Before we begin this final installment of "So You Are In Charge", let's remember that the last article was to lead! and hopefully you found something of use in that article. I have always believed that if you end a tour of duty without learning something new, you wasted an opportunity for yourself and everyone in your company. Leaders are teachers, however, not all teachers are leaders and you must remember that. If you do not take charge and lead your company, someone else will. I can promise you that! We are going to complete this series with Work Side By Side With Your Company.
As you see I bold typed the words in hopes that you realize I believe this is the most important thing a company officer can do. This does not only pertain to the fireground or emergency medical scenes either. To be an effective company officer you must not ask you company to do something that either you won't do or that you believe is beneath you. If you expect your company to clean the floors and toilets of the engine house, you must be part of the clean up crew. If you expect the engine, ladder or what ever apparatus you and your crew are assigned to, to be ready, check the rig with them. You should never let your company feel that something like paperwork or catching up on the latest reality TV show is more important than the company.
Don't Just Train Your Company, Train With Them
Next let's look at training. As the company officer, you are expected by the leaders of the fire service to train with your company. Yes it's true we don't have the number of fires that they used too; it's also true that we do not have the manpower they used to either. But what is also true is we are not fighting the same fires they fought either.
Today's fires are hotter and flash over much quicker. We are arriving understaffed and generally over-worked. Today's fire company is doing more with less. It is for that reason we must train and become proficient at basic operations as a company. Training must include everything ranging from safe apparatus response to advanced strategies and tactics.
Let's discuss for one moment training for a safe response. We are killing more firefighters in vehicle collisions and accidents than ever before. Why exactly is this happening? I do not have the technical answer but I'm going to give you my opinion. We are driving too fast with too heavy of an apparatus in more congested neighborhoods without advanced warning devices and signal controls. At the same time, car manufacturers are building mobile sound-proof music theaters. Again that's just my opinion. Train your operators to drive under control, be familiar with the streets they are driving on and slow down or stop at every intersection. Remember never to back up an apparatus without spotters.
Reinforce Important Points On The Fireground
Let's now discuss the fireground. Before going to work on the fireground you must ensure that your company is ready to work in whatever environment they encounter. Approaching the building and finding out that someone is trapped on the third floor is not the time to send someone back to the rig for a SCBA. Every member must have complete turnouts with SCBA in place, a flashlight, portable radio and whatever tools they were assigned to carry that morning. As the company officer you must lead your company safely into the scene and make sure they leave safely. Take every opportunity to teach during the operations and don't sugar coat it, if you see an unsafe act stop it and if you see a good act praise it. I worked for a company officer that had the reputation of being difficult to work for.
One night we were the first due truck company to an occupied residental fire and upon arrival I placed the truck in front of the residence and went through a second floor window via the aerial ladder. After the fire I felt pretty good about the operations only to receive the butt chewing of my life because I did not pull past the residence and have the ability, if needed, to operate on two sides of the structure. So just after I swept up my butt from the street, he came back and said "thanks for your hard work and I appreciate it". Please keep in mind my officer was covered in soot and debris from working inside the residence. I learned two things from him that night; always position my truck to operate on as many sides as possible and he appreciated my work. I forgot about the butt chewing until writing this article; however, I did not forget what he taught me. As a company officer let your company know you care about them and that you appreciate their work. Then reinforce it by working side by side your company.
Working side by side with your company is one of the reasons you should have wanted to get promoted. At some point in your career you felt that with your experience and leadership ability you were ready to take charge of your own company and make a difference. Well now is your time, you must take the lead and lead the next generation of firefighters safely into and out of scenes. You must take the time to teach your company how to work not only safely but intelligently. Instill in your company they must learn something new every tour. Try new things that others nationally are trying or look for local solutions to your problems, just trying something. Encourage your company members to become leaders of the future and help prepare them for it.
I hoped you found something of use throughout the "So You Are In Charge" series. I could only wish I have all the answers but I do not. As a company officer I have made many of the mistakes that I've asked you not to make. Some of the stuff I've written about is like describing the color blue to a blind person, you don't know exactly how to describe it, but you know it when you see it. Regardless of if you say you can or you say you can't, you're right! So say you can and do it.
Good luck and stay safe!Related: