Three Newport News Fire Department members recently attended a week-long academy that taught them valuable leadership skills.
Lt. Steven Gray and senior firefighter-medics Carlos Munoz III and Ashley Roberts were among 80 firefighting professionals from across the state selected in a competitive process for the Virginia Fire Officer Academy.
The academy, developed by the Virginia Fire Chiefs Association, was launched in response to decreasing opportunities for training for new company-level officers and officer candidates. The interactive residential program aims to teach fundamental ethical leadership skills through an approach that focuses on personal accountability, ownership, education and safe practices.
“The Virginia Fire Chiefs Association has a strong belief that leadership and safety are processes, not simply positions, titles, and actions. In addition, leadership skills and safe practices are learned and should be taught and developed,” the association’s website states.
The annual academy is held at the University of Richmond, and all training staff are volunteers.
Gray, a new NNFD lieutenant, said he gained knowledge and some new perspective about what it truly means to be an effective and positive leader. He defined leadership as a set of skills that help motivate others to reach their full potential.
“A good leader should be caring and compassionate; a teacher and a student; encourage teamwork; learn what motivates his and her people; operate with integrity at all times; and most importantly be willing to admit when they themselves have made a mistake,” Gray said.
Munoz said the most important lessons he learned in the academy were about himself. Through speakers and role playing exercises, he learned to identify some of his own “hot buttons” and how to be mindful of how those can affect his ability to resolve conflicts in the firehouse.
For example, he said, the training helped him realize how difficult it is for him to deal with people with bad attitudes, especially when it’s his job to discipline them or give direction. He wants everyone to like him, but he acknowledged that’s not always possible.
He said he learned not to take their attitudes personally and that everyone’s different. While he may be inclined to force himself on someone to make his point, some people will do what you want them to if you take the time to explain your position and then give them time and space.
“I learned that what I thought was correct might be wrong,” he said.
The participants said the academy was a great experience and they now feel better prepared to effectively lead in the firehouse.
“I hope to use some of these tools to empower others and have a positive impact on my company and the organization as a whole,” Gray said.
Pictured: From left, Senior Firefighter-Medic Ashley Roberts, Lt. Steven Gray and Senior Firefighter-Medic Carlos Munoz III.