A Leader Is Someone You Want to Follow

By Robert Maloney

“A leader is someone you want to follow; an officer is someone you must follow,” an FDIC 2014 student responded at “Company Officer Development: Lead from the Right Seat,” when asked to explain the difference between a leader and an officer. Before a class largely made of current and aspiring company officers, as well as a few chief officers, Dave Casey and Chris Niebling said they had seen that often new company officers are not prepared for the job, especially regarding the interpersonal aspects. Casey asked, “Where do officers get into trouble? In the station.”

Among those who may provide informal leadership are the driver/operator and the senior firefighter. Niebling told of a 3 a.m. medical call, at which his tolerance for the situation was waning. The driver/operator, now captain, saw him getting stressed and told him to go check something on the engine just to get him away from the frustrating situation.

Casey related the story of a senior firefighter in his company who never pursued the company officer position, but was nonetheless a positive influence on the company. He could communicate an issue or problem from among the ranks to the officer in a humorous, tactful way.

The new firefighter, “the  boot,” can also provide leadership with his enthusiasm and dedication. He should not just be pushed aside and made to be afraid to introduce a new idea, Casey said. He recalled a vehicle rollover call involving occupants ejected from the car. The new firefighter grabbed the thermal imaging camera off the truck. Why? an officer asked. To check the seats for warmth, which may confirm the number of occupants, the new firefighter answered.

During the interactive class, attendees were also quizzed on and discussed the qualities they would like to find in a good officer.

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