How do I develop officer skills?
This is directed mainly to the fire officers here, but I'd appreciate input from anyone who has some advice.
I've been a firefighter on my department for 7 years. My current goal is to become a captain on our department, but I am lacking some skills.
In the time that I've been a firefighter, I've attended virtually every training event we've had in house (twice a month) and I've seeked outside training at fire schools, other departments, etc. at every opportunity. I've received more training and have more certifications than almost any other firefighter on our department, including some of our current officers. I've become an EMT, Firefighter 2, Fire Instructor 1, Haz-Mat Technician, and I passed the Fire Instructor 2 course and exam (but did not certify at that time). I've taken two courses in incident management and will be taking a NIMS Train-the-Trainer course in a couple of months. I helped establish our very successful Explorer program and our Adopt-a-Firefighter program. I teach at various fire schools around the state and also teach for the state's Fire Service Training Bureau. The chief has told me that on paper, I am an excellent candidate for a Captain's position.
What I am missing, he said (and I completely agree with), is the trust of the guys on our department. You can't be a leader if nobody will follow. I know that I have the tactical expertise to make the right decisions on the fireground, and the chief agrees. But how do I get my firefighters to follow my lead? How do I show them that I am capable of being their leader? My chief has given me a lot of good advice that I will follow, but I'm looking for more input - more ideas. One thing I know I need to do is to assert myself more, but I'm hesitant because there's a fine line between asserting yourself and being a jerk. I know that I can make the right decisions and I want to make those decisions and stick to my guns. I want to be able to convince my commanding officer that my decision is the right one even if it contradicts his, but I don't want to seem like I'm just fighting every order I'm given and I don't want to undermine the authority of my officer.
How do you differentiate between being a nuisance or a 'know-it-all' and asserting yourself when you know you're right? There have been situations where I knew what the correct course of action was, but it seemed like nobody would listen. In the end, I'm usually right, but it seems to go unnoticed. Nobody seems to remember that I suggested it in the first place. Or, worse yet, someone else repeats my suggestion and suddenly, it's a brilliant idea.
I can go to any other department in the state and have their complete attention. I guess it's like they say, "An expert is someone from more than 50 miles away." But how do you gain that respect and trust within your own department? I feel that I'm well-liked by my department, but my abilities aren't respected as much as I think they should be.
I get involved at every scene. I do as much as I can. I put on an SCBA and grab the nozzle every chance I get. I'll climb onto the roof with the chainsaw and ventilate whenever I can. But with only a few 'highly visible' incidents each year, and 35 guys fighting for the nozzle, it's hard to always be the one in middle of everything. Someone has to stay outside and provide support services. Someone has to drive the water shuttle back to town for water. Someone has to set up the rehab station. As for the 'low publicity' incidents (alarms, CO checks, etc.), I'm always there as well. I'm one of the few that will get out of bed at 3:00 AM to take a truck to the hospital for the 4th false alarm in a week.
So what advice can anyone give me? What can I do to prove my abilities to my department? What can I do that will help me become the officer that my department wants?