A Message to Recently Promoted Lieutenants

letters to the editor
 

Through 18 years of experience, I have learned that the first few moments of a reported fire are the most crucial. Thus, I decided to review my first few months as a lieutenant because these few months as an officer will determine how others respond to new leadership.

The chief came to me one day and said, “If one more guy retires, you will get promoted.” I was excited because this was something I was preparing for. He also said if the officer left, he would give me a call first thing in the morning. I was so anxious with anticipation. Morning came, and I carried on as if it were just another day. Then, one of my fellow firefighters called and said it was confirmed. He saw the individual put in his retirement papers. From that point forward, my environment changed, and so did my perception.

I was assigned to what was called the “slower” engine company. I had no problem with this because I was considered the “new officer.” The firefighters who worked under me were the experienced veteran engine operators, which was good because I had been assigned to the ladder company for most of my career. Getting promoted put me back on an engine. Suddenly, something really strange began to happen: My crew seemed to become judgmental, temperamental, and unhappy taking orders from a new officer. I had decided that I would deal with firefighters by confronting them. Wow, what a huge mistake! They resented my candidness, which made the situation worse. Reluctantly, I went to a more seasoned officer whom I consider a friend. He suggested that I take a more gentler approach and not speak to the crew as if they were being warned. I tried it his way, and it worked perfectly.

I start my day with the same protocol. I get to work 20 minutes early and say good morning to the chief, letting him know I’m ready for duty. Afterward, I help my crew with the daily routine, which includes housework and apparatus inspection.

One day, I heard talk about people getting transferred. Although I did not have any strong attachment to my current shift, I wanted to know if I was getting transferred. I asked the chief if I was a candidate for reassignment. He did not give me a direct answer but said that he had no problems with my performance. I was relieved. I began to feel confident that I was doing a good job as a newly appointed officer. When the transfers came out, I did not get transferred. However, I did get transferred two weeks later.

I was a little disappointed; I felt as if everyone knew about the transfer except me. I had planned that I would call out sick my next workday and start my new shift the following day; but, I did not think that was professional. I decided to go to work without a change in attitude and give it my best even if it was my last day on the shift.

When I walked into work that morning, I greeted the chief as always. Instead of returning the pleasantry, he called me into his office like a gentleman. He informed me that my transfer had nothing to do with my work performance but was just a matter of seniority because I was the last officer promoted. Even though I still was unhappy with the transfer, I was mollified with his competent handling of the situation.

“Chief, give me a new guy,” I said. As a new officer, I wanted to prove I had the ability to guide or make a probationary firefighter into a good one. It was a challenge because I was mainly concerned with completing tasks assigned to me. As an officer or a supervisor, you have to concern yourself with the safety and the performance of the crew. It is easy to delegate work, but if you are concerned with the finished product, it can become a problem. This problem was easily resolved by explaining to the crew that everything they do is a representation of the entire crew.

Thus far, I have learned through experience that you need three important tools to become an effective supervisor. I say this humbly: You need principles, creativity, and teamwork.

Principles. We had a female assigned to our department. Many felt the need to practice their freedom of speech. These firefighters said anything that came to mind. I was the only one who did not get charged with sexual harassment. Your principles will protect you just as your standard operating procedures. You can always say you were following department orders if you stay within the department’s guidelines. A mentor will also help you abide by principles. A mentor can predict the outcome of some of your decisions because he has made some of the same mistakes.

Creativity. In the culture in which we work, people look for you to fail or succeed, but the choice is yours. A supervisor gives the crew an assignment but does not tell the crew how to execute this assignment. It is up to the crew to solve the problem or complete the task without instructions. Creativity will assist you in getting the job done. Use this opportunity to think outside the box, and do more than what’s expected.

Teamwork. Truss construction is cheaper than traditional construction and does the same job as a steel I-beam. One default is that the truss is only as strong as its weakest link. Relating this concept to your assigned crew, you’re only as strong as your weakest member; so make sure that all parts not only work as one but also that all parts are strong.

Demont Manuel

Lieutenant

Passaic (NJ) Fire Department

Fiscal responsibility should be a priority

Kudos to Tim Pillsworth, whose article “Government Funding: It’s Not Yours” (Volunteers Corner, August 2017) is “right on the money” in that fire department funding should come from the local level and be used correctly. This is certainly not politically correct in today’s world, but Uncle Sam’s being a “sugar daddy” has got to be curtailed at some point in the future. Fiscal responsibility is far too low on the priorities of many fire departments.

Harvey Eckart

Volunteer Firefighter (Ret.)

Berwick, Pennsylvania

Editor’s note: In “The BlastMask®” by Justin C. Dickstein (Technology Today, December 2017), this line should have read as follows: “We must teach firefighters to deal with a fogging face piece, to consciously get control of their breathing, and to not take off their mask to get a breath.”

 
Paul Combs cartoon

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