A couple of weeks ago I wrote about "The Sickness" in the fire service. There was a great deal of conversation from this post that was constructive and on point. I must admit that I wrote it with this post in mind. Actually, this post came to me before that one did, but I wanted to define the problem in a way that most could relate to.
While reading the responses to the post a great guy and respected chief posted a response, "OFFICERS" as the solution. I couldn't agree with him more and that was the premise of this series of posts. A great deal has been posted about the role of the officer. Some write primarily about the company officer and others about the chief officer. The fact is that it is about both. They are intertwined and both play a vital role in "curing" the "sickness."
The officer has the responsibility to keep his people ready, proficient and engaged. Although each individual has a responsibility to these same expectations, at the fire house, the officer must set the tone. They dictate how the day goes and what gets done. They determine what is acceptable and what is not. Without this oversight, the "sickness" spreads and grows much easier.
At the company level the officer must address early on his expectations to his crew. It should happen at the time of promotion or when receiving a new assignment or a new crew member. The crew deserves to know what is expected, what is acceptable and what is not. This establishes ownership and responsibility by the officer early on.
Not all firefighters will have a passion for this job when they go home and are away from the fire house. Not all firefighters are going to take vacation to go to FDIC or other training opportunities. They may not be engaged when off of the job and we have to understand that there are different levels of passion for what we do. It doesn't excuse poor tactics, limited knowledge of strategies and current trends and definitely does not excuse poor attitudes towards those that do have that passion 24/7.
The officer sets the tone for the crew or company. So goes the officer, so goes the crews. The officer's attitude is contagious and will be passed on to his crew. If the company officer does not want to train, complains about doing inspections and other firefighter stuff that requires us to get out of the recliner, so will the crew. If the fire officer still believes the best forcible entry tool is his foot, so will the crew. If the fire officer believes that a booster line is the line of choice for an initial attack line, so will the crew. I think you get the point.
The bottom line is this: We have to promote great! We have to buck some trends and make some tough changes in regards to promotions. We must promote the best person for the job, not the popular guy. Not the lesser of two evils or the easy, non-controversial choice. Not the Union guy just because he is the shop steward. Although the candidate could be one of those people, there should be more to the decision making.
Let's be clear, I don't believe you have to have a degree and I am not subscribing to the idea that we need to lean to an all academic promotion process. I am calling for a process that works at your respective department, allowing the best candidate to get promoted to all positions. We have to pick people that are going to insure that their people train, understand the traditions and history of our profession. We need to pick people that will demand more than just coasting through and will instill, in the words of Chief Lasky, "Pride, Honor and Integrity."
These officers must prepare their people to take that position down the road. They must mold, coach and mentor their people to be the best at whatever position they hold and want to achieve. A great deal of this is by leading by the right example. I believe that our fire service has some of the brightest leaders amongst us right now. Some are in formal leadership positions and some are not. The goal needs to be to tap into those resources and not only let them make a difference, but encourage it.
So, a challenge to firefighters, company officers, chief officers, union officials and politicos; let's make a difference. Let's utilize our most valued resource, our people, in leadership roles. Let's stop the spread of the "sickness" and provide the cure that is right in front of us. Let's encourage and let our leaders lead.