Leading, Guiding and Directing the Next Generation of Firefighters

By:  Robert AvsecFirefighters at work 2, Executive Fire Officer

Generally speaking, when we start something well it ends well.  Kind of a “no brainer”, don’t you think?  Nobody sets out to do something wrong, right?  So what does your department’s process for “on-boarding” look like?

You do have an “on-boarding” process for new employees or members, don’t you?  What is on-boarding?  CareerBuilder.com has a definition that I really like:

Effective employee on-boarding has a positive domino effect: it ensures that new hires feel welcome and prepared in their new positions, in turn giving them the confidence and resources to make an impact within the organization, and ultimately allowing the company to continue carrying out its mission.

See Related:  The 10 Commandments of Employee On-Boarding

Sun City West FrieWhy does your organization need an effective on-boarding process?  I know that this is going to come as a surprise to many Fire and EMS leaders, but the generation of firefighters who have been joining Fire and EMS departments for the past few years are different.

They have different attitudes about work and about their off-duty Firefighter Trainingtime as compared to previous generations of workers, not just firefighters.  They’ve been actively recruited by departments across the country looking to diversify their organizations and many of these new employees and members know very little about how your fire department, or any fire department for that matter, operates.

Little kid FPW DressUp

 

More importantly, they have little to no idea of what good firefighter behaviors look like.  Is it any wonder, then, that we find ourselves as leaders dealing with so many personnel issues that have nothing to do with a firefighter’s ability to do his or her job?  Have you found you and your staff being forced to manage personnel issues like:

 

  • The inappropriate sharing of on-scene photographs via social media?
  • Rudeness or lack of compassion when dealing with citizens or patients?
  • Lack of initiative, e.g., if someone’s not telling them to do something, they do nothing?
  • Problems interacting with other team members?
  • The need to be constantly “connected” with friends and family via social media?

Those are just a few of the issues that came to the top of my head and likely you can add many more to such a list, right?

See Related:  7 Crippling Parenting Behaviors That Keep Children From Growing Into Leaders

So how can you and your leadership team do a better job of assimilating these young people into your organization and help them become productive members of the team?  Let’s look back at CareerBuilder’s definition of on-boarding (emphasis added):

Effective employee on-boarding has a positive domino effect: it ensures that new hires feel welcome and prepared in their new positions, in turn giving them the confidence and resources to make an impact within the organization, and ultimately allowing the company to continue carrying out its mission

New employees or members arrive at the doorstep of your fire stations from a variety of Recruit FF Trainingsources:

  • You trained them in-house, e.g., a Recruit Academy;
  • Someone else trained them, e.g., a Regional or State Training Academy; or
  • The new member attained the required training on their own, e.g., attending technical school or college.

So they have the required training to meet the job requirements you advertized for, right?  What else could they possibly need?  They need solid leadership, guidance, and direction on a daily basis from their first-line supervisor.ResponsibilityAuthorityAccountability Picture

In an earlier post, I wrote on the topic of Responsibility, Authority and Accountability.  In that piece I focused on those three concepts as being necessary for the expectations of the employee or member (in this discussion, the “newbie”) and their manager to be in “harmony.”

For young people who’ve not previously had this degree of structure in their lives, becoming a member of a Fire and EMS organization can be a daunting challenge.  We owe it to this next generation of firefighters–and to our organizations–to become better managers who effectively develop and maintain the three sides of the triangle.

Extrication Training FirefightersSo, how can we apply these concepts to our leadership and management of our new folks in Fire & EMS organizations?

Responsibility. Create and maintain accurate job descriptions and performance expectations for all positions.  Use those documents as the foundation for all training that a person receives for the position they will fill.  Don’t assume that because a person earns their state firefighter or EMT certification that they know what the job entails in your organization.

Authority.  Create and maintain an objective process for each position in your organization that requires the employee or member to demonstrate that they have the knowledge, skills, and abilities to meet their job responsibilities.  Not just once, at the beginning of their career with your organization, but periodically throughout their career.

Accountability.  Create and maintain a system of progressive discipline so that from the moment the employee or member assumes the position that they understand the potential consequences of not fully carrying out their authorized job responsibilities.

So, how is your on-boarding process working?

About Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer

Avatar
Battalion Chief (Ret.) Robert Avsec served with the men and women of the Chesterfield County (VA) Fire and EMS Department for 26 years. He’s now using his acquired knowledge, skills, and experiences as a freelance writer for FireRescue1.com and as the “blogger in chief” for this blog. Chief Avsec makes his home in Cross Lanes, WV. Contact him via e-mail, rpa1157@gmail.com.