There will come a time in a firefighter’s career where they look at themselves and their career and have to decide if they want to move up the chain of command and add more bugles to their collar. These promotions are big steps in anybody’s career because the higher you go; the more work you will take on. This work isn’t always fun and when going to a Company Officer role you really have to make sure you are prepared to step into that position and lead as a positive forward thinking example.
When you move from the left front seat to the right front seat you will lose some of your rights around the firehouse. These rights include a whole host of items but there is one in particular that I believe is very important in maintaining a strong track record with your subordinates. This right lost is the ability to share your professional opinions or viewpoints on departmental or social issues with your subordinates; better known as b*******, complaining, or griping. There are few things that will discredit an officer as quickly as this. The Company Officer cannot, and should never, gripe or complain down the chain of command. We all know the fire service offers up plenty of opportunities to gripe. We gripe about promotions, union contracts, uniforms, station assignments, benefit packages, off going crews, and the list goes on and on, but the Company Officer cannot participate in these discussions down the chain.
When a Company Officer sits down at the table for his morning meeting with the crew and hears members bickering about items it is important that he listens, but doesn’t participate in the banter. The good fire officer will listen so he can anticipate problems and not be blind-sided a short time later when they arise. If he/she starts bashing a new policy that has come about with his subordinates, complaining about the new uniform shirts we have to wear now, or talking negatively about the overall mission of the fire department it will eventually make him look bad and the respect he had gained will slowly dissipate. So, what’s the solution? Does the Company Officer just sit and take the heat and proudly pursue every agenda that comes down the line? Absolutely not, if he/she doesn’t agree with an issue and has listened to the members complaints about similar items then they need to make notes and offer up suggestions.
The Company Officer has to prioritize each issue and topic on a list, and once he has completed that list with the most important issues at the top and the least important issues at the bottom, he can then pursue them with his superiors. When the Company Officer works up the links of the command staff chain he/she needs to keep their emotions, threats, and personalities out of the discussion to remain on topic and focused on the issues at hand. This will allow the officer to concentrate on offering up positive alternatives to address the concerns and complaints that their crews have and hopefully come to a peaceful solution. We as firefighters have to realize that in some cases there may not be a solution to a problem at hand. The people put in authoritative and leadership roles are placed there for a reason and sometimes the orders that are given will remain intact and are non-negotiable. That’s where your job becomes tough and you have to create a positive environment for your crew by not talking down about items and explain the reason we are doing what we are and prepare them to strive for excellence down that avenue.
I will leave you with a short clip from the movie Saving Private Ryan. In this clip the Captain of the mission at hand is listening to his soldiers complain. He is then asked by a troop if he ever complains, and he explains that he does complain but not to his men. He is then presented with a scenario from one of his troops where the roles are reversed. The troop’s goal was to get the Captain to offer up some of his complaints in a nonchalant manner because that troop was now a “Major”. The Captain’s response to that troop was not a complaint, but rather a positive outlook on a grim situation because he knew the scenario presented was farce and b******* then would mean he was b******* down the chain of command, and that isn’t a trait a good leader and Company Officer should have. You can bet he made mental notes as to what his troop’s complaints were, and his own, and in the next command staff meeting they would be addressed with his superiors up the chain of command, but not down, and I encourage you as a Company Officer to practice this role as well. Company Officer’s aren’t buddies. The buddies complain and the bosses listen.