Leadership is Action

On this episode of The Fire Inside Her with Diane Schroeder, you’ll get to meet Heather Childress, the Deputy Chief for Albemarle County Fire Rescue in Virginia. She speaks candidly and vulnerably on a multitude of topics that you’ll resonate with. Todays conversation touches on a variety of topics from the importance of preparing for leadership roles early in one’s career , to supporting other’s reaching their potential, and scarcity mindset and limitations, especially for women, that have been set in place by previous generations.

Listen in to learn more about how discipline and intentionality are key to coaching others and cultivating leaders. Then stick around for the engaging topics of helpful blunt conversations with friends, the journey that led Heather to find a relationship she truly cherishes, her personal weight loss journey, and how changing routines and habits can led to positive outcomes. There’s a lot to gain from today’s episode!

Heather Childress lives in Charlottesville, VA with her husband, Chris, and their spoiled rotten good boy Marley. She loves scrapbooking, card making and being creative in general. She enjoys being a member of several book clubs and exercising everyday. She and Chris love to travel abroad and explore Virginia by glamping in their motorhome.

Heather is a 27-year veteran of the fire service and currently serves as a Deputy Chief for Albemarle County Fire Rescue in Virginia. Heather attended college at the University of Virginia and earned a Bachelor’s degree in Biology. She has a Master’s degree in Public Administration from James Madison University and is a doctoral candidate in Leadership Studies from the University of Lynchburg. During her career, Heather has served in most every role in the fire department and spent 15 years as a flight paramedic.

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Facebook @Heather Childress

Instagram @hever63

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Diane Schroeder [00:00:00]:

Well. Hi, Heather Childress. How are you?

Heather Childress [00:00:02]:

I'm great. How are you?

Diane Schroeder [00:00:04]:

I'm wonderful. I'm so excited that you're here. There's so many things that I want to talk to you about. My audience, we talk a lot about the journey to authenticity and how we get there and kind of our journey. And so we're going to cover all that. But before we dive in, I have a couple of questions I want to ask you that are just random and may not make any sense. The first is what or who was your first concert?

Heather Childress [00:00:32]:

Rick Springfield. Oh, my gosh. For my 13th birthday, it was the best gift I may have ever gotten. I had Rick Springfield posters littering my walls in my bedroom, and it was an amazing time.

Diane Schroeder [00:00:46]:

Oh, my gosh, I love it. What is your favorite Rick Springfield song?

Heather Childress [00:00:50]:

Jesse's girl does, of course.

Diane Schroeder [00:00:52]:


Heather Childress [00:00:53]:

I also had that movie hard to hold. I had that on VHS that I watched until it was just about Warren Finn.

Diane Schroeder [00:01:05]:

I don't think I ever saw that movie.

Heather Childress [00:01:07]:


Diane Schroeder [00:01:09]:

I know. Okay, well, I'm going to add it to my list. Amazing. Another random question I would love to know, just because I'm curious, is what's the last book that you've read or that you are currently reading?

Heather Childress [00:01:21]:

That's a great question because one of my new year's resolutions was to scroll less and read more. Just sort of part of my whole being intentional with my time. And so I'm reading two or three books right now, actually. I have a book club in my neighborhood that recently started, so it's a way to meet folks in my neighborhood. And we are reading the seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, which I highly recommend. It's amazing.

Diane Schroeder [00:01:46]:


Heather Childress [00:01:48]:

There's a little bookstore, a boutique bookstore in my neighborhood, and there's something that we're about to read there. I haven't started. I haven't purchased it or started reading it, so that one's not fair. And then I do a little book club thing with a couple of girls in the office, and we're reading Waco rising. So 30th anniversary of the siege at Waco. And I'm also reading atomic habits because I am a multitasker of the highest magnitude. And so I'm listening to that. So I have to be doing something in the car. But it's really interesting.

