No matter where we go in the fire service, a consistent message that company officers communicate within the fire department is that they want to have the latitude to "run their own" fire stations. I don't blame them; I wanted the same thing when I was a company officer.
I thought it might be interesting to identify some of the key indicators that are present when a fire company is well supervised, well led and can function almost independent of daily outside direction by a chief officer. In other words, to define what it looks like when a company officer is running his or her own fire station.
The following indicators have been gathered over several years of interaction and discussion with company and chief officers from several fire departments:
- Each crew member understands that the purpose of the fire department is to serve the customers; to deliver service.
- The crew is well groomed and appropriately dressed. Uniforms are in good condition and the members wear the appropriate uniform for the work being performed at a given time.
- The station, apparatus and equipment are kept clean and in good working order - not because a chief is coming to inspect it, but because that is what is expected of the fire company.
- Losing equipment is a "big deal" within the company, and the regular loss of equipment is not acceptable.
- Reports and other paperwork are completed in an accurate and timely manner. Administrative files (whether computerized or not) are maintained properly. This is done with the understanding that the information could be important to someone at a later date.
- Coordination and communication between the shifts at the station is open, positive and productive. Necessary relief-oriented duties are conducted at the beginning and end of each shift.
- The crew members perform their work in a positive, effective manner and do not spend an inordinate amount of time complaining about their job, the fire department or each other. When a question or issue arises that the company officer cannot address, it is pursued appropriately through the system. The crew members display pride in their work, the organization and fellow members.
- The company members adhere to the department rules and regulations without the need for substantial supervision from outside the fire company. They have a positive attitude and approach to issues like sick-leave use, safety, wellness, and the use of fire department property and equipment.
- The crew uses discretion and sound judgment concerning activities in the fire station. Members are conscious of the appearance or potential impact of issues like using beds at inappropriate times; the playing of video or similar games; materials, signs or remarks on walls, lockers or bulletin boards; and general horseplay.
- Slack time during the day is used in a productive manner. In busy companies, this could include a nap so that the crew will be alert for the entire shift. It also can include pre-fire planning, training, prevention, public education and maintenance programs.
- The crew functions well at emergency incidents and follows the department's standard operating procedures (SOPs).
- Personal visitors to the fire station are received only at appropriate hours. The crew members recognize all visitors to the station and have a positive attitude toward visitors from other fire departments.
- Company members attempt to understand how people outside the fire department might perceive what they (the crew members) may be doing at a given time. Sometimes, activities that appear OK to fire department members might not be viewed that way by others. This can damage the image of the fire department. Although this can be a difficult topic to address, it is extremely important that the crew is sensitive to it.
- When problems occur in the fire company, they are dealt with appropriately by the company officer. Chief officers outside the fire company should not have to cause this to occur.
What Is Expected
We regularly use words like ownership, accountability and empowerment to describe our expectations of people in our organizations, but sometimes we struggle to define what those terms really mean. Perhaps the indicators addressed in this article take us a step in that direction.
Who's Really In Charge?
It seems that if company officers are creating an atmosphere where these things are occurring on a regular basis, without requiring daily direction from outside the fire company, then one could say that they are running their own fire stations in a way that would make any fire department proud.
We shouldn't cause our boss to have to do our job, nor should a boss interfere with our performance on a day-to-day basis if we are doing what is expected of us, and perhaps even more. It becomes easier for company officers and chief officers to operate within this model when fire stations are being "run" in a way that is consistent with the expectations of the department - which are probably similar to the indicators covered in this article.
I hope you find these guidelines interesting, but more important, I hope you find them useful. It's nice that people were willing to share them over time.
Dennis Compton is the fire chief in Mesa, AZ. He previously served as assistant fire chief in the Phoenix Fire Department. During a career that spans 28 years, Compton has been involved in many fire service and civic organizations, and is a well-known speaker and author. He currently chairs the Board of the International Fire Service Training Association (IFSTA) and serves as vice chair of the Congressional Fire Services Institute's National Advisory Committee.