Effective Chief Fire Officer Behaviors

  Do you ever shake your head at what your fire personnel say or do? Does firefighter behavior continue to stupefy you and deny plausible explanation? If you feel a little exasperated with the myriad behaviors of today’s firefighters, take stock...


  Do you ever shake your head at what your fire personnel say or do? Does firefighter behavior continue to stupefy you and deny plausible explanation? If you feel a little exasperated with the myriad behaviors of today’s firefighters, take stock that there are strategies for coping and...


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Situation 2

Very few qualified fire personnel have applied for a lieutenant promotional. While there are multiple openings for lieutenant in the next several years, it appears most personnel are content to stay in their current positions. Your task is to rectify this situation and motivate personnel to enter the promotional.

Point: Career is the number-one priority and motivated personnel should strive to compete for promotions. Not only will they enjoy more pay, they will be responsible for supervising others and ensuring that the goals of the organization are fulfilled. As first-level officers, they will also be expected to follow the orders of their commanders and have a firm understanding of how the organization operates. All of these things should appeal to people who want to climb the ladder of success. Commanding officers must make these appeals to qualified personnel and motivate them to prepare for promoted positions.

Counterpoint: Because you grew up in a generation that puts career first, you’re asking yourself, “What’s wrong with these people? This is a prime opportunity to be a leader in this organization.” Who’s right and who’s wrong is all a matter of perspective. These people have seen the added stressors the organization places on today’s lieutenants and decided they want nothing to do with it. Their preference is to come to work, do their shift and leave the problems of the organization at the station, just as they do their fire gear. Sounds inviting, doesn’t it?

We recently finished our fourth year of the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer (EFO) Program. As part of our last class, we were challenged to look at the four spheres of our lives (career, family, community and faith) and how we balance our time between them. While it was easy to describe in great detail what we were doing to support and advance our careers, it proved difficult and eye-opening to do the same in the other three spheres. So, do we advocate everyone just sitting back and enjoying the ride? When all is said and done, we need someone to lead the organization. The answer, of course, is no. Both sides must do a little soul-searching and take a long hard look at themselves and the organization to find the answer.

If you’re sitting back and letting others bear the load of leadership, consider this: the organization will have leaders regardless of your decision to lead or not. This is an important point to remember if you’re one of those enjoying life while your lieutenant toils. Keep in mind that if you don’t step up and lead, somebody will lead you and that somebody may be a person you’re not thrilled about following. When this happens, you’re going to be miserable, no matter what. And you can bet that those problems you’ve been leaving in your locker with your fire gear will no longer fit. They will be coming home with you and affecting virtually every facet of your personal life.

If you’re the chief of this organization, maybe it’s time to for you to take a look at your own spheres of life. Are you spending all of your time in the career quadrant and is that being reflected in your expectations of your people? Are you creating a work environment for your officers that firefighters envy and would like to be part of? Finding the answers to these questions is not easy, but the solutions will pay lifelong dividends.

Situation 3

A general malaise has fallen on your fire department and personnel seem to want to do as little as possible. Visible signs of their lack of motivation include ignoring housekeeping duties, slower turnout times and a reduced number of training drills. Your task is to reverse this situation and create a dynamic work environment with motivated employees.