THE “NEW” COMPANY OFFICER–SO NOW WHAT? PART 2
BY TOM BRENNAN
Last month, I left you, the new company officer assigned to the “house” for one day or right after having been elected and everyone is looking at you, with a few tips.
Still in the house for the first time. You had your roll call. Now look at the apparatus to which you have been assigned. It can tell you a lot. A great groundbreaker is to ask one of the members to show you the “rig.” But your survey tells you stuff you don`t want them to know. How clean is the apparatus–and how clean will it be in one hour? You know what kind of tour the group you relieved had; you looked at the run record while writing up your riding list–or passport, or whatever. What do the tools look like? Are they stored in pairs and in convenient but secure places on the apparatus? Is the tar on the hook heads or ax blades fresh? Or, is it there as a “badge” of honor (disgrace) from the last job from a few weeks ago. How about the burrs on the back of the flathead ax or the rust on the hook and halligan? I just gave you the worst-case scenario. If the apparatus and tools are in great shape, settle in for a great tour of duty.
Remember, you are in charge–and worse, you are responsible! Take the time to speak with the chauffeur (driver). Get a feeling of what he does and doesn`t know. In the paid sector, he is new to you. In the volunteer sector, his reputation is known to all. I remember getting in the officer side of the truck on a particularly icy and snow-pelted day. It was in the volunteer sector, so the driver was the first firefighter in the door (policy, policy). He was staring at the windshield and at the snow and ice. Without turning his head, he said, “Hey, Lieu, lots of lights and sound for this one. It`s hell out there.” Now, what? Firefighters are arriving and jumping onboard. I asked the “driver” if he knew that I was a lieutenant and then ordered him to shut down and get out of the truck. We needed a chauffeur, not a maniac.
Now, you are on the response. You are responsible only for the “three Rs.” Make sure that is all you discuss with the driver. Ensure that the route is known. Relay all information received over the radio en route. And regulate the speed so that it is the safest commensurate with traffic patterns, controls, and the type of response. You don`t have to have both of your new officer`s feet on the dashboard if you`re responding to a dumpster fire.
Positioning apparatus. Remember, you are ultimately responsible for positioning the apparatus where it can be most efficient on the fireground. Begin sizing up before you arrive. This is extremely crucial if you are in command of the first- or second-arriving truck company. First engines need to know that the most convenient hydrant may be the most disruptive on the fire scene–in front of the fire building or before the fire building–and that all the other apparatus are following you down the narrow street. Ensure that your aerial can be used. Ensure that you have a plan for a constant water supply before you leave the presence of the pump operator. And while we are on the subject of arrival at the fire problem, never play catch-up! Never! Learn how to quickly count how many lines you will need and how many areas will need checking and searching, and more. Then ask for the additional apparatus. Be conservative if you are the first to arrive. Don`t put the “___pot” on your head before you get water on the fire. If the fire goes out before all the apparatus you asked for arrive, not many will ever forget it–especially you. But always err on the side of too many apparatus.
Operations also needs “new lieutenant discipline.” You know how to perform the tactics. You`re good at it and like it. It is a copout for you to “get dirty” again. But you are in charge. You are responsible for the task as well as for the efficiency and safety with which it is performed. Keep your hands out of the operation. The company officer is the most important individual who can decide if the firefighter operating with funnel vision will get injured. The minute you become laboriously involved in performing a part of the tactic, you become useless as a supervisor. And, your “big picture” becomes out of focus, distorted, and useless. I know many of you are saying that staffing is devastated and there is no one else. That problem needs to be solved also–one step at a time.
No matter what, hold your critique on the fireground as soon as your team is assembled. Get all the members together and ask what happened. Ask what each person saw, believed, found out, performed, felt, and can improve. Begin the policy with the first fire. It gets harder and harder if you pass up on the first few. Don`t be a wiseguy, but show that you are interested in the operation and that they can expect to participate in this “ceremony” all the time.
Always try to show interest in the unit and personnel and performance to which you are assigned. If you display an attitude that conveys, “I`m only here for the shift (or week or month),” your problems will multiply by the hour. The paperwork belongs to you; keep it mentally, physically, and ethically in the office where it belongs, and communicate your focus on operations to the personnel assigned.
Next time, drills and other nonpostoperational critiques.
TOM BRENNAN has more than 35 years of fire service experience. His career spans more than 20 years with the City of New York (NY) Fire Department as well as four years as chief of the Waterbury (CT) Fire Department. He was the editor of Fire Engineering for eight years and currently is a technical editor. He is co-editor of The Fire Chief`s Handbook, Fifth Edition (Fire Engineering Books, 1995).