By: Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer
In today’s blog, I’m going to discuss what I believe is the fundamental role for any company officer: Being an
effective role model. Every single day.
Why do I believe that? My experience has shown me that a company officer’s success in any of their other roles, e.g., supervisor, teacher, mentor, fire ground commander, is predicated on the level of respect and confidence that they’ve developed with their firefighters.
We often say that less than five percent of a typical company officer’s tour of duty involves a response to emergency events. That means that 95 percent of more of their time is spent interacting with their people in non-emergency activities.
Every fire officer can probably name several of their earlier supervisors as being officers they’ve tried to emulate in their own career. They are also likely to have more than a few whom they’ve tried to forget. You should strive to be the former and not the latter. So, let’s look six qualities that every company officer should possess to earn that respect and confidence from their firefighters.
Know your job and the jobs of your firefighters. Periodically, take a tour of duty to drive and use the apparatus or they ride in the firefighter position. Firefighters respect an officer who’s “not forgotten their roots.” (Great NFL quarterbacks like Joe Montana and Jim Kelly and Terry Bradshaw always knew every other player’s assignment for every play in that week’s game plan).
#2-Keep your promises
I’ve always like this definition of integrity. It means your word is good regardless of what happens. Nobody likes working for, or with, someone who can’t tell the truth or be honest with them. A good start here is to make sure you don’t make promises you can’t keep.
#3-Be an inquisitive life-long learner
Good officers are never satisfied with the status quo and are constantly looking for ways to improve themselves and their fire company. Pursue further formal education, e.g., undergraduate and graduate degrees, and take advantage of training opportunities to learn about new technologies, strategies and tactics for different types of emergencies.
#4-Follow the rules
If you don’t agree with a rule or policy or procedure, be proactive and seek to affect change, but don’t ignore rules you don’t like. If you do, what will be your response when one of your firefighters chooses to ignore a rule? Nobody likes working for someone whose motto” is “Do as I say, not as I do.”
And don’t just express your disagreement. Do some research and develop an alternative you can take to your boss. Bosses appreciate it when you not only bring them a problem, but also include one or more reasonably thought-out solutions for them to consider.
#5-Gripes Go Upward
Don’t air your grievances to your firefighters or even fellow officers who are your peers. Only express your grievances or concerns to your immediate supervisor and work through the chain-of-command to make changes.
One of my favorite scenes from the movie, Saving Private Ryan, is one where the Captain (played by Tom Hanks) is leading his squad through France after the D-Day invasion in their search for Private Ryan. (For those unfamiliar with the film’s premise, the Captain and his men have been tasked by the Army to find Private Ryan and return him to his family because he’s brothers have already been killed in combat and he’s the sole surviving Ryan brother).
One of the Captain’s soldiers is “griping” about them “risking their necks” just so they can find Ryan and return him to the U.S. The Captain tells them to “pipe down” at which point the soldier doing the griping asks, “Captain, don’t you ever have any gripes or complaints?” The Captain’s response is, “Sure, I have gripes. But my gripes go up.”
Make sure your gripes only go up.
#6-Loyalty to the Absent
You don’t talk about others “behind their back” and you don’t tolerate it in others, be they subordinates or peers. Why? Because those people will immediately think to themselves, “If he talks about him or her behind their back, what do they she say about me when I’m not around.”