The Captain's College - Part 1

Establishing your behavior base for captains is no different than establishing a playbook for a season in athletics.


This article is the first in a series of articles based on the "Captain's College" webcast presented on Firehouse TrainingLIVE.

In this first article, we will discuss the foundation of establishing a successful candidate for the position of company officer. No matter what the title, captain, lieutenant, or officer in charge, the position of supervisor is the backbone of all fire service delivery. For the purpose of this series, we will refer to these individuals as "captain".

When we first look at establishing a program to develop our personnel to be successful in the arena of supervision, we must look internally at the culture and

climate of our own organization. This will allow us a process to establish norms and values and determine the ethical and principle basis we wish to instill in our future leaders. Each one of our organizations has a unique culture, and that culture is generally well established and individual to the organization.

Often time, the culture is derived from long-standing norms and behaviors from past and present leadership. Yet, the climate of an organization is transitional from time to time and even shift to shift. Recognition of the differences is important to developing the first component of the Captains College.

Establishing your behavior base for captains is no different than establishing a playbook for a season in athletics. In fact, it's much the same. All successful football teams establish a list of plays and practice those plays over and over until they execute them with perfection. The success of execution is getting all members of the team to execute their individual routes perfectly. The same can be said for our captains. First, we establish a playbook or development courses to provide them with clear implicit direction from the formal leaders of the organization on how they expect them to operate on a daily basis and what the goals and objectives of their position will be. Included would be benchmarks for attaining those goals and objectives and a toolbox of useful knowledge for being successful.

This does not preclude the organization or individual captain from using an audible along the way. Like all successful coaches and teams, evaluation of the plays or the direction the team is an ongoing process. Therefore, if we find the goals or objectives are not being met by utilization of the established plays, we evaluate (size-up) and change direction (audible), basically moving to plan "B".

So let's break it down to the nuts and bolts of establishing what we refer to as Module 1.

How we determine leadership is not the fluffy management theory X or Y or Z that is prolific throughout fire service management circles. We are talking tough about the nuts and bolts of Leadership. Colin Powell once wrote, "Leadership means sometimes pissing people off". I am not advocating "pissing people off" as a daily goal, but the facts are simple. You cannot manage firefighters. Let me repeat that, you cannot manage firefighters. You can manage your daily schedule, you can manage your fire prevention activities, you can manage an emergency incident, but you cannot manage individual firefighters with any deal of success for long periods of time.

Firefighters must be lead. They not only must be lead, they demand to be led by competent and compassionate leaders who have two primary goals.

First, recognize the families of each and every firefighter under his/her command have loaned those individuals to the captain for a period of 24 or 48 hours. They expect one thing in return. They expect that captain to send their loved one home at the end of the shift in the same condition they loaned them to him/her to begin with. That being said, it is imperative we clearly define the leadership role we expect our captains to perform in the firehouse and on the fireground.

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