So You Want To Be A Company Officer

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...


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Two of the best mentors I have encountered are firefighters, not chiefs or captains, but firefighters who were exceptionally competent people in everything they did. They had the wonderful ability to pull me aside, criticize me, offer a solution, and make me feel good about it. If you have a person like this, make him or her aware of how helpful he or she is. Let yourself learn from them.

On the other hand, you as the company officer have the difficult duty of keeping members informed of areas that need to improve. In addition to the facts that department rules may be broken or the chief requires a task done in a certain fashion, this member is part of a team. You owe it to each team member to intercede on his or her behalf if a member of that team is dragging them down.

Serve your subordinates as well as you serve your superiors. Your company needs you to stand up for them when a member of the group doesn't carry his or her own weight. Communication between you and all the members lets the weak links know where they are weak and makes the group aware that you a working toward helping them.

Listening is the most important part of communication. You cannot gather all the facts if you are not listening. When you're talking, you're not listening. It is better to bite your tongue and let the conversation flow than to hamper information that would have normally come out. Force yourself to listen intently; this is useful for allowing the individuals to come up with their own solutions. Let them talk and you listen and guide. Many solutions develop on their own if you allow people to talk within the group as long as they are confident that you will be fair and impartial.

Supervisors I have worked for, even the top brass at times, always earned my respect when they stopped what they were doing, looked me in the eye and listened to what I had to say. They did not always agree, but I knew I was being heard. Allow your group to make their point.

Contrary to this, you owe the company or individual an explanation if you or the chief moves opposite to a suggestion. Many times, the big picture may not be available to them, so try to get the information needed to help the group understand why a decision was made.

We all have areas where we excel and areas where we need improvement. If a member is such a burden on a company in his or her performance, then the discipline route must be considered. What we have discussed above simply should serve as tips to move an individual or company to the next level in their capabilities.

In my assignments as a captain and lieutenant, I always used a little rule of thumb, when I left the assignment, the company would be raised at least to the next level in its performance and self-reliance in each category pertinent to that company, such as firefighting, EMS, extrication, pump/main ladder operation, community outreach, school contacts and pre-planning. When a job is well done, compliment the person or the group involved. Give them a "nice job" comment or show them your appreciation in some way that they'll take notice. Make a point to say it, but only when deserved.

Discipline

A member consistently failing to perform up to the department standards will force you to be the disciplinarian. This is not a pleasant position for anyone, but you owe it to your company to take steps to correct the situation. A sincere attempt must be made by you to fully inform the member of the problem behavior. A one-on-one, give-and-take, private conversation should be conducted with you listening and gathering as much information as possible. Ask for help from your network of fire service colleagues. There is nothing more embarrassing and destructive than eating crow because you jumped to a conclusion and took action before all of the facts were in.

These private conversations can reveal a deeper problem. Be it family issues, money problems or personality conflicts, use this new-found information in guiding the member toward help and improved performance. Realize that a personal problem will affect a firefighter's performance, so it is important to discover the problem in order to attempt to solve it. Open dialogue with the employee is the only way to obtain this information, then it is your job to solve the problem or direct the firefighter or paramedic to the professionals who can.