Traditionally, the fire service does not do a very good job or preparing its members for making the transition to becoming a fire officer. In most departments, the process merely entails "riding the seat" where making tactical decisions is the primary expectation of that person for a finite amount of time. During this period, the "sticky" problems of management are usually either ignored or "put on the back burner" until the regular officer returns to deal with it.
It has been my experience that this is not an uncommon occurrence. Most newly christened fire officers are literally "baptized by fire", not only at emergency incidents, but also when dealing with management related situations as well. As a rule, firefighters making the transition to officer are usually not given the proper training and tools necessary to becoming a successful manager.
In his book, Common Sense Supervision, Roger V. Fulton outlines the common mistakes most often made by a new supervisor. Please think of situations that you have encountered as I attempt to align these mistakes with the everyday complexities associated with fire service management. If you are a new or possibly a seasoned fire officer, look within, are you making some of these mistakes?
- Makes changes for the sake of change - Most of us are afraid of change. On the other side of the coin, there are those that like to shake things up on a daily basis. This type of supervisor is an advocate for most any kind of change. The majority of the time, they are not willing to do the homework necessary to gauge if a major change is actually warranted and plausible. Basically, if it sticks OK, if not, we'll try something else. The fire service certainly needs to embrace innovative change for the better, but only after careful forethought and adequate planning.
Immediately makes drastic changes in discipline or procedure - There's a new Sheriff in town (the new officer with a shiny new gold badge), and here's how we are going to do it now! Sound familiar? Most of us have experienced this scenario at one time or another. As previously stated, a change may actually be warranted, however, a new officer would be wise to be patient, make sound evaluations and subsequent decisions not based on hearsay. Then and then only should necessary changes be made.
Was unable to effectively deal with people - Every fire officer position requires interaction with people, with both firefighters and the public. It is imperative that we give this person the communication skills that they will need to effectively do the job and portray the fire department in a professional manner. A departmental sponsored communication class would certainly be of benefit to all members.
Failed to take charge - The ability to assume a leadership position is literally implied (or should be) when you assume the role of a fire officer. Is this always the case? Is this a skill that can be taught? A fire officer does not have the luxury of not taking charge when it is uncomfortable or not convenient. Does your department's officer training program effectively address this critical element? If not, is it possible for a struggling new officer to be placed "under someone's wing" for some one on one instruction?
Made serious administrative errors - When this happens, someone has to clean up the mess that this person's either action or a lack thereof, directly or indirectly caused. Did this person not know or simply not care? Training (or possibly discipline) may be in order to bring this person up to speed. Paperwork, ever how dreary and time consuming must be accurate, timely and complete.
Tried to be "one of the guys" - Once promoted, an officer is no longer one of the guys. This person has been entrusted with a managerial role, and sooner of later, will be tried by one of their buddies. Every fire officer must understand that they have a job to do and they are expected do it.