Diane Schroeder [00:02:22]:

I did so I read or listened to atomic habits as well, about four and a half years ago. And I love that book when I speak about self care and creating capacity for yourself and being consistent. I love the way he frames start small. Start small and stack it. And I'm really good about some things with it, but not so good about the other.

Heather Childress [00:02:47]:

The because start small, really if you can't do the start small, the other stuff won't get there because I'm like, all in. So I'm 100% in, even though I'm not successful. Quite often when I try to do something new or build a new habit because I tried to go too big too quickly without intention about it, and it fails. So there you go.

Diane Schroeder [00:03:07]:

I love that I've started reading more. I call it brain candy, and it's just like chiclet. It gives me a break. My brain a break from all the leadership books and kind of heavy books. And so it's like a hybrid, good smutty romance. I just love them. I can't get enough of them.

Heather Childress [00:03:25]:

It's my turn to pick the book next month for book club, so I'm really trying to figure out what that might be because I am obsessed with true crime. The fact that I'm not reading something true crime right now is interesting. I mean, I guess you call Waco Rising might fall into that. It's a little dark, but I was really hoping there would be perhaps a tell-all on the Murdoch murder trial by the time it was my turn to choose, and I haven't seen anything yet that I wanted to read. Okay, I'll find something.

Diane Schroeder [00:03:54]:

You'll have to keep me posted on that because I watched that on Netflix. Like, I binged it. And I was like, Holy crap.

Heather Childress [00:04:04]:

There's really no other explanation, no other response but holy crap.

Diane Schroeder [00:04:07]:

Exactly. Well, thank you for sharing.

Diane Schroeder [00:04:12]:

You live in Virginia. So we met through the International Association of Fire Chiefs. And I remember we were in North Carolina, and I had sat down at the little booth, and I look over and you have different colors and your paper planner, and I was like, you are my people with the different colored markers. And we instantly connected about scrapbooking and being old fashioned with that. So I appreciate your detail on that because I, too, am the same way, and I'm trying to get rid of and get more streamlined with my life. And I'm finding it really hard to give up my paper planner. I can't do it.

Heather Childress [00:04:51]:

Yeah, there's something very tangible about it that I appreciate. It's the reason I like a real book most of the time, instead of a Kindle version. I appreciate the paper and the feel of the pages.

Diane Schroeder [00:05:03]:

I agree. So tell us about a Cliff Notes version of you in the fire service. What got you started in the fire service? And then we'll dig a little deeper into where you're at now in your journey.

Heather Childress [00:05:18]:

So honestly, I sort of accidentally, by happy accident, ended up here. I was a fourth year student at the University of Virginia, and I took an EMT class in the evenings because I thought I was really broke and thought if I was going to go to medical school, it was my intention to go to medical school, and I was going to need a way to support myself. And I thought if I could be an EMT or a paramedic that has a pretty flexible schedule, I could attend class and still work. But then I wanted to take a gap year. And I found that I loved this work so much, I found so much satisfaction in it. And I got a job at another fire department where I spent 23 years, and sort of from day one, I was hooked. I went in as an EMT, got all my firefighter certifications, all of those things, got promoted fairly early, got promoted a couple of other times, and found that I made a good living doing work that I found really rewarding and was surrounded by people that I loved and who loved me. And so I really just didn't think it was getting better than that. What more could you ask for? I had a number of friends who were graduating from medical school and tons of debt and already didn't like being a physician, but felt like they had no choice. And so that gave me some pause. But then here I am, 27 years later, doing the same work and loving it just as much, but from a different perspective, because the work that I do for the department has changed. I'm not answering calls every day. I'm doing budgets and discipline and hiring.

Diane Schroeder [00:07:01]:

Right. Well, that's part of and I agree, climbing the ladder has been great and loving it, and then you transition kind of out of that operational side, and you end up on the strategic, more administrative side, and that's a huge change. But before you made that change to primarily administrative and your new department, can you share a little bit about your choice to take a leap from where you've been 23 years? And I talk about this a lot because I did the same thing at 19 years I left, and it's just not really common to do that in the fire service at that point in your career, to take a leap to the unknown.

