In the fire service, our supervisors are company officers and the various levels of chief officers, depending on the size of the department. Our units can be fire companies, battalions, divisions, or bureaus, again depending on the activity we are engaged in and the structure of our department. To ensure a transfer of knowledge and to prepare members of all levels to advance to their fullest potential, an organized effort must be made to pass along not only information but also a system to perpetuate development and increased responsibility. Using the basic unit most common and familiar throughout the fire service, the fire company, let us review techniques leading to the progression of responsibility in the fire service.
(1) One way to stimulate interest and increase the responsibility of firefighters is to enable them to plan and conduct periodic company drills. This allows them an opportunity to showcase skills they have mastered and pass along valuable information to other members.
First, a young firefighter looking to improve his trade and seek future advancement should seek out a company officer with a solid reputation as a skillful firefighter, a strong leader, and a willing teacher. Company officers looking to fill a vacancy in their unit should inquire about young firefighters who show promise. Those who have good records in their training academy and good reports from senior firefighters with whom they have worked are prospects for a “sit down” with officers looking for a new member for their company.
When working toward your goals or improving the effectiveness of your methods, you will eventually veer off course. Companies must meet to reflect on their progress and possibly realign their goals as needed. Officers should realize when firefighters are ready for a new challenge.
A practical example of increasing responsibility is allowing members to plan and initiate some of the company drills. This activity reinforces the expertise and confidence of the firefighters and allows them to develop their own methods for communicating their skills. Other instances where officers may assist in the daily development of their firefighters center on discussion of tactical options. Whether in the firehouse kitchen or in the field preplanning your district, listening to the observations of the firefighters and asking for their opinions on tactical issues will help them develop the skills necessary to conduct proper size-up and make appropriate decisions in the future. Firefighters who know their ideas are valued may become more productive members of the company.
This type of company mentoring and in-house leadership preparation has been a hallmark of the fire service for generations. However, the importance of “passing the torch” to newer members can sometimes be overlooked in favor of certificates and degrees. Although higher education is a necessity in the modern fire service, we should never forget the tried-and-rue methods of passing along practical knowledge at the company level.
David DeStefano is a 22-year veteran of the North Providence (RI) Fire Department, where he serves as a lieutenant in Ladder Co. 1. He previously served as a lieutenant in Engine 3 and was a firefighter in Ladder 1. He teaches a variety of topics for the Rhode Island Fire Academy. He can be reached at email@example.com.