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I have been an officer on an Engine for almost 9 years. In that time I have worked with different crews and many different personalities.  As my crew changed, I also had to change my style to fit the crew.   What I has taken my nearly all 9 years to figure out is that when people don't do what I want or what I expect, it is most often because they didn't understand what I wanted.  That was tough for me to recognize because I think I am being very clear.  So I am the problem? Yes, at least a part of it.


I fell into the bad habit of blaming everyone else...they are wrong and they obviously can’t or don’t want to follow the directions or instructions that I gave them.  After some reflection, I have come to a couple of conclusions:

  • People want to do a good job and do not seek to screw something up. 
  • I do not communicate as clearly as I think I do.


Now that I have recognized I might be at least a little part of the problem, how do I go about correcting it?  There are a couple of big things that I am trying to do as I work on being a better officer.


  • Set clear expectations.
  • Give direction in person when possible.  We need two-way interaction so that everyone involved can ask questions and confirm that the proper message is received.  Email can be used to follow up or confirm.  If email is used keep it short and use bullet points for multiple items

  • Give people the benefit of the doubt. 

  • Be very direct.  If I see something not done the way I directed it to be done, I can not get mad. I need to go directly to that person(s) and ask why, rather than talk to others.

  • Use Frank Viscuso's 3U's when encountered with a problem (Step Up and Lead).


I will explain Frank Viscuso's 3U's concept. When a problem arises, we need to spend some time to figure out the cause of the problem and how serious it is.  The problem will fall into one of these 3 categories:

  • Unaware-they are unaware they were doing it, unaware of what they should be doing or your directions were unclear.

  • Unable-maybe they were unable to comply because they didn’t know how  (training issue) or maybe they were unable because of other stuff going on (higher priority).

  • Unwilling-This is simply insubordination.  They understand and they are able to do as asked but don’t care about the rules or directives.  Unfortunately, we automatically group most people or actions into this category which is unfair.


Expectations that are not defined are simply “pet peeves” of the officer. We want to avoid being a person with a lot of “pet peeves” and be that person that has clear expectations.  Expectations are so vital.  Your crew needs to understand your expectations of them.  You can do this periodically in a group meeting or write them down so the crew can later reference them.  This means you need to define everything including how they  function on an emergency scene, what tools they need to take, how the reports are to be entered, how the station is to be kept, how we deal with the public, how we handle small and large problems and even how to approach you when you are wrong.


I am writing this down to share what I have found as an officer and so that others can hold me accountable.  I will do my best to learn how to be a better officer. I also promise to do my best to set expectations, be more clear, give the benefit of the doubt, be direct and use all of the 3U’s.

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Comment by Grant Schwalbe on March 9, 2014 at 8:40pm

I appreciate the comments from two people I respect so much...hopefully you enjoy what's to come!

Comment by Skip Coleman on March 7, 2014 at 5:52pm
Well said Grant. I agree with you (and Bobby). In the beginning, that was certainly a fault of mine.

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