Heather Childress [00:07:41]:

Absolutely. So it was not something that I ever envisioned doing. I envisioned retiring from that department where I started because I am loyal almost to a fault. And so my whole family was in that town. Everything that I grew up there, everything about it was familiar to me, and there's comfort in the familiar, even if you're not happy. And there were some decisions made and choices made that made me realize that my personal values and the department values were not in alignment. And I was really uncomfortable, and it didn't seem like that was ever going to change. And this opportunity presented itself to me, and the minute I made the decision to even apply, it felt right in a way that really is hard for me to describe. But the minute I walked through the door well, actually, before I walked through the door, I called the chief, who's my current boss, when I saw this advertisement because I wanted to talk to him about what he envisioned for the position. I did not want to get another bugle or a promotion just to have it. If I was going to move. I wanted it to be meaningful and not leap out of the frying pan into the fire kind of situation and instantly. Chief Eggleson is an amazing leader, and I could tell that on the phone. He has an authenticity that speaks to me and I could tell that I could learn from him and that he's clearly the leader of the department, but in the best possible way, he brings people with him. He knows how to build a team. Was really excited to learn from him. I have found that to be true from day one until now. I just celebrated my fourth anniversary here and couldn't be happier. And I found everything that I thought from that first meeting has held true through today. Wow.

Diane Schroeder [00:09:29]:

That's amazing. Because it's scary to take the leap, but trusting yourself.

Heather Childress [00:09:36]:

Yeah. So I work in Albumorrow County, which is the city of Charlottesville. Sits within Albumar County. So I went to the University of Virginia here for my undergraduate work, and so I'm familiar with it, but it wasn't home. So I found myself in tears on that first day because I'm staying in a firehouse because I didn't have anywhere to live. I was trying to find a house, so I was like, what have I done? I've left the security and safety of my entire family, my beautiful home that I loved, my dogs, my everything. And I'm living in a firehouse during the week trying to figure this out. But this has truly shown that if you bet on yourself, you just can't go wrong. And so many things I can't begin to tell you the things that have happened for me personally and professionally in the last four years that really have made me proud of myself for taking that leap. No, I'm not in the same town as I used to be, but I am very intentional about maintaining those connections with my family and friends. And I would argue that we see and communicate more that I don't live in the same city than we ever did. When we took that for granted, that I could drive five minutes and see them.

Diane Schroeder [00:10:50]:

That gave me goosebumps. If you bet on yourself, you can't go wrong.

Heather Childress [00:10:55]:

Absolutely. And that's a scary thing. Absolutely. But I had noticed probably a year and a half, two years before I made the move, there was a shift. Things just weren't the same. And I was spending 16, 17 hours a day working. I was grossly overweight. I was miserable with myself. Not about the weight per se, but that I wasn't taking care of myself. And I started to make myself a priority. And if I hadn't done those things in the previous 18 to 24 months, I would not have had the courage to make the leap. And it has, without a doubt, been the best choice I've ever made.

Diane Schroeder [00:11:31]:

Oh, my gosh, I love that. Which is a great segue into how important it is to not only bet on yourself, but take care of yourself. And I saw my brother last night, my younger brother, and he asked me this really kind of simple yet profound question. He's like, Diane, why do we when we know better and we know we need to take care of ourselves? We know that it's important to watch our labs and eat, clean and move our body, but we choose not to. What is that? And my response to him first was, you need to unpack that with a therapist and start doing the work.

Diane Schroeder [00:12:11]:

But also, I also said, you've just got to make the decision that you're enough and that you're worth it to do it. So when you started taking care of yourself and you saw these shifts and it transitioned into the new job, what other growth happened in your life?

