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What are the qualifications to become a fire chief and can a union member be a fire chief?

First, the township sets the qualifications for its fire chief.  Certainly there are standards of certification of the individual as a fire fighter, but when it comes to expectations of management of the fire department, each township has its own view of the best practice.  Townships may consider leadership experience in the department, interpersonal communication ability, education achieved, and the ability to maintain proper budgeting procedures.  Before hiring a chief, we strongly recommend crafting a job description that outlines the minimum qualifications and expectations from everything to physical abilities, accounting and managerial responsibilities and minimum training and education requirements to reporting responsibilities to the Township Board.

As to the second question of whether a union member may become a chief, the answer depends on a couple of things.  We’ll start with the comment that there are both benefits and drawbacks to a former union member becoming a chief in your department.  As to the mechanics of this, we suggest first and foremost that the township should follow its own policies and collective bargaining agreements as to any promotional procedures in place for transitioning from a department member to fire chief.  The same goes for those townships who have civil service: follow Act 78 and its procedures to a tee if your chief’s position is included in the civil service.  Ultimately, if a union member applies for and is selected as the fire chief, that individual will no longer be included in the union, so the township will need to establish pay rates, benefits and other related pay and benefits matters for the chief, if the township has not already done so.

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