The leadership of a combination fire department must develop rules and regulations that govern both the career and volunteer components and ensure that everyone meets the same standards.
Photo credit: Photo courtesy of Prince George's County Fire/EMS Department
Given the continuing decline in the number of volunteers in many places, there is a growing need within the American fire service for the combination type of fire department operation. But leadership in a combination fire department environment requires a special set of skills, foremost the ability to balance the demands of all parties to the fire department operational equation.
As a chief or company officer, you must recognize that they are leading people with two differing views of how emergency and non-emergency services will be delivered. You will be leading people who are paid to be there and people who are volunteering to do something they enjoy. You must ensure both sides are treated equally and that you are not seen as playing favorites; the minute you favor one side over the other, you set the trap for your failure as a leader. Also, you must develop a common set of rules and regulations that govern both the career and volunteer components of the force and make sure everyone meets the same standards.
Professor Donald Favreau’s text Fire Service Management offers a common-sense approach to leadership that can be applied to combination departments. He lays out the following traits such a leader must have:
• Courage (physical and moral)
As the leader in a combination fire department, you would be well-advised to check your leadership inventory to see how many of these behaviors you have in your operational toolbox. To be a leader you must act like a leader. and appear to be a leader. Hold yourself to the highest standards in appearance and conduct. Avoid rough language and outbursts of temper. Maintain a dignified manner. Be what you want your people to be.
It is critical to recruit and retain of a force sufficient to perform the range of services the community demands. Recruit the best people, train them well and then protect and take care of them at each stage in their career development. You must ensure they are trained for each level that you anticipate them reaching. The key for leaders in a combination setting is to train everyone to the same standard. You must ensure that each person is capable of performing in any role within your department.
There are a number of problems to should watch out for in your combination fire department. For example, in many instances, the career staff does not get along with the volunteer staff; in others, the volunteers do not like the paid people. Good leadership goes a long way in preventing such situations.
Favreau urges fire service leaders to be people who are seen by their associates as being:
Any action the leader in a combination fire department takes that favors (or even just seems to favor) one side of the equation over the other can be the beginning of the end for the agency. Steer the leadership of your agency down the straight