The educational conference all volunteer fire officers should attend

CarolinaFireJournal - By Ron Cheves
By Ron Cheves
01/10/2013 -

As volunteer fire officers we have several issues facing us every day. One that seems to be near the top of the list is the fire department budget. This is certainly an issue that won’t be going away any time soon. And if you are like most departments you will have to pick and choose the conferences and training courses you will attend each year. If you are a company officer and you want great leadership training the IAFC’s Volunteer and Combination Section offers Symposium in the Sun held each November in Clearwater Beach, Fla. 


This is one you should put on the top of your priority list of conferences to attend each year. I had the opportunity to be a part of this conference again this year and without a doubt it continues to get better each year.

Do you take the time to analyze how you are leading your department and what your goals are? This year the educational sessions at the symposium focused on preparing for the unexpected and the new culture of safety and being more efficient. Chief Jack Snook (ret.) and president of ESCI Consulting delivered some hard-hitting facts about “Managing the New Reality” the economic crisis, where most of the fire service was not ready. According to Chief Snook too many fire chiefs assume their funding was going to be untouched. Most chiefs were caught off guard by this economic crisis and their forecasts were not accurate due to the lack of contingency planning.

We all have to be prepared to do more with less and continue to look for more efficient ways to deliver the services we provide. Things used to be predictable and consistent. What we have to realize in the new reality is constant change. Fire departments used to be untouchable. We have to understand going forward there are limited community dollars and that the community needs to see that those dollars are being best spent.

Another concern that was brought up in one of the round table discussions was the fact that we should not continue to rely on the AFG and SAFER grants to support the fire service and the concern that the grants are in jeopardy and may be gone by 2016.

Symposiums in the Sun attendees were among the first to hear about a brand-new VCOS educational offering: Fire Rescue Organizational Guidance for Volunteer Leaders (FROG). This program will be an intensive two and one-half day workshop for leaders of volunteer and combination departments; essentially, a “Graduate Level Leadership Program” picking up where the “Beyond Hoses and Helmets” course leaves off. The pilot test will be presented in March 2013 at the Department of Public Safety Standards and Training in Salem, Oregon. Watch the VCOS website ( for more information.

In early October, VCOS staff mailed an executive summary of an insurance planning guide to all members of the VCOS. This insurance guide is the culmination of more than a year of dedicated effort by a number of VCOS board members, section members and their insurance corporate partners, Provident and VFIS. VCOS is very proud of the report and are confident it will prove an invaluable resource for all members for years to come. The focus of this report is us! We need to know how we can be prepared for when bad things happen to our own departments. In other words, what are the insurance basics? What do we need to know about workers’ comp? Do we need building and premises insurance? What about claim service and agent considerations? Do you know the 40 potential threats to fire departments? You’ll learn more than you ever realized you needed to know!

This report is available free of charge to members on the Resources page of the VCOS website. Download it now!

Each year VCOS gives two scholarships to the Symposium in the Sun. You can visit the VCOS website to learn more about how to submit applications for next November.

It was very gratifying this year to receive 27 applications for the two $1,500 VCOS Symposium scholarships. VCOS is pleased that word has gotten out about the scholarships; they demonstrate the commitment to serving the mission of providing education to the volunteer and combination fire and emergency service.

The two scholarship winners this year are Fire Chief Donna Black, EFO of the Duck (N.C.) Fire Department, a combination department with 34 members and Fire Chief Jason Catrambone of the Spanish Peaks-Boncarbo (Colo.) Fire Protection District, an all-volunteer department with 35 members.

The Coventry (Conn.) Fire Department has won this year’s competition for the Vehicle Safe Operations Achievement Award, sponsored by VFIS. The department, led by Fire Chief Joseph Carilli, has experienced zero vehicle accidents during the period June 1, 2011 to May 31, 2012. The award was accepted at Symposium in the Sun by department president Leonard Bragdon.

The Manlius (N.Y.) Fire Department was selected as the winner of the annual Recruitment and Retention Award, sponsored by VFIS, as they demonstrated the highest achievement of their overall stated objectives, meeting both their short-term and their long-term goals. Chief Paul Whorral is the chief of the department. Firefighter/EMT Jennifer Cruse accepted the award on behalf of the department at the Symposium.

Fire Chief Chris Barron is the 2012 winner of the John M. Buckman III Leadership Award, sponsored by Provident Insurance. Chief Barron has been a member of the fire service for over 22 years, serving as the Fire Chief of the Manchaca Fire/Rescue Department located just outside of Austin, Texas for the past 12. During his tenure as chief, he led the organization from an all-volunteer-based agency to a combination agency and was instrumental in improving his department’s service delivery from an ISO PPC Class 7/9 to an ISO rating of PPC Class 3, resulting in a significant drop in homeowner’s insurance premiums.

Chief Chris Barron has also been appointed to NFPA 1720: Standard for Organization and Deployment by Volunteer Fire Departments for suburban communities.

Fire Chief Ron J. Cheves (ret.) of Robinson Volunteer Fire and Rescue, Charlotte NC was also appointed by the International Association of Fire Chief’s to serve on NFPA 1720 with Chief Barron.

Fire Chief Nate Melby of the Campbell (Wis.) Township Fire Department has been appointed by IAFC to serve as the Alternate Representative to NFPA 950: Standard for Data Development and Exchange for the Fire Service. Chief Melby will be the back-up for the Principal Representative, Deputy Chief Jim Middleton of the Mariposa County (Calif.) Fire Department.

Chiefs Middleton and Melby represent VCOS on the committee. The IAFC’s representative is Chief Ed Plaugher, Ret., who also serves as the committee chair.

Some but not all of the other topics from this year’s Symposium that were led by officers in the fire service were:

  • Response to Mass Shooting/School Shootings -Ken Bouvier, Deputy Chief, New Orleans
  • Preparing for Unpredictable Major Events -Eddie Buchanan, Div. Chief, Hanover(VA)
  • What’s the worst that can happen in Overhaul – Brett Bowman, Chief Manassas (VA)
  • Disaster Actions and Reactions – Mark Furnish, Chief, Henryville (IN) VFD
  • Fireground Mistakes and Best Practices – Rich Gasaway, Gasaway Consulting Group
  • Officer Leadership so Everyone Goes Home – Ron Sciarnicki, Executive Director of NFFF
  • Keep Doing It Different – Chief Shane Ray, South Carolina Fire Marshal

The take away here is to start making plans to include this very important “Symposium in the Sun” in your budget for the next year if you have to pick and choose certain training classes you will attend each year. If there was a money back guarantee to leaders that did not get enough out of going to certain conferences, this would be one that could save their money. You do not have to be member of the IAFC or VCOS to attend, but members do get a great discount for this like other IAFC/VCOS sponsored conferences throughout the country. Go to the VCOS website to see more about the Symposium and also download presentations from last year’s conference. Soon this year’s presentations will also be available for you to view and download.

Chief Ron J. Cheves (ret.) has 39 plus years as a volunteer in the fire and emergency services rising to the position of Fire Chief. He currently leads the Red Ribbon courses for the VCOS section of the International Association of Fire Chiefs, and in 2012 was appointed to NFPA 1720, the standard for Organization and Deployment by Volunteer Fire-EMS Dept. He is a columnist / lecturer for several fire service publications and participates in numerous conferences throughout the country. Cheves now serves his local community as the Safety Officer for the Robinson Volunteer Fire-Rescue Department, a progressive Fire-Rescue provider for about 5,000 residents. He can be reached at 704-557-5781 or [email protected]
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