Maurizio Casavecchia: Burning Leadership
About four o’clock in the afternoon, six men are training with ladders and rappel equipment as the sun shines brightly on the fire station in Cagli, Italy. The commanding presence of the fire chief adds to the sense that this training is important. As sweat runs down his face, the chief helps raise the extension ladders to his men and explains how this type of rescue training should be done. The only item that distinguishes the chief from his men is a red helmet that represents the years of service and leadership Chief Maurizio Casavecchia has at the fire service.
On this day, Maurizio leads a crew of men who serve and, at times, save others in the community. He looks dignified and confident in his maroon-colored, short-sleeved shirt with the gold-embroidered shield, his black-brush pants with yellow-reflective stripes, and his custom-sized black boots.
Maurizio’s fire crew responds to any alarms within the 50-kilometer area surrounding Cagli. While waiting for a call from the Pesaro dispatch center, his crew of five on shift are training and preparing for the unpredictable dangers that are always possible. His firefighters are mandated to be “fire ready” at all times. The most-recent fire they responded to was about 50 kilometers away and small. The surrounding area of Cagli is lush and green and appears to have little threat from fire. He is well aware, however, that the lush green brush and trees become fuel when the plants dry out or die.
As a fire chief, being a good leader and earning his firefighters’ trust is of upmost importance. Budget cuts mean limited dollars to support the firefighters and their equipment needs. “You do things with what you have,” Maurizio says. Here in small- town Italy, the fire crew responds to many types of emergencies – water rescues, fires, and accidents. These emergency responders are trained in first aid and setting broken bones.
Walking around the fire station, he proudly shows off framed photos that show training maneuvers and rescue operations his crews have taken part in over the years at the fire station. He smiles and points to a helicopter training photo showing a firefighter rappelling from a helicopter onto the roof of the fire station. Maurizio explains that the fire clothing that the personnel wear during a fire helps protect the firefighters from the dangerous heat and flames. They wear two layers of pants during a fire. Despite his many years as a firefighter, Maurizio says, he has “never faced death.”
Enjoying cheese and salami with some of his fire crew at the fire station’s communal table that is covered in a checkered, blue-and-green tablecloth, Maurizio gestures with his hands about how he wants a photo taken with his firefighting team. They joke and laugh.
Each day requires waiting patiently for emergency calls, and frequent training is crucial to ensure preparedness. Firefighters must understand building construction so that the fires can be successfully fought. Structures in Italy are built with fire-resistant material. “In Italy, it’s the best system to prevent fires,” he says. “Safety in the houses and factories is the best.”
Chief Maurizio was not born into a firefighter family, but he came to the work with passion and commitment and has risen in the ranks to chief. With only a year and half until retirement, he is proud of his team and his city. His career choice requires a person willing to spend long hours away from family working long shifts, and, at times, not getting paid for all the hours he works. “I love my job,” he says.