Many fire departments throughout the nation operate with fire companies that are considerably understaffed. Officers assigned in these companies have the added responsibility of performing firefighting at the task level during nearly every incident. Whether pulling ceiling, stretching a line, or chasing kinks, the company officer needs to remember his/her primary responsibility is to ensure the safety of the members and location in which they are operating.
Being a working supervisor is not an easy task. As most officers in this position mature in their tenure they often learn that, although difficult, the safest way to operate is to lean more toward supervision, and less toward task level involvement. This doesn't always preclude an officer from actively pulling ceiling, or helping to complete the stretch, but whenever possible let firefighters perform those functions. The officer must keep his/her head on a swivel. This mean constant awareness of the evolving conditions of the fireground.
Learning to take a step back as an officer will allow for a better vantage point of the operation and your personnel. It's something you can't appreciate from the nozzle position. If you need to make the initial stretch due to a lack of personnel, be sure reinforcements are on the way. It is vital that the first level supervisor duty be fulfilled. If every member in the building is actively engaged performing tasks the safety and progress of the task will never be accurately monitored and the need for additional support, relief, or a change of position or tactics mayl not be addressed properly.
The company officer must always strive to place him/herself in a position to monitor the conditions, work and progress of the unit. In addition, maintaining orientation, acknowledging the limitations of air supply, and means of egress. The "step back" approach also allows for more careful monitoring of radio traffic and the progress of tasks other companies may be performing simultaneously. This may be a daunting task for those challenged by low staffing levels, however policies must be established for proper task level supervision. This may entail combining smaller companies under one officer at an incident or another jurisdictionally acceptable plan. The important point to remember is the welfare of the members must be the primary focus of the company officer.