Carter: Some More Tips for the New Fire Officer

Let me suggest that some of my greatest problems as a fire officer came about as a result of my own personal mistakes which were made worse by a poor reading of the actions and attitudes of the people around me.


Last week on my blog here on Firehouse.com I shared some thoughts with you about how the newly promoted officer should act and think. It is my fervent hope that you chose to remember the part about caring for your people. Because without that thought in mind, this little visit with you will have little or no value.

As a newly promoted officer, you have been moved into a critical new role. Bear in mind that the promotion might have come as a result of a civil service test mechanism or the annual election in your volunteer fire department. It matters not because the results will be the same. Not only are you now responsible for the safety and well-being of your people, you are also answerable for their training. If your people cannot perform, I can assure you that you will be the first person to whom the department leadership will turn looking for an for an explanation.

However, what is the first thing that people who wish to teach must do? They must learn. They must learn about a number of different things, not just the topics involved in firefighting,EMS, Haz-Mat, or whatever might be the case. They must first learn about themselves. Then they must learn about other people.

They must work to learn as much about the how and why of people’s actions as they possibly can. Why do I suggest these things? I offer this advice because of my hard-won experience as a fire officer in both career and volunteer assignments. The circumstances of the situation dictated the responsibilities which I was required to perform. 

Let me suggest that some of my greatest problems as a fire officer came about as a result of my own personal mistakes which were made worse by a poor reading of the actions and attitudes of the people around me. Many times what I perceived as acceptance was a mere tolerance of my actions. That was a very hard lesson to learn.

People will put up with a great deal when they perceive that a man’s position requires it. This is a terrible thing to find out; however, its discovery is a true first step on the way to future success.

A great deal of my time has been spent assessing my personal strengths and, more importantly, my weaknesses. I am first and foremost a big person, so I will always appear overbearing. And since no steps were taken to temper this, I suffered. So did other people. Even at my advanced age circumstances dictate that I continue to work towards a tempering of my volumetric problems with a lot of humanity and humility.

Further, my skills as a listener leave a great deal to be desired. Not only do I have a tendency not to listen, but my years in the fire service, with its attendant exposure to loud noises, have taken a lot of the physical capability. So it is with diminished physical capabilities and mental skills that I am forced to fight the battle of attention to others every day in my work environment.

I can recall the time that things had gotten so bad at home that my wife made me get a signed note from an audiologist that I really do have bad hearing. She claimed that I had a terminal case of “you never pay attention.” So it is with a great reluctance that I must admit to a bit of both: I have trouble hearing, in spite of not being able to listen well. What a hell of a combination.

Let me assure you that the two examples above came from a real life set of situations. These lessons were hard for me to learn and harder still to accept. But unless you are able to learn and grow as an individual, you will never do well as a supervisor, or fireground commander.

You must want to help others if you are to be an effective leader. Further, you must like people. You must like to help them and want to see them succeed. I have learned the hard way that an inward focus really turns people off. Remember that turned-off people are not happy people. And unhappy people do not enjoy their work; therefore, they do a bad job.

What are some of the traits you must assess within yourself? A short list would include:

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