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  1. #1
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    Feb 2003
    Emmetsburg, IA

    Default 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?

  2. #2
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    Dec 2004


    just out of curiosity, what were some of the suggestions your cheif gave you.? specifically what are the areas you feel you need to work on?

  3. #3
    Forum Member firefightergtp's Avatar
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    Nov 2004
    Chester, NY (Orange County)


    Also, what is the ranking system in your department?? Do you have lieutenants under you as a captain? Or is captain your first step as officer??

    I too had the aspiration to become a firematic officer, and I can tell you that right now, at the age of 21, my chiefs, superior officers, and firefighters feel that I was the right person for the job, and was elected lieutenant in 2005. Let me tell you some of the things I did to get the position.

    1) I was president of the company for 2 years, I felt that putting myself in a civil officer position gave everyone a chance to see that I am capable of performing the task of being a officer

    2) I take as much training as possible, but I feel that showing up for calls is alot more important in the eyes of your peers than training is. If you have one of those pagers that only go off between 10am and 5pm, for only structure fires, your going to have a tough time gaining the respect back from those guys. This scenario has happened to a few people at the firehouse. They are there for all the training, but never show up for calls.

    3) While president, I made sure my peers knew that I wasnt afraid to challenge the "higher-ups", that I wasnt afraid to voice the opinion of the masses at our station, even if they werent my opinions. Once again, something that is very important to the guys/gals of your crew.

    4) MATURITY: This is a big one. I know a guy who is almost 40 years old in the firehouse who still has the maturity of some of our junior members. I dont know how old you are, but you have to show an above average level of maturity.

    5) Learn to keep personal opinions to yourself. This is something I still have trouble with, but I have learned to control it. Just because you feel a certain way about an action a superior officer takes, you should NEVER gossip about it with the crew. If your a big "talker" in your department, its time to re-establish yourself.

    6) Ask the existing officers if you could put together a drill and run it yourself. This will show everyone that your ready for the job.

    Those are just a few that came off the top of my head. Remember, your first course of action is to figure out WHY your peers arent ready for your to become an officer, than try to fix it.

  4. #4
    Forum Member SpartanGuy's Avatar
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    Aug 2004


    The best way to start off is to take a leadership role in smaller things. Organize activities at the station, etc. Offer to be a team leader for an assignment. In my opinion,(and this may just be the difference between our department) as an officer, your job isn't to grab the nozzle. Your job isn't to be the one holding the chainsaw on the roof. It's to be the guy who hangs back and observes and leads. Give them direction and then let them be firefighters. Sit back and make sure they stay safe. Be the back up man on the nozzle who watches for hazards instead. Or maybe be the safety guy holding onto the ventman's harness as he does his thing.

    I was a Lieutenant for three years and I just got promoted to Captain this year. I took as much training as possible, and I love to be the one in the thick of the action. But as an officer, you gotta step back and look at things as a leader and not necessarily as a line firefighter.

    Just my $.02
    "Captain 1 to control, retone this as a structure and notify the fire chief...."

    Safety is no accident.

  5. #5
    Forum Member Weruj1's Avatar
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    Dec 1999
    NW Ohio


    I am coming form thsi approach from what you have said, (also someone already asked about your structure) Do you have SOG's ? these should be followed and may help you to back up the descions you do make. You sound like a well rounded officer candidate who has some experience and training. You dont sound arrogant, and appear to have the right attitude. It sounds like I would keep on keeping on ......dont sour and NEVER GIVE UP ! I may post further when more answers come back.
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  6. #6
    MembersZone Subscriber
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    Dec 2000


    Although I am not an officer yet, there are a few things that I feel make a good officer:

    Do the right thing: There is always a right thing and a wrong thing to do in any situation. The right thing might not be the easiest but you know in your heart it is the correct thing to do. Don't cut corners or take the easy way out. (This goes for everybody on the department from the Chief to the probies.)

    Remain calm: Good officers project an air of calmness. Some forget that radios were invented so we don't have to scream at each other when communicating across a given distance. If you can be calm on the radio while the world is falling apart around you, it inspires trust and confidence in your men. Never forget that we did not create the emergency, we are there to mitigate it.

    Be decisive but not arrogant: Nobody knows everything. Don't be afraid to solicit opinions or suggestions (in fact this should be encouraged)from your crew but don't forget that they are looking to you for leadership, guidance and decision making. Also, don't be afraid to admit you made a wrong decision and change your course of action.

