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Getting to know CSFA President Eddie Sell

By Carly Lumsden

Today, there are inspirational fire service leaders advocating for those who suffer, but Eddie encourages everyone in the fire service to prioritize and take responsibility for his or her own mental health. Important strategies include taking up hobbies and prioritizing time with those you love. Years of witnessing horrific things will have an impact so it’s important to nurture a solid support group outside of the fire department and to make time to do things that you love.

Eddie Sell is an inspiring example of the good that can come from a passion for serving others. 

With over 30 years of service, entrepreneurial endeavors related to firefighting, and a dedication to leadership, Eddie’s gone above and beyond for his community. He sincerely believes you should never stop learning in the fire service, and he continues to inspire and mentor others regularly. His commitment to innovation and growth is the secret to his success. 

Eddie’s journey into fire fighting began over 30 years ago when he met a captain who was on an emergency call. A young man who’d always dreamt of being a firefighter, Eddie asked him for advice on how to get to the rank of captain. 

“I was intimidated but figured if I don’t ask any questions I will never know how to begin working towards my dream of being a firefighter. Lucky for me that Captain Herzog was humble, caring, and approachable.”

Inspired, Eddie applied to become a volunteer firefighter, beginning a 30 year journey through the ranks in five fire academies,  transitioning from volunteer firefighter to rookie, firefighter paramedic and captain. Today, Eddie is a Battalion Chief for the Long Beach Fire Department in California.

Every day is different for him – and , as he says, they’re all intense. Eddie’s currently working as the Battalion Chief and he loves working those 24-hour shifts and spending time in the firehouse, bonding with the team. He’s also busy with meetings, firehouse visits, training, and managing multiple projects – and has to train regularly to ensure that everything runs smoothly. In addition, he’s  a Wildland Program Manager and chairs the wildland management program in his region. If that wasn’t enough to keep him busy, Eddie also recently crafted the Long Beach Fire Department’s strategic plan.

When he’s dispatched as the Battalion Chief, Eddie becomes the incident commander of calls, tracking resources and planning and prioritizing every step. He’s responsible for coming up with a plan for mitigating and controlling every incident. No one in the fire service wants to see anyone suffer or lose their home, so Eddie’s main goal is to work with his team to limit injuries and losses. The more adept he is at planning, the better he and his team can work to limit incidents ranging from house fires to potential terrorist attacks or mass shootings. Eddie believes that the lack of a solid plan is a discredit to the citizens the fire department serves.

“I truly believe in preplanning, training, and routinely practicing our craft. This should happen at every rank and as a Chief Officer, I hold myself accountable and ensure that I am competent, mentor others, and continue learning everyday.”

Eddie has not only grown his firefighting career, but has also put his creative foot forward and explored his entrepreneurial side. A one-time Navy chef, he has always been passionate about cooking. As a firefighter, he realized that food has the power to bring people together, no matter where they come from or what their story is. Eating together is an opportunity to share stories about life, different cultures, and so much more. With that in mind, Eddie and a few of his friends started Firehouse Chefs, volunteering their time and preparing food for various events held by non-profit organizations in the area.

Soon, Firehouse Chefs grew to become much more than a volunteer initiative and morphed into a catering business.  From there, it transformed into the first firefighter-owned food truck in Los Angeles. And then, it became a restaurant! Although Eddie is no longer involved, its success shows the impressive achievements firefighters can bring about if they have a creative bent.

“There were some great memories during my Firehouse Chefs years, along with setbacks, and many lessons learned that have assisted me with being a Chief Officer and embracing creativity, innovation, and being unique. Working with city staff, elected officials, and serving the community are all things that cross over to public safety.”

Through his creativity and passion for firefighting and cooking, Eddie and his friends have added entrepreneurial value to their community.  

Eddie has accomplished a lot thus far but what has been his most significant challenge? He’ll tell you it’s been accepting that you don’t know what you don’t know. It’s a challenge we all share, and one that can stop us from pursuing our dreams. Not surprisingly, Eddie’s found a way to overcome that challenge through consistent preparation, taking pride in being prepared for whatever promotion he’s working towards. That sense of focus has dispelled his feelings of anxiety, enabling him to perform at his absolute best and it’s his strongest recommendation for anyone trying to reach new goals.