Heather Childress [00:12:31]:

So, for one thing, I always wanted to exercise, but I was embarrassed, too, because I was quite overweight, and it was not going to be pretty spandex. Not my friend, but I went to a gym that was really sort of the antithesis of everything that I'd ever looked for in a gym. It was woman focused group exercise. I was not about that. But I had to have a conversation with myself that what I was doing and what I normally did was not effective. So it's the definition of insanity, doing the same thing over again, expecting different results. So I went to a boot camp facility, and from day one, again, there was this vibe that I loved. They give each other high fives on the first day. I was like, well, this is stupid. I don't high five. I'm not a high fiver. A week later, I'm like, she didn't high five me. What is her problem? And it's been almost five years, and I rarely miss a day. I think to date this year, I have 87 camps because I don't miss. It's an important part of my day that I schedule other things around because I have to. That brings with it maintaining my weight loss, my sanity. I can do hard things that I never thought I could do before. Bring on the burpees, bring on all the jump rope that you want, all the lifting heavy things. And I know that that will hopefully sustain me long into a happy and healthy retirement. Another thing, when I moved here randomly on the day that I resigned from my other job, I heard from a random guy that I hadn't heard from for years. We used to fly together as I was a flight medic and he's a flight nurse. Hadn't heard from him in years. He happened to see something that made him think of me that day, and he just sent a quick text, said, It's really funny. I thought about you today. I said, oh, it's really funny that you would call today or text today because I quit my job. And then he called and I'll skip to the good part. We're now married and have been married for two and a half years and the most surprising twist ever. I am living proof that good thing come, good things come to those who wait. Because I had dated not much in the previous, probably 7, 8, 10 years, but I hadn't dated great guys. They just were not the one for me. But I have found a man who loves me for everything that I am. The good, the bad and the ugly. He's proud of me in a way that I have never felt from anyone ever before. It's not that we don't get on each other's nerves sometimes, but I never question whether he cares that I'm the fire chief. He's a nurse. He is comfortable in his own skin, and he loves me. And he is my number one fan. And I feel the same towards him. That would not have happened if I didn't make this choice.

Diane Schroeder [00:15:25]:

Another goosebump moment. And I can relate to that on such a visceral level because it is such a game changer when you find the person that does that accepts you and sees you and isn't threatened by you and doesn't try to keep you small, but wants to help you grow into whoever you want to be without judgment.

Heather Childress [00:15:52]:

I can see in you now, I haven't seen you in person nearly as much as I have before, but I can see it and feel it from you. I can hear it when you talk. The happiness that you have just brings me so much joy I can't even put it into words. It's amazing and I could not be happier for you.

Diane Schroeder [00:16:11]:

Well, thank you. I appreciate that. I think part of all of this and that truly feeling joy for other people is so much easier to do when you feel joy for yourself. And had you not bet on yourself four and a half years ago or six years ago, really, when you started to get serious about that intention of what you were going to do and leaving and making the leap. I feel like the universe just gives and gives and gives. Like it is infinite how much abundance that you can have once you believe in it.

Heather Childress [00:16:46]:

Absolutely. I felt like when someone would tell me good news in the past, I had feelings of jealousy and petty things that didn't make me feel good about myself. When somebody would say, if a friend got engaged, my immediate thought was, well, why can't that be me? Why can't I have a guy? And that's not who I want to be. I want to be a friend who can share in the pure joy that people have. And it's not about me. It's not about me at all. So get over yourself. But you can't get there until you have a hard conversation with yourself. You see a therapist, you unpack all your crap because we've all got it and figure it out and then some introspection. Why is that my response? Because that's not the friend I want to be. And so sometimes you just have to make intention. You have to be intentional. I think that's my word of the year is intention, but it's meaningful for me, for sure. Yes. Stop being petty. Be happy for your friends.

Diane Schroeder [00:17:52]:

It's not like your happiness or your value changes next to a friend.

Heather Childress [00:18:03]:

You can be it is not a zero sum game.

Diane Schroeder [00:18:06]:

Exactly. There's plenty to go around for everyone.