    Don't Micromanage: Most of the time the senior guys will know what to do. You don't need to hold their hand or give them step-by-step instructions for every little task.

    Keep your guys safe: EGH-Everybody Goes Home. The safety of your crew is paramount. Always err on the side of safety. The most important thing I look for in an officer is knowing that he or she won't get me killed at a fire by doing something stupid. All the rest of their personality or leadership style issues are BS compared to this.

  7. #7
    MembersZone Subscriber ChiefReason's Avatar
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    Feb 2001
    Illinois-where pertnear is close enough!


    The best advice that I can give you is:
    Don't hurry the process.
    If your fire department has committees or work details, volunteer to lead them.
    At some point, you will find some of the other men coming to you asking for advice, assistance and counselling. Notice that I said "advice" and not "opinion". There is a big difference.
    Regardless; when you no longer feel the need to ask what it takes, chances are that you are THERE!
    Good luck. And for what it's worth; I became chief after 8 years on.
    Visit www.iacoj.com
    Remember Bradley Golden (9/25/01)
    RIP HOF Robert J. Compton(ENG6511)

  8. #8
    MembersZone Subscriber
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    Feb 2003
    Emmetsburg, IA


    Thanks for the tips so far.

    To answer a few of your questions...

    Regarding the structure of our department: We've gone through some changes over the last few years, but currently our set-up includes a full-time career chief, three assistant chiefs (one is not active at fire scenes for medical reasons), and 6 captains. At one time, we had 5 captains and one lieutenant, but that Lt. was promoted to captain, which resulted in our current structure.

    My chief (whom I have a great amount of respect for, as does the VAST majority of the department) suggested that I get in and get my hands dirty as much as possible at every scene. When something happens - be there, and be in the middle of it. Take some leadership roles, make some decisions (so long as it doesn't undermine our IMS, of course), and when I make a call, stick by my guns. I guess my current approach was what SpartanGuy was talking about - I didn't fight for the nozzle or the tools every time, but stepped back and tried to help direct the team. Perhaps in my situation that isn't the right option. Maybe I got ahead of myself there, taking on a 'Captain-like' role when it wasn't mine to take.

    I feel that I have the maturity to handle the responsibility, and I think I do a pretty good job at maintaining my composure under stress. I also work as an EMT with the local hospital-based ambulance service and I worked as a 911 dispatcher, so staying cool under pressure is second nature to me.

    I don't want to come off sounding like someone who thinks he's put in his time and deserves this position - I know that it has to be earned, and to be honest, there are others on the department that I feel would also make good officers. I wouldn't be upset if one of them got an officership ahead of me, but I'd be a little disappointed in myself for not being the one.

    And, I don't want to be the incident commander yet, although if the situation arose, I would take the initiative. Right now, I want to be the 'go-between'. I want to be the guy who reports to the chief and directs my team through their assigned operation. I want the chief to know that if he tells me to make an interior attack, that I'll take my team through it according to our SOP's and standard practices. I want him to know that he can count on me to get the job done. He knows that I can make the right decisions, but he's concerned about whether or not my team will follow my lead or make their own decisions.

    I try to take leadership roles in our department whenever possible. We're a volunteer department and I've got a wife and two kids at home, so I can't be an active firefighter 100% of the time. Sometimes, I have to sacrifice opportunities at the FD for my family - not responding to calls because my wife's not home and I'm there with the kids. But whenever I am available, I'm there.

    And sometimes, fireground operations require that I take a role that is not exactly a visible 'leadership' position. If we need to shuttle SCBA cylinders back to the station to be filled, I am one of the few guys that can run our new compressor without supervision. I am one of the few guys that is very comfortable operating the pump on our new engine. These are jobs that HAVE to be done, and if I'm the one there that can do it, that's my assignment. I can't be with the team inside or on the roof.

    I guess I get a bit long-winded in these forums, so I'll cut this one off for now.

    Thanks again for the tips so far, and I look forward to hearing more advice!

  9. #9
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    Apr 2003
    New York


    One thing I didn't notice in your post was your age, until I read that you have a wife and two kids. So you must be fairly in your 20's to 30's?

    If after 7 years, you have all this training under your belt and that you travel to outside depts. training others, and using your own statement that you need to save time for your wife and kids, how much time did you really put into your dept?

    I'm not saying this to be mean, and I admire your training resume.
    After seven years, in my opinion, if you don't have the "trust" of the men, something isn't right.

    We have had ffs in my dept. that could recite chapter and verse on any ff tactic you could think of. Problem was, they spent SO much time training outside the dept., we really didn't know what they were capable of. Sure, they could do what you asked them, they were technically profficient. But there was just something "missing". The few that did make it into the ranks either resigned our were not great fire officers.

    I also think there is something to be said for being around in social situations. A pick up game of basketball behind the firehouse, a dept. softball team, or maybe something as simple as helping a guy move a couch at his house go a long way to letting guys see what you are like OUTSIDE the dept.

    Don't ask the Chief. Ask the people YOU would be leading if promoted.
    What can I do differently? Do they think I have what it takes to lead someone? You may not like the answers, but I guarantee that you will learn something about yourself.

    And if they don't think you can lead, try to continue being one of the guys that hold the Fd together.

  10. #10
    Forum Member skyraider's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2005


    Many of the previous comments are on target as far as recommending you take leadership roles for training activities, social gatherings, etc. Taking on roles/responsibilities that others don't want and to do them with a positive attitude will definitely help. Never speak ill of anyone. Don't slack off on procedures even though it may be easier...it shows me someone doesn't respect their position (yes, I know not everything's done by the book, but I'm talking about taking short cuts that can cause problems).

    Given your desire to become an officer, I assume you are reading self-help books on how to be a good leader. Follow through on everything you say you'll do, providing immediate responses, if possible, whether it be to Capt's, Chiefs, colleagues, patients, friends, family. Integrity goes a long way. Treating everyone with dignity and respect (you've heard it before) is very important.

    Charisma and decisiveness are also great leadership qualities.

    Consider taking a look at one or two of the most effective leaders you have had in the past whether it be within the department, other jobs, church, school, or where ever. Identify the qualities of that person that you respected and what made him/her influential to you. Then interview those people and ask them about their leadership qualities and their experiences. That may be helpful to you.

    Paper credentials are wonderful...but I've interviewed some people for jobs that had a laundry list of credentials and when they get to the interview they don't exude the qualities of a leader (whether the job is a leadership role or not), they talk too much, they don't listen, they don't act confident, they don't look people in the eye, etc. Some people are born leaders, others of us simply need to work hard at it.

    Good luck!

  11. #11
    Forum Member maximumflow's Avatar
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    Feb 2005
    Matawan nj


    i read with great respect the posts of past,present and future officers! if i may,i am a member of the ranks to deputy chief and presently recycled back to captain. (does that mean i'am a crusty old jake)as a member of three different departments over the years i have found that lack of experience, lack of respect,age difference,and not being one of the good ol boys are the hardest things to over come to become an officer! i was never one of the good ol boys because i came from outside the community, but that changed over time buy gaining the respect of the old timers and the firefighters i worked with each day, not the its my turn officers i had to deal with that always asked someone else what to do. had to overcome the age difference of about 10 yrs buy using my experience and education when operating at fires to gain the respect that i was a worthy firefighter. i guess for me what i have learned over the years is respect of ones best interests and keeping them in mind at all times ie.safety,family,job,time available. never to shove my experience or education on others(if they respect you they already know your qualifications).when you communicate with others do just that communicate with them ,not above them(it makes them feel inferior,not everyone has the same experience or education)sometimes listing is more important than the answers you will give. having the firefighters you operate with "feel comfortable" you have what it takes to put "their life" on the line and bring it home safely!!!!!

    your experience on the fire ground and training that "you" create, ie.( hands on as well as classroom )"you have the schooling",that shows you have their best interests at heart,should make your pursuit to the ranks of an officer a little easier. remember 7yrs does not make an officer, be patient and good luck!

    helping people,
    it's what we do!
    Last edited by maximumflow; 03-01-2005 at 12:40 AM.

  12. #12
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    Jun 2004
    Farmington CT


    I read the posts here and think that it is all good advice. I'm 21 years old and just past 1 year as a lieutenant. I've only got 3 years on the dept, but was a junior for 4 1/2 years, grew up with my dad at the firehouse with all the guys and now the 5th generation of my family to be in our dept. When I first got the position, many guys were supportive, but there were a couple of guys who were ****ed they didn't get the position. Being a lieutenant of our medical program didn't get me much respect on the fireground. But I took some advice from my dad who was a long time lieutenant. He said first off never ask your guys to do something you wouldn't do yourself. And last, listen to ideas your crews have to mitigate the situation without wasting time, people have different strengths and might be able to give you an idea that would mitigate the situation alittle quicker than your idea might have mitigated the situation. Following this advice has gained me alot of respect over the last year on the fireground.

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