Company Commanders: Are You In Charge or a Figurehead?

As a fire officer, it is your duty to develop your subordinates to the best of both your and their abilities. If you don’t feel that your firefighters will make the right decisions without you, maybe your parenting skills need a tune-up.

If the project takes an unexpected turn or the result is not what was expected, now is the time to look at yourself and see if adequate resources and guidance were given. Did you pick the best person for the task? Would you really expect the rookie to write a procedure describing how to do a PM check on an aerial ladder? Instead pair the rookie with a veteran driver and have them work together. If not, you need to share the blame and get the project back on course.

Use this as an opportunity to put on your coach’s hat and point out the positives as well as how your expectations were not met. Do not use this as an excuse to micromanage by putting corners on the wheel and expect it to roll smoothly. Look at the times when mistakes have had an unexpected result that was better than the original goal. Kevlar and safety glass are two accidental discoveries that are now commercial successes.

My wife has told me numerous times that it is not what you say but how you say it. Also be aware that sometimes not saying something also speaks volumes louder than any words. Be encouraged that your crew had enough initiative and intelligence to recognize a problem and try and provide a solution. Also look into yourself and see if you failed your crew. No one is infallible and despite your best efforts you will make mistakes. Own up to them. Don’t blame others for your shortcomings. Use this as an example to grow. The road of life has bumps and setbacks. How you deal with them is what builds character.

As you can see in the examples above there are officer-to-firefighter and adult-to-adult relationships. This is no different than the parent-to-child relationship. Be the best parent you can be to your family and help them grow, but also know when to let them fly. If you don’t feel that your crew will make the right decisions without you, maybe your parenting skills need a tune-up.

In closing, while many of these have been said before, I feel they are still worth repeating.

  • Value your people
  • Praise in public, criticize in private
  • Realize that no one is perfect.
  • Use mistakes as a learning and teaching tool
  • There will always be someone smarter than you. Get over it.
  • Give credit where due
  • And a personal favorite, work smarter, not harder.

JIM MILBY is a lieutenant with the Anne Arundel County, MD, Fire Department. He started in the fire service in the 1980s's and was hired as a career firefighter in 1990. Milby has been a member of the county's special operations team for 20 years.You can contact Milby by e-mail