Heather Childress [00:18:08]:


Diane Schroeder [00:18:09]:

And I appreciate you sharing that because that's really vulnerable. And I think in the back of our mind you're talking about that. I'm like, oh, yeah, I've been there, where I'm like, why does this always happen to her? And I would be lying. Occasionally I might get a twinge of that. That reminds me of my humanness. I think the other thing, too, to remember that it's when you're solid and when you have stability in your life and when you have that connection with yourself and you're doing self care and taking care of yourself, it doesn't make the bumps go away. So it makes it easier to navigate life. And then also what makes it easier is when you're not alone to do it.

Heather Childress [00:19:02]:

That can be a partner or friend. Like, I have an amazing friend group that one of those friends said to me one time, I will never forget it because I guess I thought my misery was only known to me. And she said to me, it's going to sound harsh, she said, sometimes you are hard to love. She hurt my feelings because she cared about me. I still obviously admit something. I heard her because she said it, because she could see the unhappiness or whatever that I couldn't even at the time see in myself. And she said, sometimes you're hard to love. I love you, but sometimes it's hard.

Diane Schroeder [00:19:46]:

I've been told similar from people in my life, that I need to soften that, just stop being so tough, just be human. And I feel like that's the same feedback of sometimes I'm hard to love. Because I think that's probably right.

Heather Childress [00:20:04]:

And I think some of that we put on ourselves. Some of it comes from this shield that I think we often feel we have to put up at work because it is to use the term I heard you use last week. Because while this is my first time, I'm a longtime listener, first time caller situation, that this is a male saturated world and I think there's a whole lot of stuff that comes with that that I'm not saying that the men put on us, we often put on ourselves. And there was this idea that I had to be tough and do all the things by myself without asking. And that included, by the way, some things that I've corrected now, which is not bringing women with me because I was afraid I would have some name put on me about that I was lowering standards or I was just here to bring on other women, which is just dumb.

Diane Schroeder [00:20:53]:

Tell me more about that. I'm curious.

Heather Childress [00:20:56]:

So one of our mutual friends, Trish, who has also been obviously on the podcast a couple of times, we just finished this executive development institute together, and she is just a beautiful human being, as if anybody who's listening doesn't already know that. Yes, and we had a women's panel there and it is the first time in 27 years where I felt truly supported in a professional environment by other women. And that gave me a real AHA moment. Why is it that I've been doing this for 27 years? I have known plenty of other women in the fire service, but we haven't necessarily championed one another because, again, I think some people think it has to be a zero sum game. If Heather Childress succeeds, then Diane can't.

Heather Childress [00:21:40]:

And those things are not true. And I had this again moment from some introspection or reading leadership books or whatever the case may be, where I just said, you know what? That's kind of crap. I can do better than that. And I can bring women, people of color, all facets of diversity. I want that in my workplace. I'm going to actively work to get that. And that's not just diversity of skin color and gender identity, but all facets of diversity. So it's a bit of a moment where you're like, why did I get here? Why am I by myself? I can't complain that there are not other women in positions of leadership in the fire service if I haven't done my part to make that so.

Diane Schroeder [00:22:23]:

Yes. Goodness gracious. That is well said. I think that it's this scarcity mindset, and I believe part of it is because the generation of women before us. My parents did the best they could with the tools that they had to be a parent of raising kids in the think that the women that came before us in the fire service did the absolute best they could with the tools that they had and breaking down barriers and holding doors open. I also agree that it's a scarcity mindset out of fear of if there is two seats at the table that are for women, then there's only two seats. And I always say we need a bigger table, we need more seats, we need why is that? And for a long time it was never questioned. It was just like oh look, we have the token whatever on the executive leadership team. And now as we see this beautiful transition in the fire service from the lower ranks of they don't look at life that way. This new generation is such a gift and I love that you want to help bring other people up.

