Exceptional Company Officers: How To Set Yourself Apart

April 1, 2006

Competent fire officers at all ranks are important to the success of a fire department. It is hard to single out a particular rank and say that their performance is more (or less) critical than that of other ranks, and I’m not going to do that. However, it would be a huge mistake for senior fire department officers or others to underestimate or undervalue the role that company officers play within the mission of career, combination and volunteer fire departments.

Company officer leadership, supervision and overall job performance impacts the rank and file of the fire department every day and in all aspects of the department’s work. Their technical competence, people skills, attitude and commitment have a direct effect on performance outcomes, morale and the work environment inside and outside the fire stations.

Whether they’re called lieutenants, captains or other titles, the role of company officers is of great value to the organization. They are very important people.

We could easily go to a textbook and capture a list of positive company officer skills and characteristics. Every one of them would have importance and they should be among our list of expectations of all supervisors. We should train on them and they should be part of the criteria for evaluating officer performance. However, let’s take that a step further and identify some key characteristics and capabilities of the exceptional company officers we’ve known in our careers.

Within that context, I offer the following observations about exceptional company officers I’ve known:

  • A positive and productive work atmosphere is the order of the day, and the company officer creates and nurtures it. Crew members clearly understand what is expected of them regarding their performance and behavior, and this is communicated by the company officer, up front, but never in an “in-your-face†way.
The company officer always leads by example, building a sense of mutual trust and respect among the members of the company. The officer knows the job, does it well and expects the same from others. The members of the company have pride in themselves, in each other and in the fire department. Self-discipline is a shared value within the fire company. Expectations are clear, standard operating procedures (SOPs) are followed and, when self-discipline breaks down, appropriate action is taken by the company officer to correct the situation and put the member(s) back on course. The company officer stays competent and ensures that the entire crew receives the appropriate training to stay competent as well. In all that they do, exceptional performance, serving the needs of the customers and emphasizing the importance of safety are always priorities. In doing so, the company officer advocates that prevention, public education and emergency response are all important in protecting the lives and property in their community and each of these responsibilities requires the company’s commitment to be effective. Work is planned and completed under the supervision of the company officer. There is seldom, if ever, the need for a chief officer to provide leadership, supervision or management in an area that should have been addressed at the fire station level by the company officer. The willingness to communicate, mentor, coach and counsel on a regular basis helps the company officer maintain consistently high levels of performance by the crew. When problems occur, they are not allowed to fester; instead, they are addressed in a constructive way by the company officer. The company officer maintains a positive, productive and healthy approach to the fire department and is open to change. They don’t build themselves up by putting other officers down. Maintaining control of their own happiness and their own future, as well as the ability to let go of negative things from the past, are key traits of exceptional company officers. They have an incredible capability to maintain perspective in a balanced way.

There are lots of traits, skills and behaviors that contribute to, or hinder, company officer leadership, supervision and performance. However, the eight that I’ve addressed here are the ones that I believe make the difference between company officers and exceptional company officers. This is a critical rank and responsibility in any fire department. Company officers tend to have a lot of influence on the people and the mission. Let’s value their role, for exceptional company officers are an organizational treasure.

Chief Concerns is a forum addressing issues of interest to chief fire officers. Opinions expressed are those of the writer. We invite all volunteer and career chief fire officers to share their concerns, experiences and views in this column. Please submit articles to Chief Concerns, Firehouse Magazine, 3 Huntington Quadrangle, Suite 301N, Melville, NY 11747 or to [email protected], with “Chief Concerns†in the subject line.

Dennis Compton, a Firehouse® contributing editor, was the fire chief in Mesa, AZ, for five years and as assistant fire chief in the Phoenix Fire Department, where he served for 27 years. He is past chair of the executive board of the International Fire Service Training Association, past chair of the Congressional Fire Services Institute’s National Advisory Committee, and serves as vice chair of the board of directors for the Home Safety Council.

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