Headaches and Solutions to Company-Level Training – Part 1

This article is geared towards those rare situations where the culture of the department, or the culture of the company, or the specific shift of a company has allowed such behavior to occur.

What I want to do is to share some thoughts with those company officers who are faced with the most frustrating of circumstances and lay out a road map towards maintaining their sanity, improving their career in the process, and still contributing to the overall success and safety of the department. Basically, we’ll look at what the company officer can do to protect his people and then explore possible solutions to bringing the team up to a high level of proficiency.

Possible Reasons For The Company Officer’s Headaches

A company officer comes along, either through new promotion, transfer, or recent appointment and encounters any one or combination of the points discussed earlier. For our purposes, we will gear this article to fire officers who are consumed and immersed in the job. They have experience and charisma, are sought after for what they bring to the table, and are truly interested in sharing through training the technical aspects of the job. Yet, by the hand of fate, the new assignment is a disaster where all of the empathetic leadership and motivational strategies fail no matter what. Training at the company level becomes a constant struggle. Why?

The answers are complex, but what I have found is it could broadly fall into two major categories:

  • The first is the culture of the department, the company, or even a specific shift. What do we mean by the culture?

All of our organizations have a history, and the history of the fire service is a proud one no doubt. But we are not perfect! There are always issues that need to be addressed through forums such as this. It’s the only way we can learn and improve and evolve into even better organizations!

Some departments, companies, or shifts have a culture of great discipline, volunteer or career. Members accept this culture and assimilate into this group, otherwise peer pressure forces those malcontents out or forces them to conform.

But sometimes organizations have problems because they’re too “tight knit.” Its members may have known each other all or most of their lives. Having a tight bond with your colleagues is great and enhances unit effectiveness, but what if the team is primarily socially motivated and their fireground performance and ability is based on all talk?

In other words, tight knit to the point where it negatively affects the success of the mission. Members feel free to run wild knowing that disciplinary actions will never be used to control their behavior. This can be one of the problems of small departments where people have known each other forever. In addition, a tight-knit unit that always looks back to past successes and rests on their laurels doesn’t prepare successfully for future combat! Talking the talk is always second to being able to walk the walk!

New members see this behavior and attitude that permeates, accept it as the way of the organization, and the cycle continues to spiral out of control. An organizational culture where fire officers or members are never held accountable, where they can act as they choose, and where the group experiences a never-ending cycle of mediocrity are the symptoms of a future tragedy!

  • The second problem is how we choose our people; are they the best of the best?

Strongly related to organizational culture is the hiring (yes, for volunteer organizations as well) or the promotion process of firefighters and fire officers. To limit the problems in an organization, we have to have the best and brightest talent that is available to us! For fire officers, the best and brightest are those with knowledge, experience, charisma, the ability to be articulate, a successful track record in fireground operations, and past successes in helping their colleagues improve and evolve into better firefighters and officers. This is also applicable to our volunteer organizations as well.

Difficult entrance requirements and promotional processes, mentally and physically challenging training programs, and very challenging testing programs (both academic and physical) allow the “cream of the crop” to rise to the top. Organizations that strive for mediocrity will inevitably have problems.

These two principles, organizational culture and personnel quality, are directly related. They apply to all career and volunteer fire departments.

If you strive to seek out the highest caliber of people all the time, then the culture of the group will improve. It will be a constantly expanding circle of growth and the organization will know no limits towards its’ overall success.