Heather Childress [00:23:38]:

I'm amazingly proud that two of my good friends just got sworn in as fire chiefs in their own departments from that same executive development institute last week on successive days. Yes, your friends are badasses and mine are too. Now we share a community. Our friend Jan Raider. Hello. Complete badass. Absolutely. But super excited for my friends. And those were moments when I was just purely happy for someone else and I was all fan girling on the internet watching them get sworn in. It's amazing.

Diane Schroeder [00:24:10]:

It is. And it doesn't change who you are. In fact, all boats rise and it reminds me of the three most beautiful words you have ever said to me and I will never forget it.

Heather Childress [00:24:24]:

Oh, I know what it is.

Diane Schroeder [00:24:25]:

When you told me just remember, talent has options.

Heather Childress [00:24:29]:


Diane Schroeder [00:24:30]:

And that was a huge AHA moment in my life professionally, personally, and it totally ties into where you're at and that remember, talent has options. And I use it, I share it because it's true. And I think sometimes we get so in our own way that we don't think that.

Heather Childress [00:24:53]:

Oh yeah, and my friend told me that when I was in a not great place trying to figure out what I was going to do, she said at the end of the day, talent has options. Whether you choose to exercise those options, that's on you. But you have options. It can have a whole existential crisis. You can choose not to choose. But that's also a choice.

Diane Schroeder [00:25:09]:

Exactly. Choosing is a choice. I love it. And so how does that when I think that to myself talent has options, it gives me a little confidence. It gives me confidence in my job and who I am. And I know through my training and my community that also helps give me that confidence. And as I lead, because I lead from my heart, I've learned that the best way to lead is authentically and to be human and all of that. The other phrase that you gave me that I have on stickers of and everything else is I love that it's fuck around and find out. And please tell us a little bit about that and how that applies to how you lead.

Heather Childress [00:26:05]:

I think the best word is that I lead with compassion and caring. I want connection before content. Like you can't lead people if they don't trust you and they don't know that you care for them and that you're going to do what you say you're going to do. So I start there. I do Thank you Note Thursdays. I write handwritten notes when people get promoted, when they have a baby, when they do, whatever, just as a way to say, I see you, I appreciate you, or I understand what you're going through in your life right now. I know how much that meant to me when my mom passed and people reached out to me because it's real. And when I see them now, I still think of that. And so I know how important that is to share with other people. But because I lead with caring and compassion doesn't mean I can't and am not required to hold people responsible for their actions. Holding people responsible for their actions or inactions is an act of caring. It's not letting it go is not good for the organization or for the individual. So figuring out what the right discipline is, and sometimes discipline or investigations are really hard on me personally because I care deeply for people and I still struggle with sometimes being, for lack of a better word, the heavy or the hammer. But if you make mistakes, you should expect there will be consequences that are commensurate with the seriousness of the infraction. Because I care enough about you to hold you responsible, because I care enough about the department and its success that I can't not have to do those things. And you can do it with caring and grace. I recently had an opportunity to have a conversation with someone that received a little disciplinary action. It's not people make mistakes, we make mistakes, own it and move on. But when we're done here, we're done. You don't have to feel awkward. You made a mistake, you owned up to it, you received a consequence, and then it's done. But you will have an opportunity to have some silver lining from this at some point when you are in a position of leadership and you can tell people, I made this mistake, but I was honest about it, and this is how it turned out for me. You also might have an opportunity to decide discipline for someone else and know when you can show grace. Just because I can suspend you or I can fire you doesn't mean that I should. And you have to take a look at the totality of the circumstances, what's their history, what else is going on in the station or the department, like, all of the things what's going on at home, and really get to the root of why something happened. Instead of just trying to discipline for a mistake, take the time and energy to connect with the person and figure out what it is that went wrong and how can we avoid it from happening again.

Diane Schroeder [00:28:54]:

Absolutely. That's really powerful. I agree with absolutely everything. And I think a lot of times what can happen is that we react instead of respond. And really, I do a pretty good job at work. I'm terrible at it with parenting. So. I find myself really sometimes reacting to when my little guy messes up and I forget because I get so it's just that mother son dynamic, frustrated, and usually he's the one that will be like, mom, you need to calm down. Or, mom, can we take five?

