, soon realized their efforts were missing two key components of their leadership movement, L-180 Human Factors on the Fireline and L-280 Followership to Leadership.  The department took on the L-180 curriculum by “tweaking” it slightly to meet the structural environment and then proceeded in delivering it to the entire 800+ member department to include the Fire Chief, Assistant and Deputy Chiefs.  During this L-180 implementation, Captain Rodriguez was requesting a “train-the trainer” session through the NWCG Leadership Sub-Committee for the L-280 Followership to Leadership package. 

The NWCG Leadership Sub-Committee recruited a four person cadre to travel to El Paso, TX and deliver this “train-the trainer” session.  This effort was completely funded by the El Paso Fire Department illustrating their commitment towards cultural change within their department.  The NWCG “train-the trainer” cadre consisted of Shane Olpin – Fire Management Officer from the West Fork R.D.  of the Bitterroot N.F., Rob Morrow – Assistant Fire Management Officer from the McCall R.D. of the Payette N.F., Heath Cota – Superintendent of the Sawtooth Interagency Hotshot Crew and Randy Skelton – Deputy Fire Staff Officer from the Payette N.F.

The El Paso Fire Department now has a full complement of instructors, approximately 27 individuals who completed the “train-the-trainer” course, for “A” Shift, “B” Shift, and “C” Shift providing them the ability to offer the L-280 package in the most efficient manner across the entire department.  They plan to deliver L-280 the spring of 2012 through three courses in order to train 120 fire personnel consisting of a mix of new Drivers (FST’s), Firefighter-Paramedics, and Firefighters on FST promotional lists.

Meanwhile, Captain Rodriguez is actively pursuing adding the next step towards their goal by bringing in the Incident Leadership curriculum, an NWCG L-381 equivalency, within the next couple of years.  One key product they have developed out of this to date is an internal publication titled, “Leading in the El Paso Fire Department – Leadership Doctrine”, a key component of their Leadership Enhancement and Development Program (LEAD).

Captain Rodriguez was inspired to bring leadership training to the department after reading an article written by Brian Fennessy, an Assistant Chief with the San Diego Fire Department titled, “In Search of Cultural Change” (Fire Rescue Magazine, April 2010)”.  In this article, Chief Fennessy writes about the challenges SDFD faced as well as the fruits of their efforts to bring about cultural change and the effect those efforts have had on the nation with regard to developing first-line fire leaders as well as the impacts of the L-curriculum has had on local fire departments and what potential exists to a national cultural change in fire service leadership.

It was an honor and pleasure working with such a fine group of professionals who truly care about each other, the citizens and community they serve and protect.  Captain Rodriguez is young and talented visionary who is motivating members within the department to take on these leadership challenges.  He should be commended for this extraordinary effort! 

Jorge’s vision:
“To build a coalition of leaders, with a sound foundation in values/principle based decision-making, with a high bias for action to influence our culture and take EPFD to a new level of excellence and national prestige”.

El Paso's Leadership Doctrine (click to view image)

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