Avoiding the New Boss Blues

No matter how you got to the point where you are today, be ready for the letdown.

These negative vibes have gotten worse as our society moved through the "me" generation to the current model that I have come to call the "what's-in-it-for-me" generation. I promise you that you will hit the brick wall of peer jealousy very early on in your new role as a rider in the right front seat. This holds true whether you are in a career or volunteer fire organization.

A few years later, I faced a similar problem in the Newark, NJ, Fire Department. The negativity was the same, but the reasons were slightly different. I was promoted to the rank of Captain after only four years and one week of service. Many of the guys who got promoted at the same time as me had at least double the amount of service.

Jealousy is not a pretty thing to see. Sometimes it is blatant and sometimes it is subtle. However, I would like to caution you that it will be at work in and around you as you move into your new position. Be on the lookout for people who will stab you in the back at their earliest opportunity.

The key to both of the situations I have mentioned above comes from knowing what will happen and then making up your mind that you are tough enough to leap the hurdles that will be placed in your path. You must also be ready to do battle with older people of the same rank.

I can remember having a real pitched verbal battle with a fellow Captain who insisted on calling me "kid". This problem came to a head one night after a particularly bad fire when this guy's company stretched a hoseline off of my pumper company, and after the fire left the hose in the street for my crew to reload. My crew was tired of the actions of this man and his crew of prima donnas.

They had pulled this crap on us before and this night just happened to be the straw that broke the camels back. When I approached him about it, he tried to provoke me into a fist fight at the fire. Fortunately I was not stupid enough to succumb to his challenge. Hell, he probably would have kicked my butt anyway.

No, I suggested to him that he and his truckload of prima donnas return with us to my station for a further discussion of this issue. I knew that I was going to win when he agreed to my suggestion. When we got to the quarters of Engine Company 15, I asked him to come upstairs to my office. If anything negative were to happen, let it happen behind closed doors was my thought.

The interaction was quite brief. Before he could utter word one, I stared him down and told him that I wanted him to cut out the "kid" crap. I told him that as a veteran of the Vietnam Conflict, I had long since passed the "kid" stage of life. I further told him that I earned my rank in the same way that he did. We had both studied and taken the same sort of civil service promotional examinations offered by the state.

I looked him right in the eye and indicated that I wanted us to be friends. I extended my hand to him and after what seemed like a really long time, he un-balled his fists and grudgingly extended his hand toward mine. I do not think that we ever really became buddies. However, we did develop a healthy respect for each other. They reloaded our hose in the future when they stretched it at a job. And I did not end up getting my butt licked.

The key to the new-boss conflicts is keeping your cool and taking the moral high ground. The same holds true for the interaction between you and your crew. Many times you will end up with a crew that is more senior than you. That is how it was for me in Newark. Most of the guys on my first crew were old enough to be my father.

If you want to win people like this over, you need to do it with your interpersonal skills, your technical skills, your honesty, and your sincerity. You need to learn as much as you can about who your people are and what motivates them to be team players. You must then create a team based upon the skills and interest of both you and your crew.

A buddy of mine taught me the value of the team meeting. Much can be accomplished by the honest discussion of the problems facing your team. It is critical to lay out your plan for running your company. You must also make sure that what you want to do is allowed by your department.

The person in the right front seat has to become a font of knowledge as regards your department's rules and regulations, standard operating procedures, and operational guidelines. You must act within the guidelines established by your department.