Pennington: Can Good Firefighters Cover for Bad Officers?

Walk into any fire station and look around. What you find is a group of firefighters, officers, and chiefs that come from every walk of life and each has a different level of education, experience, and motivation. These different levels can come from both directions. A firefighter can have the years of experience that a chief officer doesn’t and a chief officer can have the education that the line officer doesn’t. Either way there really are still only two types of firefighters and officers: those who can do the job and those who can't.

Dividing the members into these two categories can be used in any department. The reality of this division is the fact that good firefighters can cover for bad officers. How many of you have seen a company responding where the officer in charge looks like they are looking for a lost ball in high weeds? All the while their firefighters look like a well-oiled machine ready to go work? It happens all the time around the world and can be influenced by many factors, including:

  • New fire officer
  • An officer who is promoted too quickly
  • An overwhelmed officer
  • An intimidated officer

Using the strengths of all firefighters in our department should be the solution to this problem for any crew. It seems that the cream always rises to the top when the stuff hits the fan. If the cream is a strong set of firefighters, let them work. Many firefighters have years of time on the job and have developed a set of skills and work habits that are dependable, reliable, and trustworthy. Use these firefighters as the assets they are.

Many officers either limit their firefighters or send them in a direction that isn’t the best choice, thus taking them away from their strengths. The officer needs to be aware of the skill level of their firefighters. Setting expectations, job assignments, and understandings should happen before the bell rings and be scripted for each type of response. It’s our job to receive this direction and perform under it in a skilled manner.

So, can good firefighters cover for bad officers? The answer is yes, for a while. Having a set of skilled of jumpseat riders on a crew can cover for a poor leader until a certain point where they will HAVE to step up and lead.  As backward riding firefighters it is our job to ensure that we are in the category of the CAN DO firefighters and establish a rapport with all of our officers and help develop the trust needed to let us do what we do!  We are the followers, we get that, but this does not release officers from learning, discovering, and understanding that we are the can do firefighters.  We don’t want to cover bad officer we want to support them.  Be respectful, and try to help mold the bad officer into a strong leader by being the example of what firefighters are about: Performing under pressure! 

The next time you are assigned to a bad officer take pride in knowing that you have put the time in to make sure you are Jumpseat ready!!!!

Bunker up, buckle in, it’s where we ALL begin….