Vince Lombardi once said "the strength of the group is the strength of the leader." Great advice for a football team and possibly life-saving advice when applied to the fire service. The leadership role played by the company officer can not be over-stated. This first level of supervision is the closest to the action, the first to spot potential problems on and off the fireground, and the first to mitigate these issues. In order to have a strong company the officers must provide the direction and have the strength of character to ensure goals are achieved while putting the health and well-being of the members first under all circumstances.
Strength during incident response includes maintaining proficiency in all the skills required of your company as well as the knowledge that guides their application. The company officer needs to be an expert in the hazards and likely trouble spots in the district. This knowledge must include prevalent and emerging types of building construction and the benefit and risk associated with each design. The strength of the company leader also results from knowledge and understanding of department policies and current tactical options available as a life-long learner in the fire service. Understanding how to best apply new lessons and experiences, as well as learning the lessons of others will make the group (company) more resilient and more effective in their mission.
Equally important to effectiveness in the field is the unity and strength the company can develop when the leader establishes an atmosphere that places the needs of the members at the forefront during the daily routine of shift work. The strength of character and empathy displayed by a leader during routine personnel matters or a family crisis with one of the members will cement a bond and garner trust within the unit. There is no stronger group than one that is united with common purpose and a common bond.
Even while exhibiting the previously described traits the strong company officer will experience little success unless he/she is able to kindle a similar spirt among the rest of the company. The ability to motivate, transfer knowledge and engender high levels of enthusiasm within the group is vital to success beyond the tenure of any single leader.
The attributes mentioned here are just a sample of the many required of the strong leader in order to ensure the strength of the group. We are fortunate in the fire service to have a heritage of strong leaders to look to for support and guidance into the future.