Ministry of the
Solicitor General

Ontario Fire Chief Completes Harvard’s ‘Olympics of Leadership’ course

Ontario Fire Chief Completes Harvard’s ‘Olympics of Leadership’ course

Last May, Phil Eagleson, Fire Chief of Saugeen Shores Fire Department won the opportunity of a lifetime. He was the recipient of a fellowship award to attend Harvard University’s prestigious senior executives in the state and local government program, also known as the ‘Olympics of Leadership’.

The intense learning opportunity was a 19-day program focusing on relationships between citizens and government, analyzing policy options and examining the ethical and professional responsibilities of exercising leadership. The opportunity helps to develop skills that enhance leadership abilities and ultimately influence change.

Eagleson was one of four fellowship recipients and the only Canadian.

I spoke to Eagleson about his experiences in Boston to learn more about how he was chosen to take part in the program and how his learnings could be translated back to his municipality.

Chief Eagleson and Edward F. Davis, then Boston Police Commissioner

Phil Eagleson, Fire Chief of Saugeen Shores with Edward F Davis, then Boston Police Commissioner only six weeks after the Boston Marathon Bombings. Commissioner Davis gave the group a detailed account of the events surrounding the terrorist attacks and how the city reacted.

What was the experience like at Harvard? The experience has helped to build my network base; I keep in touch daily with many of those I met in Boston. About 15-20 people have changed positions since taking the course because it has made them see things differently. The program helps you to better think through problems, so that you can move your mandate ahead and have the right toolset to do that.

How were you chosen? Fellowships for this program are provided by Fire Protection Publications (FPP)/International Fire Service Training Association (IFSTA), the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). The program is very expensive and I could not have done it without the support of these organizations. Thousands of applicants go in for the initial selection. Of those, less than 100 applicants are asked to complete more essay type responses, case study evaluation, group interviews and individual interviews. From there, 12 are asked to come to Maryland for the final phase of the selection, which is two days of interviews. Much of this is working in groups to get through the challenges. Applicants must pay their own travel and accommodation. In the end, eight well respected Fire Chiefs stood out, however four received the fellowships.

What was it like to be away from the department? The time away was challenging. I am hardly ever away: four days is the most at one time I have ever been away from the department. I had never been to Boston before. We got to visit some of the firehalls and do some ride-alongs with the guys.

What was the program like? They kept us busy every day starting at 6:30 a.m. We weren’t finished until about 10:00 p.m. The faculty was incredible, and the guest speakers...At one point the City Commissioner from China flew in to talk to us. Dan Fen, the last staff advisor to President John F. Kennedy (he was one of 13) spoke to the group. Other speakers included pediatricians, planners, mayors; they each presented insights as part of the program.

How has the fellowship helped you in your role in Saugeen Shores? I’ve found new inspiration. The fiscal challenges that Ontario is facing right now, this is what the United States went through years ago; the Federal Emergency Management Agency experienced massive cuts, like 20 per cent. I learned a lot by accepting the models in the States and learning about ways of being innovative, finding efficiencies. We don’t have to re-invent the wheel, we can look to the US. The course helps to inspire people to take pride in what they do, celebrate the small successes. It was a wonderful experience.

The other recipients of the 2013 fellowship included:

  • Deputy Chief Joel Baker of the Atlanta Fire-Rescue Department
  • Assistant Chief Michael Romas of the Milwaukee Department
  • Deputy Commissioner Derrick Sawyer of the Philadelphia Fire Department

Eagleson is the not first Canadian to be selected for the fellowship in the award’s 30-year history. Other Canadian recipients include Rob Simonds, Fire Chief of the Hamilton Fire Department and John McKearney, Fire Chief of the Vancouver Fire Department.

Participants from program

Fire Chief Eagleson (left side) with his colleagues in the state and local government program of 2013.