So You Are In Charge - Part 4: Be Responsible

April 17, 2006

Before we begin this months article let's recap the last article Make A Decision. Making a decision is one of the biggest keys to a new company officer becoming successful and regarded as a good officer. Hopefully you will practice making decisions before you have to in the heat of the battle.

This month we will discuss "Be Responsible." This is important because it embraces everything being a company officer is supposed to be. Let's look at Webster's dictionary definition of responsible: "Responsibility-state of being responsible, Responsible-accountable and rational, Responsive-able, ready, or inclined to respond." I felt it was important to list all those definitions because essentially they all are included in being a responsible fire company officer. How do we become responsible and why?

We begin learning responsibility in drill school. Remember the team work concept: I'll take care of my responsibility and you take care of yours. Our entire career is built around working together in teams and that has and always will require a responsible officer to make the efforts effective. We learn responsibility through working with a company officer who leads from the front and assigns duties regardless of how lusterless they are, simply because they need to be done. To make things work efficiently on the fireground requires discipline, and being responsible plays a big part. Have you ever seen a fire company work real hard but without direction? A strong responsible company officer ensures that what is being done is with discipline and has a positive outcome to the incident. As a chauffer you learned responsibility by famailirizing yourself with your district, by making sure the apparatus was ready to respond, and by making sure you had adequate water supply for your handlines.

You also learned about responsibility while working out of class as a company officer. You became responsible for the safety of the crew and ensuring the responses were handled appropriately. You had to make decisions about first handline placement or showed discipline and brought in a water supply to the first arriving engine. But you really begin to show responsibility with the little stuff. How about ensuring the daily engine house duties are completed or ordering station supplies. As a company officer you may have to schedule company training on an unpopular subject or even at an unpopular time. The Battalion Chief makes requests of you that require some responsibility and as you complete those, the Chief gains trust in you. Being responsible entails many little things that when combined makes for a strong company officer.

So what can you do to become responsible? First, have a good attitude! Then learn your job to the best of your ability. You need a good understanding of the department rules and regulations and how to apply them. Ask the Battalion Chief and company officers of the surrounding companies how they operate and what they expect from you. Sit down with your company and tell them how you operate. Tell them about your do's and don'ts, and get them on the table early. You have to let everyone on the company know where the line is drawn and if they step over, it regardless of who it is, there will be consequences. Next, you must further your knowledge and continue to learn the job. Always strive to continue learning and never settle for second hand information. If you hear something, research it and get the facts. There are plenty of places to get credible information from the many trade magazines to courses at local community colleges. Plenty of books have been written by experts with much insight. An example of this was the early 90's craze with positive pressure ventilation. Word on the street was the next great thing was positive pressure ventilation and that anyone could do this with minimal manpower. The next thing you know the fire service was setting up gas powered fans at the front doors of burning structures and creating vacant lots. Finally most decided to step back and take a breath then research the use of positive pressure ventilation. Now it's used more conservatively and more appropriately.

In order for you to be responsible you must not only have the above but you must understand what your company can do. For instance a well-trained engine company can advance a hand line and extinguish up to 2,500 square feet of fire. To expect more than that is irresponsible. To expect your ladder company to search multiple floors of a high rise building under extreme conditions without support is irresponsible. Know what your company can do, and let them do it. As a responsible company officer you must be willing to let your Battalion Chiefs know if they request something that your company cannot accomplish alone.

Being responsible is hard to describe but you know it when you see it. As a responsible company officer you will have great success. You will find that good firefighters will come your way to work for you because of your reputation. As I have said before, hard working firefighters love to work for committed company officers who are responsible and willing to make a decision.

Good luck and stay safe!


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