An efficient fire company operates as a team. While the attitude, knowledge and abilities of the entire company are extremely important, it is most often the officer that allows the team to excel. That's right, allows them to excel. As firefighters, we are exposed on a daily basis to life & death situations that require decisive and competent leadership from those in command. How well does your company function? Does your officer allow your team to excel or do they hold you back? In fire stations across the United States, the following leadership attributes are displayed on a daily basis, either positively or negatively. Do you work for a boss or a leader? Based on the following traits - you make that decision.
A boss is interested in himself or herself - a leader is interested in the group. Does your officer encourage or discourage? Do they push you to excel or do they hold you back? A good fire officer must consider the needs of the entire crew, the ones that they depend on to get the job done. It is in everyone's best interest that the fire officer be a caring, positive motivator to those entrusted to them.
A boss makes work drudgery, a leader makes work interesting. Do you dread going to work, or do you look forward to going to work? This is probably a good indictment of your present supervisory status. The fire service is an interesting profession that often demands personal sacrifice. We must maintain a constant state of readiness which includes a great deal of constant training. How is this handled in your department? Do you look forward to training or is merely another form of busy work or perhaps even punishment? An efficient leader will get the job done with willing participants.
A boss creates fear, a leader confidence. Are you empowered to do your job or do you feel threatened knowing that there might be "hell to pay" for some minor infraction? Fire department SOP's and SOG's should be used to strengthen operational efficiency and safety, not stifle it through intimidation or other outdated scare tactics. A good leader will explain where someone might look to improve and then serve as a mentor as this person evolves. Discipline may be necessary down the line, but it should not always be the first resort. You will be remembered for how you treated people long after you leave the fire department.
A boss knows all, a leader ask questions. Every fire crew has individuals with a specific expertise (whether you know it or not). It is simply not possible for a human to possess all of the knowledge necessary to deal with everything that he or she will encounter in life. A wise person will seek the counsel of others, even though they may be subordinates. This is not a sign of weakness on the part of the officer; it is a sign of strength. It is an excellent opportunity to motivate someone to the next level. A wise officer will seize the moment to call upon someone and win on all accounts.
A boss fixes blame, a leader corrects mistakes. The only person that does not screw up is the person that does not do anything. A good officer will accept blame when it is their fault, and it often is. Hindsight is twenty-twenty; we can usually replay an incident in our mind and wish to change a few things. We know that is not possible, however, we can learn something from it. A good officer will be quick to admit his or her mistakes, and be even quicker to help correct the mistakes of others in a constructive manner.
The fire service is a dynamic profession that requires above average leadership abilities to handle the myriad of emergencies that surface each day. No fire officer is perfect; however, we should all strive to learn something at every incident. At one point or another, we have all worked for a boss and hopefully we have served under a leader. Which one do remember? Which one do you wish to emulate? The choice is yours, how will you be remembered?
Source: Sutton, Sherry."Take 8 Seconds a Day for Team Members". Charlotte Observer. October 31, 2005.
Dave Murphy retired as Assistant Chief of the Richmond (KY) Fire Department. He is an Assistant Professor in the Fire & Safety Engineering Technology program located at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Dave was recently been named as Eastern Director of the Fire Department Safety Officers Association and also serves as the Health & Safety Officer for the Harrisburg (NC) Fire Department.