So You Are In Charge - Part 5: Lead!

Before we begin this article lets review what we discussed last time, Be Responsible. Being responsible really boils down to doing what's right even when it's unpopular. Having the courage to stand up and do the right thing can be difficult but let's remember you are now in charge and that's what is expected from you as a company officer. This month we are going to look at what it takes to lead your company in day to day operations.

Taking the lead is an important skill that all company officers must learn at some time or another. Some learn it by preparation and others learn it by default. As I have said many times, if you don't lead, someone else will and you probably won't like where they take you. You may recall that some manuals describe many profiles of a leader and what is expected of them. These manuals also describe informal leaders, and you must be aware of any informal leader within your company. Let's begin with where to look for information on leadership training.

First as a company officer you must continue your journey of learning. Enroll in courses at the local community college or take advantage of learning at a distance type programs. Many of these programs are internet-based and you receive and submit assignments on-line. Through these programs you will find leadership courses that will teach and instill in you the processes of being a leader. Your state training authority more than likely has a fire school either once or twice a year. These can be a great source of training and networking. Some of these classes will be field programs from the National Fire Academy located in Emmitsburg, MD. There are numerous leadership training courses available. Next, let's look at other informational sites.

There are sites dedicated to training and information like On these sites you can find training articles, drills, up-to-date news and one of the best tools is the webcast. There is a list of past, current and future webcasts that you can gather your company together at the firehouse and watch on the computer. These webcasts are taught by highly skilled and seasoned veterans of the fire service and they bring a real experience to these courses. I promise you, if you watch a few of these webcasts, not only will you and your company learn something, you might pick up something that will save one of your lives. These webcasts are easy to enroll in and watch plus they are free! Now let's look at additional reading materials.

Besides the normal fire service manuals I would encourage you to read a few leadership books from the local library or bookstores. I am not saying you should constantly be reading the newest best seller every month, but there are a lot of books that can introduce you to a number of leadership skills. There are several books written by fire service leaders that bring vast experience, and they can offer great invaluable insight into what you, as a new company officer, will eventually experience. We have now covered some common places for you to get leadership training. Next, we will look at things you can do in the firehouse to begin building your leadership.

You must lead by example in the firehouse and on the scene. You accomplish this by setting ground rules and leading by example. Having knowledge of the rules and regulations is an important place to begin and you will be expected to follow these as well. Operating on emergency scenes requires knowledge of how the department wants you (the company) to handle the incident. As an example, your department may or may not allow fire companies to reset automatic alarms. If you reset an automatic alarm against department policy and then problems arise, you as the company officer could be disciplined. Because of your decision your company members may also be disciplined as well; remember your decisions impact more than just yourself.

On the fire scene you must lead your company intelligently. It is important to make sound decisions and work within the command structure to ensure the most efficient use of your company's resources. You may remember some of the other topics I have discussed and one was "Make a Decision." This is important to your leadership: a lack of decision and leadership will open the door for someone else to take over. As a company officer you must work side by side with your company. Everyone remembers a company officer that they have worked for that always leads them into and safely out of danger.

I'm sure you have read or heard all the cliches about managing by objectives or you can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink. One thing I want to leave you with is that it is difficult to describe everything a leader does to be effective. However, I implore upon you to find a leader in your organization or within the fire service, and discover what makes them successful. Do not hesitate to ask those questions and explore their philosophies about the fire department in general. Describing a good leader is hard to do, however everyone knows it when they see it.

Good luck and stay safe!