For any firefighter out there who has ever made the jump to the right front seat, there's always a bit of a learning curve. You know what I mean, going from buddy to boss, going from being responsible for your own job to being responsible for a number of others who may or may not fall within the acceptable span-of-control. Recently, I was off work for about two weeks to attend FDIC and to have a preconstruction conference with the aerial manufacturer of our new ladder truck, the time away allowed me to disengage my mind from the day-in day-out muddle of middle management and focus on how I could run my shift better when I got back to the grind. Little did I know that during my time off my guys were feeding off of one another, upset with how I had been running my shift. This reached the point while I was gone that one of my friends (who was listening to the commotion) thought there was going to be a full-blown riot when I returned. Now, I am not a perfect fire officer, I am young and only have about 6-and-a-half years of experience in the business in a suburban community but I hold my own. Thankfully, one of my guys approached my supervisor and asked how to handle the situation and my supervisor directed them to approach me individually with their concerns. When I returned, I had a long talk with every member of my shift, about both my shortcomings as their company officer and shortcomings of our organization. This resulted in a lot of common issues between all of my men, and I know there are many guys in my position all around the country, young men who are given an opportunity to lead but find difficulties along the way. To any young man out there who has found yourself in a similar situation, do yourself and your company a favor and take heed of the following:
Chores: Every fire department in this country that has paid staff (and usually volunteers) has a set of chores that needs to be accomplished during your tour. As the officer of your company, you are not above scrubbing a toilet. I'm a firm believer that I would never ask my men to do something that I myself would not do, the problem is, I didn't show it. Get out there and help every now and then. Also, make sure the chore rotation is fair, if you have guys that always cook, don't put them on dishes together; as trivial as it sounds to us, the little things are often the biggest in the eyes of your men.
Training: Training. Training. Training. We all need it, because our lives, the lives of our taxpayers and the properties we serve are our priorities and if we are not up-to-date on best practices and confident with how we work together, we are compromising our priorities. Make sure your training is relevant, make sure it is engaging and make sure that you work together as a team. I love HOT training, I find it to be the best thing you can do to help develop your "mental slideshow" for your recognition-primed decision-making abilities but my guys weren't buying into it and I was running out of ideas. Don't be afraid to ask, I got amazing suggestions on drills they wanted to try and the best part is, a lot of these training sessions will double with pre-incident planning at target hazards.
Workload: This is one of the areas that surprised me the most, considering that I try to make my shift's workload as light as possible, often times taking on many tough assignments myself, just so they don't have to work any harder. One guy asked me to give up a couple of smaller projects so that the shift could feel more involved and more trusted, he asked me to trust my senior guys when driving and placing apparatus so I could focus more on my designated command tasks. The moral of the story, don't find busy work for them but give them enough work and express your faith in them so they feel like a trusted member of your team.
Get Involved: This is more of an issue of personality I have noticed because I'm a bit of a recluse. Many of my guys are avid sports fans, with ESPN on all firehouse TVs at all hours of the day and I could care less if the Celtics won the World Series (yes, I know that is two separate entities altogether) because sports just isn't my thing. I often sit in my office doing work, working out or reading up on the latest and greatest fire service information because I love my job. However, being so involved in work makes you forget that they are people with interests, families and opinions just like you. Take a little time to get away from the desk and get to know your guys, chances are, I could have avoided all of this in the first place.
Be Approachable, Be Open to Suggestions: I am also a firm believer in one other thing, if you have an idea that makes sense, makes life easier, is cheap to implement and everyone is on board, bring it up. I often take way too much upon myself that my guys feel like I just do what I want, because I can and I'm not really approachable as a person or open to suggestions. Honestly, I'm just new to the leadership scene, I'm doing my best with what I have and its just a lot of trial and error, I welcome all suggestions but I'm not very vocal about wanting suggestions. Today, a senior man approached me with a riding assignment schedule, I looked at it and thought "fantastic, that makes everything easier and will cut down schedule writing by half-an-hour." Empower them to help you, and you will have all the help in the world, tell them to pound salt and you will have a mutiny on your hands.
Again, I'm not a perfect officer, chances are that in 6 months there will be something new that they are ready to strangle me over. That is the process of leadership and if you spend all of your time trying to make everyone happy, you will fail. MISERABLY. Just remember, care for them, be open, get involved be approachable and be part of the team. If you want to lead, you have to be part of the followers too, otherwise, there may just be a War Zone brewing in the Day Room.