The Captain's College - Part 1

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


If we look to our firehouse leadership, our captains are to be the role model for all personnel. Obviously, we discussed culture, and this will play into the expectation. Yet, it is critical that our captains are fully aware of their new role and responsibility. They are clearly responsible for all that goes on in the firehouse, on the apparatus, and most importantly in the public eye.

I recently asked a group of younger captains if they felt they were accountable or responsible for the driving behavior of the engineer. I was completely shocked at the response. Over half said they could not be held accountable or should not be held responsible for the driving behavior of the engineer. Guess what? They are flat out wrong. They are the only one responsible for the driving behavior of their (keyword: their) engineer.

This lack of taking responsibility is exactly what needs to be eliminated within the fire service, and the starting point for establishing their role as a leader is before you hand them the badge. They must be clearly made aware of their level accountability and the authority which they have assumed.

Remember, you can delegate authority, but you can't delegate responsibility. If they are unwilling to make the tough stands in the firehouse, then you can bet they won't make the tough decisions in the field and that will result in injury and death.

The late and great Lane Kemper ,of Los Angeles Fire Department, would say, "Train as though your life depends upon it, because it does."

No better words could define the primary mission of leadership. Preparing yourself and your personnel is an ongoing daily function.

The only way we will be fully prepared to limit our exposure to risk is through progressive stress-based training programs. You may not have caught a little verbiage in that last statement. The keyword was stress-based training programs. It seems that much of our fire service culture has moved away from placing people under our command in stressful training environments making them perform to a stated expectation with through and competent results. For lack of a better term, we have "dummied down" our training programs and fail to develop our personnel to a point in which they can perform with complete confidence and competence when the preverbal "crap hits the fan".

How does that relate to our captains? Easy, it is essential our captains continue to develop themselves and their personnel in all aspects of their jobs. Most importantly, in the functions of fireground operations that reduce the threat of injury and death of ourselves and civilians.

Far too many captains, fail to provide their personnel with hands-on training that defines whether our personnel can function in a stress-filled situations. Typically the failure is a result of not wanting to push their people for fear of being the bad guy. I have often said, "Better to push them in training, than carry them in death".

So, as we define the roles and responsibilities of our captains in the development program, we must clearly establish and define the expected behaviors they will exhibit within the organization.

As I mentioned, each and every organization needs to define those primary roles and responsibilities based upon the vision, mission and value statements. Included, should be the core ethics values. If those are not clearly defined, they should be before the establishment of the Captain's College.

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Ed Hadfield, a Firehouse.com Contributing Editor, has worked his way through the ranks of the fire service over the last 20 years from firefighter to battalion chief. He was a captain for the ISO Class 1 Huntington Beach, CA, Fire Department. He is the Lead Instructor for Firetown Training Specialist and was awarded the 2004 California Training Officer of the Year.

Ed is recognized for his tremendous accomplishments in the area of Truck Company Operations, Firefighter Safety and Survival, Rapid Intervention Tactics & Strategy, Command and Strategy at the scene of fireground emergencies and his overall leadership in the fire service.