Leadership in a levels of the fire service is in a constant state of transition. Yesterdays' firefighter is today's company officer and last week's battalion chief assigned to operations is the new assistant chief in administration. No matter what level in the chain of command, retirements, promotions, and transfers may all create change in an organization. Whether or not that change causes turmoil and a major disruption in operational performance is largely a result of the quality of succession planning and training.
Focusing on our most basic organizational element, the individual company and the role of the company officer, it is clear that efforts should be made each day to train our replacements. Current officers should make it a priority to meet with senior firefighters concerning their career and promotional goals. Once identified the officer can work with the firefighter to help him/her prepare and succeed.
Much is required beyond simply passing a promotional exam to prepare a firefighter for the role of company officer. In addition to the structured training required before promotion the current officer should help train his/her replacement by daily example. Firefighters who aspire to be promoted should try to position themselves with officers who can offer sound advice, provide a good example, and are always willing to pass along their experienced based knowledge.
Planning for an upcoming promotion should be a joint effort between the firefighter and their current company officer. Numerous learning opportunities can be found each shift. An effective strategy may include allowing the prospective officer to make certain decisions, give radio reports and other officer functions with guidance from the company officer during routine calls and administrative details. The current officer can grant ever increasing autonomy to the prospective officer as he/she proves adept at the decision making process.
The prospective officer should also apply their training and judgement to the size up, decisions and policies of the current officer, constantly comparing not only the decision making process and goals, but the final results the company achieves based on the officer's leadership. How would I have handled that personnel issue? Do I know the department policy that applies to this incident? Do I know my first in district as well as my current officer?
We have a long history in the fire service of mentoring at all levels. As long as this tradition continues and the current and perspective officer work together to help make the transition to the front seat we will continue to succeed.