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To be taken seriously when safety decisions are required comes directly from the respect you have earned. Work toward achieving the trust from your subordinates as well as your chief in your decision making so all involved feel comfortable that they are in safe hands.
It can be difficult to lead an experienced, accomplished company. These companies have proven themselves within their fire departments. Their knowledge and work habits have earned them the respect they deserve. To initially gain their respect, you must have an impressive informal resume. Your reputation follows you, and it is hard to get past a poor one.
Whenever I was assigned to a veteran company, I was not so eager to change their routine. There were no immediate problems and they consistently obeyed the rules and regulations of the department. They had their own way of rotating assignments. As the first few weeks went by, I would question each individual as to his or her likes or dislikes with the duty list. A few times, I was surprised to find out that everyone wanted the rotation of assignments changed, but didn't want to rock the boat. We sat down and set up a rotation that was within department guidelines and was acceptable to the majority. This is just one example of moving forward with a veteran company. It is hard to make change among a secure group, but earn their respect first and move on from there.
With new firefighters and paramedics, you automatically are the leader. Tell them up front that you want them to learn to function like a veteran company, and give them an example of such a company and list the reasons why that company is considered so reliable. A long-term goal to work toward is to improve the company to the point where you can be off on vacation and any of the members can serve as an acting officer and the company will function just as if you were there.
Mentoring is a position all of us have experienced in our careers. We all remember our first company officer, good or bad, and we all have an appreciative sentiment toward our first reliable company officer. To mentor means to advise, counsel, guide, teach or tutor. As the company officer, take advantage of the opportunity to make your subordinates better. The earlier in a career a person is exposed to a good mentor, the easier it is to instill good work habits, learn all aspects of the position and perhaps eventually work toward promotion. Every new firefighter or paramedic should have a mentor, whether it is you or an experienced individual that you can count on.
Work in the direction of earning the respect and confidence of your chief and your company members. If their confidence is not evident, take a hard look at yourself. Solicit other successful company officers in your department for suggestions. Ask your chief for advice on what you can do to improve. Make the effort. Take the group to the next level.
You are their role model. Your actions tell the firefighters and paramedics what is acceptable. You have the duty to make available to your company every opportunity to enhance their careers. You are the fire department to them. You set the tone for their careers in the fire service. Ensure that the example that you set is in their best interest. And again, congratulations on your promotion.
James Bonner, a 27-year veteran of the fire service, is a field battalion chief with the Philadelphia Fire Department. He has been an instructor at the Philadelphia Fire Academy in recruit classes and is an adjunct instructor in the Officer Development Program. Bonner has an associate's degree in fire science from the Community College of Philadelphia and is a certified fire and explosion investigator employed part time for the past 10 years with National Forensic Consultants Inc. Bonner is a member of the National Association of Fire Investigators, International Association of Arson Investigators and Pennsylvania Association of Arson Investigators.