Whether you are planning to take a company officer or chief officer promotional examination that may require you to successfully pass a fireground simulation exercise, or you just want to improve your knowledge, skills and abilities as a company officer or chief officer, the information in this column should be of interest to you. I am a strong believer that a promotional candidate should not just prepare for the actual test, but for the position itself. If you prepare for the position itself, you should be able to handle any situation or challenge that is thrown at you. If you only prepare for the test, you may miss key points that are necessary to survive in the real world in the position to which you aspire.
Strong command presence is not jumping or running around, yelling or doing other similar things that would make the average person look crazy or a little out of control; unfortunately, we have all seen at some point of our careers fire officers who think they need to yell, boss people around or talk loudly to show they have command presence. Strong command presence does not mean having to tell people you are the one in charge. If they cannot figure out who is in charge, you have another issue to deal with.
One of the most important traits or behaviors a fire officer (company officer or chief officer) can demonstrate is command presence. Strong, or excellent, command presence will not only increase your level of credibility and respect, it will demonstrate your confidence and your ability to properly manage an incident. It will also help calm down your personnel and provide them with some level of comfort that you are going to take care of them and successfully manage the incident.
Here are a few suggestions to improve your command presence:
- Remain calm, cool and collected at all times. Remember — you didn't cause the emergency; you're here to manage it and make it go away or at least not get worse.
- Think before you act or talk. Too many times, things are said or decisions are made that then have to be modified or canceled. Changing your mind too many times will make you sound wishy-washy.
- Be short, sweet and to the point. When talking, eliminate hesitation, pauses, ums, uhs or any other words that can reduce the effectiveness of your message. If you're talking more than 30 seconds at a time, you're going to lose the effectiveness of your message, not to mention cause confusion to whoever is listening to you or taking direction from you. The more you say, the more you may be wishing you didn't. Limit obvious words such as "be advised," "at this time" or the best "Do you have anything further?"; they just take up air time and don't really mean anything. I don't know about your dispatchers, but ours usually don't keep secrets. Meaning if they have information, they're going to tell us.
- When talking, be specific while providing directions. Don't leave your direction open for interpretation. Asking someone "Do you have the time?" may not get the answers you want. You may think you want to know what time it is, but your question did not come out that way.
- When giving direction, use action verbs. Stay away from the pleasantries (please, would you, could you, thank you, etc.).
- Know what you want to say. Which statement provides more command presence:
- "Um, Truck 1, um, would you please come into the scene, and um, mask up, and um bring your crew, and um, then have your crew, um, cut the electricity, and then um, um, cut a hole in the roof."
- "Truck 1, you are assigned as the Ventilation Group. Your tactical objectives are to provide ventilation and secure utilities."
If you answered "b," you were correct. Too many times, people talk without having practiced or thought of what they were going to say. If you have to tell your personnel to don their airmasks, then you have another issue on your hands. Personnel arriving on the fireground who are given an assignment should have a clue as to what tools, equipment and personal protective equipment (PPE) to bring or wear.
- Stay in one place. I realize there may be different opinions on this issue, but the more you move around, the more you can be distracted or attracted to or by others. The command post is not meant to be mobile; it's meant to be in a location others can easily find — but not easily accessed if you don't want them there.
- When preparing to give a radio report, try to not look at the incident. This can only confuse you and if things are changing in front of your eyes and this gets you off track of what you were going to say, then you're not going to demonstrate much command presence.
- 9. Use accepted and appropriate terminology when appropriate. This is especially important when talking about the Incident Command System (ICS), strategy and tactics, and the situation at hand. For example, within ICS, a group is a specific function and a division is a specific location. If you assign members as Ventilation Group, it should be obvious as to their tasks. However, if you assign them Roof Group, that could be left open for interpretation as there is more to do on a roof than just ventilation. Now if you called them Roof Division, that would mean they would be in charge of everything on the roof, which could include ventilation as well as other tasks.
- Do not swear, scream, yell, be rude or be abrupt. Or do anything else you will regret or be embarrassed about if seen on YouTube or on the 6 o'clock news.
- Remember that someone is out there watching. Virtually every phone has a camera or video function and YouTube or even worse the news media are just an email or text away.
- Try not to use words such as "suggest," "recommend" and "looking." Such words do not project much confidence or decisiveness.
- When talking to a dispatcher, or anyone else for that matter, don't have hesitation in your voice. Don't finish your sentence with what sounds like you are asking them a question as opposed to making a statement or a request.
- When in doubt, go back to number 1. Stay calm, cool and collected.
STEVE PRZIBOROWSKI is a Firehouse.com contributing editor and a battalion chief for the Santa Clara County, CA, Fire Department. He is an adjunct faculty member in the Chabot College Fire Technology Program in Hayward, CA, where he has been teaching fire technology classes since 1993. Prziborowski is a past president of the Northern California Training Officers Association and was named the 2008 Ed Bent California Fire Instructor of the year.