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Have you become the Dinosaur Officer

As you go through your career have you be come bored, stagnant, unmotivated?
Has the department become the same? The Dinosaur in the room could be you. . It has been widely thought that Company Officers and the “Senior Man” or “Barn Boss” can make or break a department. Is the department led by a dinosaur Chief. Has he or she become complacent in their jobs?

Leadership ,or lack of it ,in every position can influence everyone. As the Company Officer do you just show up for work like everyday doing the same old thing. Have you become unmotivated ? Do we fall into the same trap, coffee first then vehicle and SCBA checks whenever we get to them. “Here kid sign this training form” hoping to get to it maybe later during the day. Have you checked your crew? Is there someone that isn’t him or herself that day? If so are you going to do something about it or blow it off? I like a quote from the movie Braveheart , “If only you would lead them they would follow you ”. So true.

At a recent presentation by Dr. David Griffin spoke about a department that loss a great group of firefighters at a fire. This was a well presented and highly informative presentation. The department, in his words, had become stagnate and had weak leadership which was like a cancer through the department. They did no inspections and very little preplans at a department level. Training was lacking including any mentoring. “It’s the way we have always done it “ was an everyday comment. They practice no NIMS ICS and became complacent is most aspects of the job.

Looking back on the job I did as a Company Officer, I wish I could go back and change the what I did. Not getting pulled in all directions and sometimes forgetting that my company was my number one priority. Our department was one of the fastest growing ones in our area. Which was great but we forgot to include things like a mentoring program or department goals especially at a company level. Yes as Company Officers it was our responsibility to do this but at times it was overwhelming with training, reviews, inspections oh and yes 30-40 calls citywide just about everyday. Oh and don’t forget the pet projects you may have been assigned. Still little excuse to have not prepared our crews for the future. Hindsight is always 20/20 vision, but the real world we learn from our mentors mistakes they made. They prepare us for the future.

Lets jump ahead and talk about our Battalion or Shift Commanders, have they become dinosaur’s . Are they riding out their time looking forward to retirement or has it started already? Do they train with the companies ever, not just sitting down reviewing new SOGs but getting out with the troops. When was the last time they went out and did a preplan or walk through with the companies at a target hazard in your district or even talked about the new UL or NIST test. After an incident do they come in critiquing what went wrong without a plan to improve actions. The comment of “It’s the way we have always done it” is the beginning of the end. My feeling is that every LODD NIOSH report should be reviewed so it is not repeated. We must drill with our companies to avoid the mistakes that have been made in the past.

Lets touch on ICS. Here are a few systems out there but the one that seems to work the best is NIMS and that is why it should be used. Why use NIMS? Because with all the incidents we respond to we work with other agencies that Should also be using it. The Police, Schools and even Public Works are being trained in it especially with all the Active Shooter and disaster incidents recently. Is your department trained in it. In some National Fire Academy training done nationwide we find out that isn’t always the case. The students are asked who cheater when we all had to go through it and most laugh and say yes, myself included. But again in a lot of the LODD NIOSH reports they list the lack of the Incident Command System and accountability were key factors not done by Incident Commanders. We also are hearing more about the lack of Safety Officers responding with one department telling me that after 5pm it would cost them overtime, are you kidding me. Another large Midwest department stated that it was putting all their members through the NIMS 100 and 200 again because they were being complacent as a department and not being on the same page at calls. Numerous Chief Officers responding and shouting out orders not following the Unity of Command which leads to confusion on the incident.

Motivating and Mentoring.
There is no greater reward as seeing one of your crew move up in the department especially if you and the department had a mentoring program. Getting a call from a mentored firefighter saying thanks for the help after doing well on a promotional list is great, remembering when you did the same thing when you were moving up. If there is no leadership at a company level then we have failed the next generation of firefighters .As I had mentioned earlier the Company Officer and or Barn Boss senior person are the center of making a strong company, and of course the firefighters themselves. Of course they can learn the good stuff but also the bad stuff. It’s up to us to set the way.

Burnout is another problem with our job. We see it in our EMS personnel if they are running a lot of calls but can burnout/complacency occur as a Company Officer? If your day is the same everyday without you including new and diverse training. Keeping things fresh. Any member can be asked to put together a short training project, this helps them stay motivated and not become a dinosaur firefighter.

We can and should set the example for our crews. Another quote I will leave you with is “See the future in the pass, make a change or make it last” Some of you old guys may remember it . Is “It’s the way we have always done it “something we should change, of course especially if it doesn’t work or dangerous. If we are not preparing our crews for the future then we are becoming the Dinosaur and should retire or change jobs.

Captain Chuck Wehrli is a fourth generation firefighter and have been retired since 2006 from active duty. He is a former FEMA US&R Safety Officer and is a TFL for ILTF-1. He actively instructs ICS and Tactics classes locally and nationally. He can be reached at

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