Thought Leadership

2023 Essay Competition: Recruitment, Diversity, Inclusion


The men and women of the nation’s fire services are some of the best and brightest from communities across the country. The fire service is stronger because of diversity – in thought, background, experience, race, gender and sexual orientation. However, there is still significant work to be done.

The 2023 Fire Service Thought Leadership Essay Competition welcomes essays that address the continuing challenges in recruiting and achieving diversity and creating an inclusive collaborative workplace for career, combination, or volunteer FDs and with both uniformed and non-uniformed members of the fire service.

Participants can answer one of the following questions or write on another diversity and inclusion topic:

  • Are the efforts by the fire service to promote diversity and inclusion working? What changes or improvements should be made?
  • Are there new recruiting approaches the fire service should consider?
  • What don’t we understand about the problem of recruiting?

2023 Confirmed Judges

  • Chief Trisha Wolford, Anne Arundel County FD (MD)
  • Deputy County Manager Tony McDowell, Henrico County (VA)
  • Chief David Wolf, Estes Valley FPD (CO)
  • Chief Cheryl Horvath, Tubac FD (AZ)
  • Chief John Buckman (ret), Past President IAFC, Past Chair VCOS (IN)
  • LaRae Smiley Sliger, Women in Fire
  • Rachael Stebell, Women in Fire
  • Kerry Henderson, Battalion Chief at James City County (2022 essay winner)
  • Martin A. Serna, Assistant Chief Division 2 San Bernardino County Fire (CA)
  • Bertral Washington, Deputy Chief of Administration San Bernardino County Fire (CA)

  • Anthony James, Deputy Chief/Fire Marshal Pasadena Fire Department (CA)


April 17 – June 30, 2023


  • 1st place – $3,000
  • 2nd place – $2,000
  • 3rd place – $1,000

Recognition on Inside Darley video series, Darley Times newsletter, Darley media distribution, partner publications, and the InService Podcast

Essay Format

  • 2 pages maximum
  • 12-point, Times New Roman
  • Double-space
  • Submit as a PDF (preferred) or Word Document

2022 Lessons Learned and Insights

Why are we doing this?

Good leadership requires good communications.  Although there are many ways to become a better leader, writing is an undeniable leadership requirement since writing has the advantage of being deliberate and sustaining.

There are a multitude of challenges facing the fire service, none of which have easy straight-forward answers.  Many of these require challenging the status quo in a manner which has the finesse to allow others to understand and visualize solutions beyond our current reality.

The most common approach for thought leadership articles would have articles written and published by Chiefs or Chief Fire Officers.  But individuals within various functions and at all levels of a fire department can provide unique perspectives and deliver insightful solutions regardless of their rank or length of service.

“These days, we hear the terms “thought leader” and “thought leadership” a lot. Most people like the idea of becoming one, and would like to know how to become a thought leader (or at least how to be seen as one). Why? Because credibility is the calling card needed to lead and persuade” Jeff Berand, Red Flash Group  

Thought leadership is the missing link which connects today with the excitement of tomorrow.

Why is thought leadership important?

Informational influence has become one of the most important leadership traits.  The only way to lead effectively when you cannot force people to do something is to be an example of how leaders share information and lead from a place of caring

“Today’s leaders display characteristics of thought leadership – which is changing people’s minds and inspiring at a distance.  Both active leadership and thought leadership unite diverse people because the idea(s) inspires them to examine unresolved challenges from different perspectives” Chief Mark Bashoor.

While future and current leaders may have different perspectives than more senior members of the fire service, their level of dedication and willingness to address and problem-solve reflects the best the fire service has to offer.  It is both impressive and exciting when fire fighters, company officers and chief officers thoughtfully and respectfully challenge how we think about the future of the fire service

Good leadership deepens on good communication.  

Think like a leader – Write like a leader

How does it contribute to the development and positioning of the fire service?

“Being a thought leader can be an ethereal experience, yet it is not always an academic exercise. Training and education certainly provide the developmental basis and methodology for the critical-thinking process, but it’s up to current thought leaders to mentor those around us to become the next group of progressive leaders. The philosophic questions we should be asking don’t require a doctorate, but they certainly do require the ability to think beyond….”  Chief Marc Bashoor, Executive Editor of FireRescue1 (September 2019)

Why is it important to Darley?

Initiating and sponsoring the essay competition is a very important way Darley continues to both support the fire service’s history and recognize the fire service’s ever-increasing relevance as a complex and extremely resourceful and essential service to our nation.   

The Thought Leadership Essay Competition is important for Darley to encourage and provide visibility to current and future leaders to challenge current leadership and operational doctrine, share best practices, open discussions and highlight successes and failures. It also helps Darley stay attuned to the fire service needs by opening new lines of communication, an essential element to success in both business and in the fire service.

Quotes from 2022 Judges

Everyone wants to influence those we know and those who are in our profession. Writing is one of several ways to influence others that are in your circle but also those outside of your circle. Ideas come in all sizes and shape. Putting those ideas in writing creates an interest and possibly change in others way of thinking. Submitting a paper for the Darley essay contest can help you to challenge the status quo of our profession. Your essay can be that paper that begins a movement. Become a entrant in the Darley essay contest. Stick your neck out there. YOU make a difference by becoming engaged.

As the Fire Service continues to grow and evolve to meet the needs of our communities, we benefit from the sharing of ideas. The Darley Thought Leadership Essay Competition was a fantastic opportunity for leaders from across our nation’s fire agencies to share their perspectives and lessons learned. I look forward to the next year of submissions and the chance to hear more thoughts and ideas on how we can continue to move our agencies forward to best perform for those we serve.

As a judge for the inaugural Darley Thought Leadership Essay Competition I was inspired by the intentionality and drive of the participants. The fire service is evolving greatly. There is a need for leaders who challenge their teams to be innovative, while still holding a spirit of service to the community. This competition highlights ambitious leaders throughout the fire service, who truly embrace their duty.

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