The Virginia Fire Officer Academy Part I – The Speakers

I just got back from a the week long Virginia Fire Officer Academy (VFOA). The VFOA ran from Sunday-Friday hosted by the Virginia Fire Chiefs Association and the Virginia Fire Chiefs Foundation at the campus of the University of Richmond.

I learned a lot. This will probably be article I of II on this topic. Part II will focus on the bulk of what I learned.

Not only that, but I don’t think it would matter if you were an up-and-coming company officer or a 20 year seasoned company officer, you would have learned a lot.

Someone on Facebook asked “But I thought you already were an officer?”

The truth is that I am a Lieutenant. I often have to go a step further and explain that in my department a Lt. is a driver/engineer with acting ability who works underneath a Captain (the company officer). I have been in that position for about 9 years. I understand my job description of Lt. is different than the norm.

It doesn’t matter though…I learned so much.

Stuff I wish I had learned 9 years ago when I got promoted.
Stuff I need to know, but didn’t know I needed to know.
Stuff I knew, but didn’t know I knew.
Stuff I thought I knew, but didn’t.

If you aren’t in Virginia, you might have something comparable. If not, I am sure that the VFOA staff would be happy to help your State begin an academy of their own. The VFOA began in 2007. This year, the VFOA was two classes back to back for a total of two weeks. Each week, 40 firefighters from across the State graduated joining the past 280 graduates of the academy. To date, 360 have graduated the academy. I am proud to say that I am one of them. Not for the certification, but for the knowledge.

VFCA – VFOA on Facebook

The Virginia Fire Officer Academy Class 2013-2. Photo by Brian Rueger (VFOA Photographer). I am in the back, just right of center…musta been standing in a hole.

Here are some of the speakers from the week:


Chief David Hoback, gave opening remarks on leadership and welcomed us to the academy. We then did some team building activities.

David Hoback (Roanoke Fire/EMS) is the Chief of the Roanoke Fire-EMS Department. He has 31 years of Fire & EMS experience, has the Executive Fire Officer designation from the NFA, the Chief Fire Officer designation from the Center for Public Safety Excellence. He serves on the Board of the VFCA.


Art Jackson provided us with a full day of Leadership training “Principles of Leadership in the Fire Service”. This guy is awesome. He is an excellent speaker and knows how to captivate an audience. His use of “stories” to drive the point home was exceptional.

Art Jackson ( is a professional speaker, executive coach and the President of Eagles Nest Performance Management, Inc. He is a recognized expert in the areas of leadership, performance improvement and interpersonal skills.  Art is the originator of the Purpose Centered Leadership™ system that has been used to improve performance in many facets of public and private life.

Art is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Engineering and a Master of Science degree in Management. Art is presently earning a Master of Theology degree.


Chief Randy Keirn provided us a great class on “Communications and Command Presence” and “The Company Officer as a Coach” with a focus on conflict resolution and using Keirn’s CROSSfire method. Randy is a pluthera of knowledge on the subject. He also gave us a copy of his book “CROSSfire: Taking the Heat out of Conflict – A Conflict Resolution Guide for Fire Officers

Randy Keirn ( is a Training Professional and Leadership Expert with more than 25 years of experience in Fire Services. As an accomplished Chief Officer, Instructor, and Community Educator, Randy has dedicated his life to instilling leadership in every professional and personal capacity.

In addition to delivering thought-provoking presentations and training sessions across the country, Randy still serves as District Chief, Training Officer, and Division Chief of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) for Lealman Fire District in Pinellas County.


Chief John F. Sullivan gave us a great class on “Safety as a Consequence of Leadership”. His blunt and straight forward approach was perfect for the topic. He gave some introspect on the Worcester 6, being at the fire, and losing some members of his crew in the fire.

That evening, we enjoyed a talk from Chief Barakey (Virginia Beach). He gave some insight on his experience when an F-18 crashed in Virginia Beach. Barakey was the initial Incident Commander of the scene.

John F. Sullivan (bio here) is a 24-year veteran of the Worcester Fire Department serving as Deputy Chief of Operations. He is an Instructor/Examiner for both the Worcester Fire Department and Massachusetts State Fire Academy.

Chief Sullivan holds a Bachelor’s degree in Fire Science and a Master’s Degree in Public Administration. He is a National Fire Academy Executive Fire Officer graduate and holds the designation of Chief Fire Officer from the Center for Public Safety Excellence. Chief Sullivan is also a Member of The Institution of Fire Engineers, United States of America Branch.

Michael Barakey (bio here) joined the Virginia Beach Fire Department in 1995.  He currently serves as the District Chief of Personnel & Development and oversees Human Resources, Training, Safety, Health and Wellness.  He also serves as the department’s accreditation manager.  Chief Barakey is a Hazardous Materials Specialist, Instructor III, National Registered Paramedic, Plans Team Manager for VA Task Force II Urban Search & Rescue, and a classroom instructor for the Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC). He holds a Master of Public Administration from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA and is a graduate of the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program.


Vickie Taylor spoke to us about “The Company Officer’s Role in Managing Workplace Stress”. She works with the NFFF and is married to a firefighter. Even though she is a clinical social worker, she was able to teach at a level everyone could understand.

Vickie Taylor (bio here) is a licensed clinical social worker who has served as the behavioral health consultant and the coordinator of the Family Day activities for the National Memorial Week-end since the Foundation was created in 1992. In addition, she is an instructor for the Taking Care of Our Own training program. She lives and works in Prince William County, Virginia where her husband has been a firefighter for over thirty years.


Bryan Frieders offered a talk on “Firefighter Health and Safety” on Professional Wellness. His humor and use of “in your face” teaching really captured my attention.

Bryan Frieders (bio here) is a Division Chief with the San Gabriel (CA) Fire Department. He has over 20 years of experience in both Fire and EMS working in a variety of assignments including training, EMS, and most recently emergency management. Chief Frieders is also the Director of Communications for the Firefighter Cancer Support Network, and is the liaison to the Safety Health and Survival Section of the IAFC. He has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Vocational Education, and a Masters Degree in Public Administration.

After all of that, physical fitness, some role playing scenarios, and plenty of other great content in the academy, we graduated.

It was a great opportunity I am happy I was accepted to participate in.
Needless to say, I have a lot to reflect on.