Canadian Firefighter Magazine

From Hire to Retire: The most crucial plan to make

By Arjuna George   

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Photo: Olivier Le Moal / Adobe Stock

If you aren’t considering how your organization will function after key talent leaves, then you may be putting the organization at risk. Succession planning is the critical process of identifying, preparing and developing internal candidates to fill key positions. Succession planning is not just about replacing people; it’s about filling gaps in knowledge, skills and competencies across an organization by transferring knowledge from one person to another. The goal of succession planning isn’t simply to get someone ready for a specific role but rather to help develop leaders who can take on future positions as they rise in the ranks.

Succession planning helps fire services avoid “holes” in leadership or talent due to unforeseen circumstances. This type of planning ensures that talented people always wait in line for opportunities within an organization, regardless of whether they’re needed immediately or not.

A succession plan can help with the following:

  • Vacations: when key talent goes on vacation, it provides an opportunity for senior staff to gain valuable first-hand experience. Having the chance to “act up” provides an excellent opportunity to experience the position’s duties.
  • Sudden Resignations: are you prepared for an emergency replacement? A sudden resignation or retirement can cripple an organization if it’s not well-prepared. Succession planning allows for temporary solutions for operational continuity.
  • Retirement: successful organizations help groom their next leaders, not so they are all the same and like-minded, but more to continue the vision.
  • Recruitment and Retention: we are in the people business. We don’t manufacture products, we provide a professional service. We fail the public if we are not adequately equipped to provide our number one asset (our people). Succession planning helps prospects see their future growth and opportunities.

It’s not just about replacing people but also about developing them to prepare them for their next role within the department. When succession planning is done correctly, it can help ensure that there is no gap between the retirement of one generation of leaders and the arrival of another.


The goal of succession planning isn’t simply to get someone ready for a specific role but rather to help develop leaders who can take on future positions as they rise in the ranks.

There are five key steps to a successful success plan

  1. Identify the critical positions, those that would disrupt operations if left vacant.
  2. Identify who are the high-potential people to fill those key roles.
  3. Decide when or if they will be ready to fill the position.
  4. Decide what they need for support to be successful (training, cross-training, mentoring etc.).
  5. Finally, what ongoing support and professional development do they require to excel?

Who benefits from succession planning? The answer is everyone.

Outgoing person

  • The outgoing person often feels less pressure to stay longer than they want.
  • It relieves a lot of stress (not having to worry about your organization because you know it is in good hands).
  • It can be a good feeling to know that the one to fill your boots will do a great job, and you can enjoy your next chapter without worrying.
  • It can also allow for your legacy to continue through the next leadership.

Incoming person

  • It allows time to be prepared, learn and be mentored by the outgoing person.
  • It provides a less stressful environment, knowing that a plan is in place.
  • It provides opportunities to trial the work before being in the position.
  • It provides clarity on your future within the organization.

Overall organization

  • It provides clarity to all members on the vision long term.
  • It provides stability within the ranks and knowledge of the potential future.
  • It provides continuity of plans, legacy projects and strategic goals.
  • It provides a smooth transition at all ranks.

So how do you select prospects for those key positions? It’s as basic as knowing your people. It’s also vital to consider a diverse makeup of candidates. The overall aim is to deliver a continuous service with minimal disruptions. And to do that, we need leaders with different viewpoints, strengths and backgrounds.

We are all replaceable; embrace it. This means our job is to set up the next leadership to excel and leave the organization better than we found it.

Arjuna George retired as a fire chief in November of 2021 after serving the department in Salt Spring Island, B.C., since 1997. He is now a fire service coach and consultant. Visit or email

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