THE “NEW” COMPANY OFFICER–SO NOW WHAT?
BY TOM BRENNAN
Here are some thoughts that will directly affect those of you in large departments who are being “threatened” with a promotion to first-line supervisor and who must take another assignment in another area of the city, as well as those of you who are in smaller and volunteer departments, where everyone knows everyone.
One advantage of the larger departments is that the new officer is usually sent on a “career path,” another buzzword meaning “until we get a look at `em,” and the length of time in this “covering every shift” position is indirectly related to the amount of “hooks” you know on the job. If you`re assigned to a new station each shift in your department, here is where you can learn all your lessons, and they won`t greatly affect your career or reputation. Do the things you have been sleeplessly thinking about for the past months. Try them out. Keep notes for refining the procedure or a case for scrapping it.
Never use the cop-out, “What do I know? I am only covering!” It means, “I am only here for the tour.” Make the decision, and be prepared to discuss/defend/change it as any impact stimulus–such as a loud-talking chief–affects it.
As you arrive at your new assignment for the day (the one where no one ever heard of you), get there early and go immediately to the office. Get out the roster, and make a list of those members who are “supposed” to show up for this tour. Check sick leaves, injuries, special excused absences, where the replacements are, and who they are.
Next, make your riding list for your pocket, and add a few things–the first name of each individual, for instance. It works wonders after the lieutenant-firefighter relationship has been established. Next, spend the time to look up and note the time each assigned firefighter has on the fire department. You may be surprised (as a wise old deputy chief told me on the first day of my “lieutenanting”). In the larger departments, members will always assume you have just come from an assignment that is much, much slower than theirs. They could be doing two runs a day, and they will assume that you came from a place that had only one or fewer! The “veteran” of two years (see where that list comes in?) will be the first to test you. He has not yet learned that lieutenants are not newborns–that he hasn`t yet the time in rank to think of filing for the job you now have been appointed to.
The good thing about the real events in the past few paragraphs is that if you know they are coming at you (you prepared for it and expect it–remember?), they will not destroy your day. You won`t hate the house. You won`t kick the bed, but you will get a chuckle out of it because I told you it was coming.
Always hold a roll call. It is the most important ceremony and dialogue of the shift. Get the members up from wherever they assemble at the instant the shift starts. Go somewhere on the apparatus floor, preferably alongside the rig. Reject all excuses. They are historic. “We do it right here in the kitchen on this shift, Lieu.” “Aw, you don`t want one of those, do you?” “I got other things I gotta get started with. Just tell me what I got today.” Bunk. Get the team together. Create the huddle before the game. Make sure everyone is in. Discuss the apparatus readiness, ask questions about differences in operations and tool assignments, response areas, discuss information from upstairs, events of the day as scheduled, meals, and anything else. The most important thing is to get the team on their feet and at another location.
Don`t fall into the trap of, “Gee, I don`t know enough for this job! How can I tell others what to do? I am not sure myself.” Bull! You know enough. You passed the test. You had the interest. You will grow every day. Leaders are not born. They`re made by their own hands. Start carving.
Do not encourage the use of your first name while working. It is the biggest single factor that holds leadership and command efficiency away from a candidate–so much so that you may never recover or, if you do, it will be a painful experience. One other and more important side effect of that problem is that it encourages discussions of orders rather than compliance with them. It is okay if the discussion concerns whether to sweep the steps up or sweep the steps down. The hard part comes when your decision to make the floor above the fire or to evacuate the fire building is up for discussion. I watched this disastrous behavior destroy a methodical and orderly confined- space rescue operation, because everything the rescue captain ordered was up for grabs. “OK, Charlie, but we usually put the cables here.” “I don`t want to do it this way, John. Let`s try this.”
Remember, you are in charge, and you are responsible. Stop complaining. In the paid sector, you used to be paid for maintenance work. Now, you fill out paperwork and think.
Another tip on paperwork: Reports do not have to be made immediately! For radio transmissions–get the facts rapidly, and form a plan for what you want to say, especially in the case of apparatus accidents or special operations that require radio transmission on tape. For written records, no one takes enough time, and no one has a report edited by another. “Why, it was perfect the first time I wrote it.” Right? Wrong! Take some notes you can throw away later. Make sure that you want to report and that it should still be reported when you ready yourself. Many situations in the fire service have a way of correcting themselves or becoming less important as time goes on. Oh, and if you have a company journal type of record, after the event in question, give the house watch a scrap of paper to keep track of the events, and you take the journal away until you are ready to make your entry of the event in its chronological order; then have the house watch enter the routine stuff after you have finished. This may take a long time. n
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).