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Congratulations on your promotion to company officer and accepting the responsibility to be a leader in your fire department. Now that you have reached this important step in your department, what do you need to know? How do you proceed from this point? How are you going to handle the firefighters you have worked with since you joined the fire department? What are your duties and responsibilities? Will things change now that you have been promoted? What lies ahead for both the fire department and you?
Let me give you some information on how to become an effective company officer.
When I worked as a firefighter in a busy inner-city engine company, a few of my colleagues and I decided to study for promotion to lieutenant. Though we were young firefighters, we were a seasoned bunch, a well-oiled machine. Any one of us could handle whatever came our way no matter what our assignment, whether we were driving the pump, handling the tip, serving as the acting officer or throwing up a ladder for that surprise victim who shows up at the window.
We relished the fact that the surrounding companies knew we would always be in the right position with our own water supply. Due to a department policy of officer rotations every three years, we had a few lieutenants come through our station. Some we enjoyed and a few we were not so fond of. One person who rose above the others was a gentleman who knew how to harness these "young lions," as we were labeled by the more senior members of the battalion.
For three years, we worked with this man as our lieutenant and we so respected him because he was teaching us how to be a first-class company officer. His most prominent asset was that he led by example. He studied hard for an upcoming captain's test; always made the right decision on the fireground, kept us safe; and, most importantly, we felt his heartfelt desire for us to succeed.
Since we were an experienced group, at times we found it difficult to change our comfortable tactics, which we knew had worked time and time again. Yet through his training and in his own smooth way, he communicated with us so that ideas would be exchanged and confidence was instilled in us to handle even the most uncommon tasks.
So what does it take to be a good company officer? What makes an average, so-so or ho-hum company officer? What attributes would you describe in an inadequate company officer? Let's take a look at three types:
CAPTAIN ROBERT DOE
- Straight arrow, by the book
- Impeccable uniform with more bells and whistles than required
- Authoritarian management style; barks orders with no interaction
CAPTAIN BOB DOE
- Congenial, approachable
- Dressed in the proper work uniform, neatly pressed
- Uses the rule book, but will deviate if the situation demands
- Uses other peoples' ideas and gives them credit
- Allows subordinates to run with tasks
- Predictable, consistent
CAPTAIN BOBBY "BOSCO" DOE
- Dressed in a faded, wrinkled uniform
- Degrades people
- Answers questions with, "I don't care"
- Ignores chores he doesn't like; leaves his work for other officers
- No compliments for anyone
- Unpredictable, inconsistent; each day, he seems like a different person
Who would you like to work for? A fire officer's duties are the same whether in a career or volunteer organization. Each officer has his or her own style. We have all had bosses, in and out of the fire service, comparable to these individuals. After 17 years as a company officer, I have been effective on some issues and at times not as effective as I would have liked to have been. Though I always had the betterment of the company and the department as my motivation, every decision did not always play out as I had intended. I would like to pass on some lessons I have learned.
The front-line officer, be it master firefighter, sergeant, lieutenant or captain, is promoted on paper, wears a new uniform, and in a career or pay-on-call department receives a raise in pay, but these changes do not make you a valued company officer. Only your actions will earn the respect required to be effective.