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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Every time you put forth an effort to force someone to improve his or her performance because he or she is having a negative impact on the operation of the company, you must document your actions and the response of the individual involved. Base your documentation on the rules and SOPs of the department. If the company has a daily log or journal, make a note as to your actions.

When the negative behavior is serious to the point where his or her job is in jeopardy, you must keep detailed notes. This will protect you and the department. It is important to keep details of all the positive actions that were taken in the interest of improving the performance of this individual. Ensure that the individual was given every opportunity to improve and that the individual chose not to comply.

When you have exhausted all attempts at winning over this person and getting him or her to buy-in to the needs of the company by having them carry out his or her duties as expected, then you are forced to follow your department guidelines in bringing disciplinary actions. There is a saying when we fail at trying to straighten out a fellow firefighter or paramedic. The lieutenant didn't bring the charges against him or her; they brought the charges on themselves.

Though we prefer to work at confining problems and discipline to within company parameters, three types of personnel problems must strictly follow the department procedure process from the onset. These problems must have department procedures specifically spelling out the responsibilities of the company officer. They include:

  • Sexual harassment
  • Racism
  • Violence in the workplace

If your department does not have specific procedures for these events, they must be drawn up with legal consultation as soon as possible. When dealing with these types of incidents, you as the company officer have the responsibility to document actions and statements taken from the accused, the victim and all witnesses. There should be immediate notification of your superior officer, who in turn will see that all required notifications are made. These types of incidents require the expertise of specialized investigators to ensure that the rights of the victim, the accused and witnesses are properly protected as well as the safety of all and the protection from retaliation by either party. The department cannot afford to leave out any detail in the search for the truth. In addition to the psychological effects, the monetary loss from lawsuits can destroy the budget of any-size department.

Proactive training of all department members should keep members informed of the options available to a person who feels he or she is a victim. Government agencies at the federal, state and local levels have organizations that have rules that must be complied with if any or all agencies are brought into the investigation. Educate yourself and your department on the requirements of the employer. It is a disservice to your department members and your municipality to learn this information after a charge has been made.

Safety

The responsibility of the health and welfare of the company rests on the shoulders of the company officer. When you decided that you wanted to be a company officer, you announced that you were capable of providing safe guidance for the firefighters entrusted to your company. If you do not want the responsibility, decline the promotion.

An incident scene places a demand on the officer to be aware of the position of all company members. You owe it to the incident commander (IC) to demonstrate to him or her that you have an adequate knowledge of the position of all members in your area of concern, be it a sector or company position. If the IC has confidence in you, that your areas of responsibility are accounted for and safe, then you have freed the IC or sector officer to concentrate on other areas required to bring the incident to a successful mitigation.

Every tragic occurrence I have witnessed on a fireground has been due to a series of events that led to a grave consequence. A series of events formed an error chain moving toward a tragic ending. Stop the chain. Take action to be sure the scene is safe. Some examples of potential problems:

  • Ventilation that is not occurring fast enough for the quick-moving interior attack. Facilitate ventilation or back out the advancing hoseline.