Leadership Studies Ed.D. Dissertations

An Examination of the Ascension to and Experiences in the Metropolitan Chief Fire Officer Position: Implications for Leadership, Policy and Practice

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)


Leadership Studies

First Advisor

Judith Jackson May (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Patrick Pauken (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Matthew Kutz (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

David Neal (Committee Member)


This dissertation is a phenomenological examination of the experiences of nine metropolitan Chief Fire Officers in the ascension to and in the highest leadership position at metropolitan fire departments. An extensive review of literature showed a dearth of literature relative to how individuals ascend to the position and what they experience in the position. Research indicates that there is no widely recognized or shared path of preparation for Chief Fire Officers.

Several key concepts emerged from the analysis of the in-depth qualitative interviews with nine participants including, operational training and experience, discovery of leadership and management, developing leadership skills, responsibility and accountability, institutional complexity, and motivation and inspiration. From the six key concepts four overarching themes arose: the unique characteristics of the Chief Fire Officer position; the ability to master technical,human, and conceptual skills; significant developmental leadership experiences; and the importance of self-awareness.

The findings of the study revealed implications for policy and practice including the need to develop policies to outline a clear expectation and agreed-upon understanding of the components and complexity of the Chief position; to develop agreed upon practices to support skills mastery at milestone points, such as Lieutenant, Battalion Chief and/or moves to administrative positions, Assistant Chief, and Chief Fire Officer. Finally, the results of this empirical study represent a substantial addition to the existing literature base and provide a deeper and more robust dialogue relative to the ascension of metropolitan Chief Fire Officers.