Heather Childress [00:29:37]:

I generally have a 24 hours rule before I do anything when I hear something, because you hear and honestly, what you hear and when you find out the details are so often so widely separated that I've learned to not get wound up about those things until you find out what really happened. Because there's about 100 different versions of what really happened or 100 different versions of what happened, and one of them is what really happened. So some of that just comes with experience and practice, unfortunately, but it can be exhausting. But I want people to know that I'm holding them accountable. And I hold myself accountable because I care about the organization, not the opposite. I don't apply discipline because I don't care for people, I do it because I do.

Diane Schroeder [00:30:27]:

And I think that's because sometimes discipline gets this bad rap. And before I go down that road, another quote that I've heard that I like to apply is it's HR, not ER. So it's okay to take a break where we get caught up because in the fire service and emergency services, the problem happens, we respond within five to seven minutes. We fix the problem, we go home. And to get out of that habit, when you're in administrative or when it's discipline, it's really important to remember that. So taking 24 hours to sleep on it great idea being thorough to get all sides of the story, because we know there's like ten sides of every story and it's a shade of gray and somewhere in the middle. But also remembering. And I remind this discipline is about holding you accountable and changing the behavior. It's not to get you in trouble. And that's why it starts progressively depending on obviously what happened. But I also believe that if you stay disciplined in how you conduct yourself professionally, personally, if you have habits and you're taking good care of yourself, then usually leaders don't have to discipline you.

Heather Childress [00:31:41]:

And in those conversations, I always like to address the fact that this is about your behavior, not you as a person. This is not a personal insult. You made a bad decision. This does not make you a bad person, and it doesn't undo the years of good work that you have done and will continue to do because you made a bad decision.

Diane Schroeder [00:32:04]:

Yes, well, people are not failures. People make mistakes and bad decisions or fail at something. But you can't be a failure. You're a human, and you just can't be both. So I think, well, that's not that I ever want to be disciplined by you, but I appreciate that you do it caringly and compassionately. And try to get the end result of changing the behavior and looking out for the organization.

Heather Childress [00:32:31]:

And sometimes that discipline is not the discipline that you'd like to be able to rehabilitate or take a corrective action, and people learn, but sometimes that's not the case. That is why discipline, a progressive discipline, occurs because sometimes people do make decisions that make it impossible for them to continue to be part of the organization. But if we're doing our jobs early on, it's my goal that it never gets there. I think one of the things we do wonderfully in the fire service and in my department as well, is that we do an amazing job creating entry level firefighters and EMTs, and then we assume that the best ones of those are going to make good supervisors. And that is not the case.

Heather Childress [00:33:13]:

So we are creating in my department, we have a person, he and I are working on an officer development curriculum that will be at some point required for promotion. But we're figuring all of that out because we want to set people up to be successful. And our department is growing at a fairly significant pace. So we are bringing in a lot of new people, and in an effort to broaden and deepen our applicant pool, we have no certification requirements, so we give you all of those. That brings wonderful people, but it brings people with no experience. And so then we're going to want to promote those people in a couple of years. So we have to be thoughtful about what that means for their ability to lead, their technical competency, but also their EQ, their understanding of systems and processes and all those things that they haven't learned experientially or perhaps didn't get an opportunity to because they didn't get in trouble or because they're captain. There's just so much variety in the experience that people have through officers.

Diane Schroeder [00:34:14]:

Well, I've realized recently that the time to start preparing for leadership in an organization is not when you're ready to become a leader. I think organizations you said it really well. We're great at entry level, we're great at EMTs, and then we kind of have this lull of, okay, now a promotional process is coming up. Everyone gets out their books and wants to prepare for it. I envision a world in public safety and emergency services and the fire service specifically of preparing immediately. Like you start, we're going to give you that EQ training as soon as you're a new firefighter. Do you want some leadership and professional development? Yeah. We're not going to hold that hostage just for the leaders because we want to raise everyone up for future leaders. And I think it's really a navigation because you have to navigate landmines like egos and tradition.