“I believe it is important to improve each day and to keep making new professional goals that make you stay engaged, work hard, and inspire others to break their own restraining limitations.”

Training is key and no matter where you are in your firefighting career, Eddie stresses the importance of a consistent program that’s relevant to your goals. Now that he’s no longer training to throw hoses, Eddie’s training is different from the very physical programs required for rookies. Instead, his focus is on a command and control structure, so his training is designed to ensure a solid and up-to-the moment understanding of his resources and the capabilities of his fire teams so that he can most effectively manage and mitigate incidents. 

There’s always a certain amount of anxiety that comes along with moving up the ladder and changing roles, but Eddie’s a firm believer that preparation is always the answer. His advice is to focus and make sure you’re knowledgeable about the position you’re aiming for. 

“You should not only be proficient at your current rank but you should know what the expectations are for the job above you. This not only helps on the fire ground but also with your career development. Always seek mentorship from other leaders and ensure you pay it forward! I am proud to have created our LEDS (Leadership, Equity, Diversity, Service) Committee at CSFA and engage in important dialogue with men and women from diverse backgrounds in an effort to help others and to ensure inclusion.”

There are many resources available for those eager to grow in their fire service careers, as well as for would-be entrepreneurs.  

Eddie recommends YouTube for everything from how to study for a written exam, to the best way to prepare for agility exams and interviews. He  also recommends asking  what your local fire department suggests – they’ll have resources as well. Anyone eager to prepare for a role in the fire service can access dozens of programs: there are 58 community colleges in California alone. Eddie, in fact, is the CSFA (California State Firefighters’ Association) Director, and notes that their in-depth training videos, available at CSFA.net,  are great for anyone, anywhere who’s interested in starting or improving their fire service skills. 

So, given all of his professional responsibilities and creative pursuits, how does Eddie find balance in his life? He’ll tell you the secret is working in the most active firehouses where he’s extremely busy and can strive for excellence in his craft. 

“Finding balance is not easy for me but I certainly try my best to manage my time effectively. I have taken great pride in being a competent and caring Chief Officer and as the president of the California State Firefighters’ Association I am committed to providing leadership, mentorship, and training to thousands of members that I am accountable to.”

He’s always viewed the demands of his work as a blessing because they enable him to be the best he can be as a firefighter. Eddie enjoys the challenge, believes that firefighters naturally become talented multitaskers and thinks his own ability to multitask in an entrepreneurial sense has played a huge role in his promotion to Battalion Chief. It’s essential to set goals, he says, because you naturally become more productive when you’re striving to become the best possible version of yourself.

That said, Eddie still stresses the importance of hobbies and interests apart from the job, noting that firefighters face enormous stress and, like many first responders, may battle PTSD. Today, there are inspirational fire service leaders advocating for those who suffer, but Eddie encourages everyone in the fire service to prioritize and take responsibility for his or her own mental health. Important strategies include taking up hobbies and prioritizing time with those you love. Years of witnessing horrific things will have an impact so it’s important to nurture a solid support group outside of the fire department and to make time to do things that you love.

“PTSD and behavioral health topics are something that I am very passionate about and I do believe that we need to find healthy outlets to keep our mind and bodies in a positive state. For me that involves working out, getting acupuncture, and cooking when I get a chance. Keeping close friends, family, and mentors is another key factor in talking about things that are potentially harmful and getting some positive guidance. I am so pleased to see so many fire service leaders taking action on addressing mental health/behavioral wellness issues and hope we will collaboratively improve the negative statistics.”

Eddie certainly loves what he does and has achieved tremendous success. His goals are to keep climbing the ranks in the fire service, and you better believe that he’s training to be the best he can be for those future positions. Are you aspiring to put your passion for the fire service to work to move up the ranks? Take Eddie’s advice: prepare, set goals, consistently work on becoming the best version of yourself, and don’t forget to prioritize “you” time. Those are Eddie Sell’s secrets to success, and if you implement them, they’ll soon be yours too. 

Photos provided by Eddie Sell

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