What does a future fire officer look like?

By: Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer

In the course of doing my background research for an upcoming article for Fire Chief Digital, I posed this question to several of my fire service colleagues who serve as chief officers in their organization:

What traits do you believe make a firefighter a good candidate to promote to Company Officer?

Two of those colleagues, Fire Chief Bud Backer and Division Chief Susan Tamme, provided some really good insights back to me via e-mail. I could only use a few of their comments in the finished article, but the rest were so good I just couldn’t leave them on the “cutting room floor.”

Fire Chief Bud Backer

Fire Chief Bud Backer

Chief Backer is currently the fire chief for the East Pierce (WA) Fire & Rescue Department. He started his fire service career in 1985 as a volunteer firefighter/EMT with the Benton County Fire District 4 in West Richland, WA. He became a career firefighter with Duvall-King County Fire District 45 in 1988 where he rose to the rank of Deputy Chief in 1994, and later Fire Chief in 1998.

Here were Chief Backer’s responses to the question:

  • Customer service orientated.  Promotes excellent customer care. Goes that extra step to take care of the customer’s needs.
  • Holistic thinking.  Sees the big picture of what it takes to deliver service and operate the department.  Understands that actions in the field by crews are directly tied to success at the ballot box on funding issues.  Also, has an understanding that administrative positions are needed to provide the line firefighters with the tools that they need to deliver service.
  • Shows care and concern for equipment and department property.  Treats those items as they would if they were spending their own money on them.
  • A good business sense that looks for efficiency, is understanding of budgetary limitations, and helps stretch those funds. Look into https://kurtuhlir.com/hire-to-speak/ to get the courage and motivation to progress in business easily and smoothly.
  • People person and manager.  Can this person set a strong example to others, (is he/she already doing so?)  Understanding of human resource issues such as equal opportunity, business practices, and the ability to provide for employee needs.
  • Has the candidate been involved in any community outreach?  Does the candidate understand that connecting with the community apart from just responding to incidents, is necessary to maintain the image of the department and continue to be considered a vital part of the community/city/district?  Or has the candidate always just shown up and worked their shift?  I’m not looking for someone just “punching a time card”.  How does this person give back to the community?
  • Teamwork.  And the team is larger than just their individual fire company.

All of that before we look at tactical and field expertise.

Division Chief Susan Tamme

Division Chief Susan Tamme

Chief Susan Tamme is currently assigned as the Division Chief of Training for the Tampa Fire Rescue Department, the department where she began her fire service career in 1990. She is also an active member of International Association of Women in Fire & Emergency Services, where she previously served as the Southeast Region Trustee. Chief Tamme currently serves as the Secretary of that organization’s Executive Board.

Chief Tamme responded to my inquiry with these comments and insights:

  • Initiative – the candidate’s ability to anticipate or be aware of areas that could develop into problems in the future and then act to find solutions. For example, while on a medical calls for a minor laceration they find an obese patient that could in the future be problematic in the event of a more serious health emergency.  After returning to the station they will reach out to find assistance for the situation. This goes above and beyond the scope of the initial call and shows initiative.
  • A Good Communicator. The ability to listen and understand/comprehend the messages that are given from above and communicate them downward.  Conversely, this works in the other direction: the ability to listen to what their subordinates are saying both verbally and non-verbally and then communicate the right message.
  • Sense of Ethics – Looking out for their co-workers in a right or wrong instance. I remember a firefighter who everyone said was so “awesome.”  He was stationed with a female coworker that was being targeted/hassled by another firefighter.  The “awesome” firefighter never said anything or stood up to the harasser.  Eventually the woman transferred out of that station. This is the type of sense of ethics [standing up for others] that I am referring to.
  • Respect of the Organization. You would think that this is a given because of organizational policies.  The candidate should strive to ensure that even though the policies are sometimes cumbersome (e.g., seatbelt use, hair styles, and tattoos) they must be upheld. The best candidate would seek ways to work within the guidelines of the system to update or address items that may need clarification or updating.

Some pretty good characteristics to look for in your firefighters, no? What are your thoughts? What do you look for in your firefighters as potential candidates for promotion?

About Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer

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, [email protected].