Heather Childress [00:35:16]:

Tradition can be a good thing. But it gets in our way sometimes. What are the two things that firefighters hate?

Diane Schroeder [00:35:22]:

Change and the way things are.

Heather Childress [00:35:25]:

There you go. That's a universal truth.

Diane Schroeder [00:35:27]:

Yeah. So, to welcome all of this stuff from the young age, and the other thing I think we do with new people, and I don't know if this is the same in all industries, but you're new, be quiet. Don't say anything till you get a little and I'm like, but they're new. They know everything, and why would we make them feel bad? And I had a leader once tell me. Well, when I tried to speak up in an academy 40 plus years ago, they snapped at me and made me feel bad. And my thought was, and you're okay. That didn't feel good. Why would you want to continue that?

Heather Childress [00:36:04]:

Right? Yeah, we brought them on because we saw something in them. We sold them on this idea of family. We refer to ourselves as the ACFR family, and we mean that. But then do we treat them like family when they come out?

So that's something that I think every department is struggling with, that's not just yours and it's not just mine. Everybody's feeling that because there is the generational differences in the workplace. We can't do the same things that we used to do and expect them to work the same, because talent has options, and if you don't treat people well, they will exercise them.

Diane Schroeder [00:36:48]:

And as leaders, I think it's even more important because people don't leave companies and organizations. They leave bosses.

Heather Childress [00:36:54]:


Diane Schroeder [00:36:55]:

And if as a boss, you're okay with that, cool. And as someone that has options because you're talented, don't be afraid to take that leap. I think is really the best piece of advice I could give. And it sounds like you've not only given but practiced and seen the fruits of that.

Heather Childress [00:37:20]:


Diane Schroeder [00:37:22]:

Well, I appreciate all of your wisdom and all of your knowledge and goosebump giving moments.

Heather Childress [00:37:30]:

You're so kind.

Diane Schroeder [00:37:32]:

I would love to know if there was one thing that you could go back and tell your younger self, like 15 year old Heather Childress, a piece of advice. What would it be?

Heather Childress [00:37:49]:

Way to hit me with the hard one right at the end. I don't know how you encapsulate it in one thing, but that stuff I spent so much time worrying about whether I had jeans from the Gap, whether I was in the cool kids club, whether I got in the cool sorority. That crap doesn't matter. At the end, if you spend as much energy working on yourself as you did trying to be someone else or to fit in someone else's group, that self work would pay dividends beyond any of that other stuff for your whole life. Also to set boundaries. I've never been good at that until recently. Yeah, set boundaries and enforce them.

Diane Schroeder [00:38:42]:

That is really good advice. Not just for 15 year old Heather Childress, but everyone in general should listen to that. Don't waste time on the stuff that doesn't really matter and set those boundaries. Beautiful. Are there any other words of wisdom that you would like to share?

Heather Childress [00:38:59]:

I suspect you've gotten all the words of wisdom that I've got stacked up in here.

Diane Schroeder [00:39:04]:

I don't believe that at all.

Heather Childress [00:39:06]:

I do so appreciate the opportunity. I was really nervous. I really enjoyed listening to you and listening to our group of friends that we share be on here and share their awesomeness in this platform. I think it's lovely, and I appreciate it.

Diane Schroeder [00:39:22]:

Well, thank you so much. I love sharing my community with the world and the women who have a seat at my table, because it's really cool to learn and share experiences and laugh with all of you guys, too.

Heather Childress [00:39:40]:

While we focus on building a bigger table.

Diane Schroeder [00:39:44]:

We do. And the ripple effect, right? We don't run out of seats, and the table doesn't get any smaller, so we're all good there. Awesome. Well, thank you so very much.

Heather Childress [00:39:55]:


Diane Schroeder [00:39:56]:

All right, we'll talk to you later.