A Message from VFCA President, Chief Keith H. Johnson:
I want to start off by thanking each of my fellow board members for their support and confidence in me as the incoming President of the Virginia Fire Chiefs Association (VFCA). When I look back at the list of names that have led this organization for over 90 years, it overwhelms me to think that I am following in their footsteps. To all our past leaders and board members, thank you for your service and I promise to uphold the great work that you have done and dedicate my time as president to keep moving the fire and EMS service forward and strengthening this great profession, both career and volunteer. I also want to thank Chief David Hutcheson for his service to the VFCA during this past year and all that he has done to help move this organization and our profession forward. Since 1930 this organization has served our Commonwealth and our profession, and Chief Hutcheson’s service, dedication and friendship is a fine legacy and will never be forgotten. I also want to express my sincere apology to each of you and our organization for not being able to hold our annual conference in Virginia Beach. As an organization, we easily concluded that the safety of our brother and sister fire and EMS professionals take precedent over holding an annual conference. Like me, I know each of you are disappointed to not be able to attend one of the Country’s premier fire and rescue conferences, but we will be back.
My road to this personal accomplishment has been built with dedication, passion, personal commitment, and a lifelong journey of learning. As a 4th generation firefighter, I have dedicated my life to being a component firefighter, mentor, leader, friend and now fire chief to all those around me. Certainly, this past year provided the COVID-19 pandemic has challenged all of us and every person in our profession, from firefighter up to chief.
I want to focus a small amount of time on the foundation of our profession and this organization; the ability to overcome any challenge we are faced with. So, what can we learn from this past year and the COVID-19 pandemic? I am not sure I was any more prepared than each of you but maybe we have learned somethings together. What I can tell you is that no one has dealt with the circumstances surrounding a pandemic of this magnitude and no one had a play book for any of us to follow. What we had were plans to help us deal with basic frameworks of emergency incidents to include pandemics that could be adapted to this specific virus. So, what enables us as first responders to be able to perform our jobs whether it is the job of a fire chief or the job of a firefighter? What gives us the strength and wisdom to carry-on and continue to perform to the best of our ability? For me, the answer comes easy. It is the core values upon which we were raised and the core values of the organization to which we joined.
As leaders in the VFCA, what is it that guides our decision making and actions in these most uncertain times? Again, it is not the coronavirus playbook, but the experiences that we have developed over a lifetime through our values, our education, and professional experiences, even if not related to the fire service. For me, it has always been about sound decision making, matching our experiences with our education, listening to the people above us and those that work for us, and making a sound decision based upon sound judgement, not raw emotion. You see emotion is just the outside sign of a passing thought, not a deep dive into experience and the education within us, as that requires thinking and analyzing your thoughts. Emotion serves no purpose into the daily decisions needed to make an informed and educated decision to lead one into sound judgement. It is your analytical ability that each of us have that will guide you to make the right decision in this organization and in your full-time job.
It is this organizations core values, our education and our experiences that will guide us to do the right thing and solve the problem no matter what we are faced with, often without a playbook, a familiar scenario or something we have ever experienced before. You see that is what COVID-19 has taught all of us, we have no control over what is presented to us in our personal and professional lives. We adapt and overcome to whatever challenge we are faced with and we are expected to be smart enough, calm under pressure and use the basics of what we have learned to make our profession and this organization stronger.
As president of the VFCA, I want to employ these principles and ideas mentioned to help this organization grow and be a resource to all organizational leaders in the Commonwealth of Virginia to help us tackle the organizational and operational challenges we all face. Never has a time of collaboration been more important that what we are all facing today. I want to reinforce and strengthen our mission which is to serve the communities of Virginia through its fire service leaders and advance the Fire & Rescue service through leadership, education, and advocacy. To do this, we as an organization need to communicate with all our fire and EMS leaders throughout our membership and the Commonwealth. To do this, we need to communicate in a more efficient method utilizing all available tools such as social media, strengthening our website and continue the great work in the Commonwealth Chief magazine. This organization does great work but if you ask an individual member what we are doing, I think you would be surprised at what you hear. Thus, my focus this year will be built on a platform of Communication and Organizational Outreach. Some ways to accomplish this include:
- Updating and strengthening our VFCA Website. This should be a one-stop site for all information about our organization.
- Strengthening and maintaining a comprehensive fire and EMS Chiefs Directory.
- Increase our presence and activity on available social media platforms.
- Increase your use of division specific meetings by our division representatives using virtual meetings, now common to all of us.
- Ensuring equal participation among our Board of Directors as everyone has allot to offer to this organization.
- Updating our Board member position descriptions and committee charters.
- Strengthen the involvement with our stakeholders such as VDFP, VAOEMS, VDEM and others that play a major role in our profession.
- Explore ways to “stay connected” as an organization. We can look to our faith-based organizations to see how they maintain contact with their members.
Of course, these initiatives are in addition to continuing to the great work this organization does. Certain one of our biggest advancements has been around legislative involvement, something I hope to continue to improve upon. Other areas include our involvement on the National Mutual Aid System, improving our Special Operations requirements with VDEM and VDFP, and of course continuing to provide one of the best fire and rescue conferences in the Country and providing CEU hours to those attending. By now you realize that while our title strictly relates to Fire Chiefs, each of us here today deal with Emergency Medical Services as a substantial part of our job as “Fire Chiefs”. We must continue to recognize this and embrace EMS in our mission.
In closing, I am proud to help lead this organization and very much look forward to working with each of you. We have great talent on this Board of Directors and throughout our organization and we are only as good as the sum of us all working together. To reiterate from earlier, let us use this organizations core values and mission, our education, and our experiences to help guide us to do the right thing and solve any problem we are faced with. That is what leaders do. God bless each of you and thank you again for your trust in me and your service to the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Chief Keith Johnson, 2021 VFCA President
The Virginia Fire Chiefs Association, (VFCA) serves the communities of Virginia through its fire service leaders and advances the Fire & Rescue service through leadership, education and advocacy.
History and Purpose of VFCA
The State Fire Chiefs Association of Virginia, Inc., was organized in 1930 by progressive Fire Chiefs who saw the need to work together for the betterment of the fire service. The Association's original purpose was to work for the promotion of fire prevention, protection from and extinguishments of fires, and attendant reduction of insurance rates. The Association proposed to accomplish this by bringing into closer contact the various Fire Chiefs in the Commonwealth for their mutual benefit and welfare. Among the first matters discussed in 1930 were the need for a State Firemen's School, the Firemen's Pension Bill, and a Model Arson Law.
The Association has continued to grow through the years and its goals have broadened to keep pace with the challenges. Today, the Association's stated purpose is to bring together at least once a year persons interested in the advancement of the fire service; to discuss ways of improving life-saving and fire extinguishments procedures; to assist in research studies; to serve as the recognized organization for the exchange of ideas, information, knowledge and experiences affecting the safety of life and property from fires; to encourage and assist in the development of public education in fire prevention programs in the Commonwealth of Virginia; to cooperate with all organizations in the promotion of the goals and objectives of the fire service; and to support and encourage the delivery of pre-hospital emergency medical services by the fire service to relieve human suffering.
In 2002, the SFCAV changed its name to become the Virginia Fire Chiefs Association in order to facilitate searching capabilities on the Internet and a more direct identification similar to other organizations throughout the United States.