Assessing What They LACK: L is for Leadership

Editor's Note: The National Fallen Firefighters Foundation’s Courage to be Safe program identified four area where fire officers needed to improve their awareness, training and skills: leadership, accountability, culture and knowledge (LACK). This...


The comments and actions of leaders have a direct impact on the health and safety of firefighters because they form their attitudes and govern their actions. The inability or unwillingness of those in leadership positions to lead (regardless of their rank) undermines firefighter safety as much as any other factor. Leadership and supervision includes modeling the behaviors and expectations we have of others. Leaders are always teaching others how to behave and perform by their own example…positive or negative.

If fire departments put more emphasis on developing the leadership capabilities of fire officers as outlined in the NFFF LACK (Leadership, Accountability, Culture and Knowledge) Program, we could make even greater strides toward enhancing the safety of firefighters in career and volunteer fire departments. Fire department leaders have the responsibility to do whatever needs to be done to maintain the safety of all fire department members. These responsibilities are usually spelled out in departmental rules, policies, guidelines or procedures. The challenge is not identifying what leaders should do; the challenge seems to be getting leaders throughout the organization to carry out their duties and responsibilities in a consistent and effective way. Decisions and actions of leaders (especially regarding safety) are sometimes not popular with the department membership, but this cannot be allowed to deter the leader from doing what needs to be done. Strong leaders do all they can to maintain a positive, productive and healthy work environment. They’re competent, compassionate, empathetic and caring…but they also hold those under their command accountable for decisions they make and actions they take.

Study the LACK Program, and ask yourself how you rate against the leadership criteria identified: What do I need to change about myself? Am I part of the problem? Do I hold myself and others accountable as leaders? Do I need to recommit myself to training and leading in a way that works toward strengthening firefighter health and safety requirements in my fire department?

DENNIS COMPTON is currently chairman of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Board of Directors. He was the fire chief in Mesa, AZ, for five years and as assistant fire chief in Phoenix, AZ, where he served for 27 years. Compton is a well-known speaker and the author of several books, including his new Progressive Leadership Principles, Concepts and Tools, the When in Doubt, Lead! series and Mental Aspects of Performance for Firefighters and Fire Officers. Compton is past chairman of the Executive Board of the International Fire Service Training Association (IFSTA) and past chairman of the Congressional Fire Services Institute's National Advisory Committee.