We begin our fire service careers with a fire burning in our bellies and the intent of being around for a long time. The challenges of day-to-day life at home and at work confront all of us and sometimes make it difficult to keep that fire from dimming over the years.
We've all known company officers with a lot of seniority who are as positive and fulfilled as they were in the very beginning of their careers...and we've seen situations in which company officers (new and old) were not. They may be unhappy with the work they're doing, the changes in the job since they started, unhappy with their departments, their bosses, and sometimes even their friends and family.
The demeanor of the company officer and his or her outlook on things in general has a tremendous impact on crew members and service delivery. Working for a specific company officer can be the best or worst thing that can happen in a member's career...and the impact can be long lasting.
Teamwork In The Firehouse
Hundreds of officers from different parts of the country have provided me with suggestions for helping other officers remain positive, productive examples for others to model. The following represents their collective thoughts:
- Company officers should strive to approach their duties with the same "teamwork-based" attitude that they naturally utilized in the beginning of their careers. Maintaining a sense of self-motivation that is directed towards competence, safety, learning, teaching and overall wellness is an important part of that process.
- As long as we're active, we should remain students of the fire service. This could include attending a seminar periodically, taking structured classes, sharing information with crew members, transferring experience through storytelling and/or providing opportunities for others to learn and grow professionally.
- Trying to be consistent and predictable helps others interact with the officer and helps the officer maintain his or her sense of direction as a supervisor. Being as fair as possible, avoiding the appearance of favoritism, displaying trust in crew members, being honest in our interactions with others and simply being nice to the people we encounter can also act as daily "booster shots" to a company officer's sense of self-worth and value thus affecting his or her demeanor in a positive way.
- Being a good coach and working on our communications skills can help avoid personnel issues that can begin to get us down. Confronting issues in a productive way is preferred rather than letting them fester until emotions get the best of us...sometimes resulting in negative, long-lasting reactions from those who were involved.
- As much as possible, company officers should stay focused on the mission, committed to service delivery, and concerned about the welfare of their crew members. Supporting the organization, buying into the future and setting a positive example can be contagious for crew members when modeled by the company officer.
- Approaching each emergency call with the eagerness and empathy that we displayed early in our careers can help keep spirits high. Encouraging participation and input from crew members in all non-emergency and support programs at the station helps the company officer create an environment in which the work is taken seriously and the workers are able to have fun doing it. A positive work environment creates positive, productive people - including the company officer.
- Although it is difficult, bad things that happen at home should not dominate the work environment at the fire station and difficult times at work should not be allowed to create barriers to family relationships at home. That concept is a lot easier to write than it is to do, but officers that at least consider it periodically will probably manage this balance better than those who pay it no mind at all.
Staying The Course
This article was written to address company officer leadership, but the thoughts expressed can be applied across the board to all of us. We are all subject to up and down cycles at work and at home.
A valid question is, "Are there specific, realistic behaviors and concepts that we can practice to help us stay positive, productive and healthy contributors for the entire duration of our careers?" I know many company officers who do this very well and have been a great influence on the careers of others. They have found a way to keep their fires lit, which can sustain or re-ignite the fire in others. We all know that this can have a positive effect on service delivery in the streets and on internal relations, as well.
We're going to be here for a long time; we may as well enjoy ourselves and help those around us do the same. This is as important at the company-officer level as it is anywhere in the organization. Perhaps the thoughts shared in this article will be helpful in some way - they can't hurt!
Dennis Compton, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is the fire chief in Mesa, AZ. He previously served as assistant fire chief in the Phoenix Fire Department. During a career that spans 28 years, Compton has been involved in many fire service and civic organizations, and is a well-known speaker and author. He currently chairs the executive board of the International Fire Service Training Association (IFSTA) and serves as vice-chair of the Congressional Fire Services Institute's National Advisory Committee.