The number of fires is down. Although we all should be happy about this fact, we must constantly remember that fires still kill 1,500 children every year. The fact that the number of fires has decreased is a double-edged sword. With a reduction in fires comes a decrease in experience for young firefighters.
Training fires in natural gas-fueled burn buildings allow firefighters to “practice” pulling and stretching hose, but little else. Nothing can replace the learning that takes place at a real fire if you are fortunate enough to work with officers and senior crew members who have the ability to teach before, during, and after the fire.
Another concern is an officer’s ability to lead and manage his crew in today’s fire department environment. Managing younger-generation firefighters effectively can be a constant struggle. So, where should we start when preparing our officers to deal with the problems facing today’s fire departments? — John “Skip” Coleman, retired as assistant chief from the Toledo (OH) Department of Fire and Rescue. He is a technical editor of Fire Engineering; a member of the FDIC Educational Advisory Board; and author of Incident Management for the Street-Smart Fire Officer (Fire Engineering, 1997), Managing Major Fires (Fire Engineering, 2000), and Incident Management for the Street-Smart Fire Officer, Second Edition (Fire Engineering, 2008).
Question: If you had to choose one, should your department’s officer development center on leadership/management or strategy/tactics?
Thomas Dunne, deputy chief,
Fire Department of New York
Response: Although both are important, I would definitely emphasize strategy and tactics. You can argue that tactics are more effectively implemented by an officer who is a well-trained or gifted leader. In addition, good communication, which is so vital to a safe operation, goes hand in hand with good management.
However, an officer’s most important task is keeping his people safe. Quickly sizing up dangerous conditions and initiating the appropriate strategy/tactics are the essence of the officer’s job. This calls for extensive knowledge of fire behavior, building construction, line placement, and rescue techniques, all of which make up the basics of strategic/tactical training.
Also, the nuts and bolts of strategy/tactics are more effectively taught in a structured training environment than on management/leadership principles. “People” skills evolve over time as a person develops experience and confidence in functioning as a leader. A class on strategy/tactics will have more immediate impact on an officer and is a more effective use of department money and resources.
Many departments are facing fiscal problems that may limit their training budgets. When establishing their training programs, they should consider this: Poor management skills will alienate people; inadequate strategy/tactics will get them killed.
Gary Seidel, chief,
Hillsboro (OR) Fire Department
Response: Officer development should take on a strategy/tactics flair, but it must also have a mixture of leadership/management entwined. The courses should follow command presence: knowing the fundamentals, strategies, and tactics in all risk-incident management along with developing leadership skill sets that allow the officer to be certified and qualified in commanding and controlling the incidents to which you are responding.
For years, the Executive Fire Officer Program (EFOP) at the National Fire Academy (NFA) placed a high priority on developing fire executives who are trained in leadership theory, organizational culture, human resources, and change management. This program was designed to enhance the executive fire officer’s professional development through a unique series of four graduate and upper-division baccalaureate-equivalent courses. Each course requires the EFOP participants complete a post-research project.
But, through the events of September, 11, 2001, the NFA recognized that fire service executives must also have the knowledge, skills, and abilities to command and control emergency operations within their respective communities. Therefore, the United States Fire Administration and the NFA restructured EFOP by making it mandatory that all chief officers take Executive Analysis of Fire Service Operations in Emergency Management.
So, to remain on the right path, we must define the path for officer development, build the organizational culture, align all of our resources to do the right things in the right way-that is, become certified and qualified; take the courses; and–better yet–demonstrate that they can do the job so that when one of your citizens dials 911, you can ask, “How dare we be anything but the best?”
John J. Salka Jr., battalion chief,
Fire Department of New York
Response: When it comes to a choice between leadership/management training vs. strategy/tactics, the answer is easy. Since we are talking about officer development, leadership and management should be the primary focus areas of the training effort. By the time a firefighter is promoted to an officer rank, he should have a solid background in his department’s strategies and tactics. Even with just a few years of experience, a firefighter should have a handle on the basic tactics and procedures the various units in the departments perform. The leadership and management skills will now become more important to their daily duties in a fire company. The officer’s leadership skills will magnify and enhance his tactical abilities as well as serve to establish and maintain a productive and professional atmosphere around the firehouse. Personnel issues, conflicts, discipline, and many other challenges take up much more of an officer’s time and effort than responding to alarms.
Jeffrey Schwering, captain,
Crestwood (MO) Department of Fire Services
Response: Although it is believed that every U.S. fire department has a formal officer development program (ODP), this is not the case for most departments. With that said, we need to look at the training taking place through informal programs in many departments, including mine. It is difficult to pick from the two choices because many operations seem to blend together. For me, leadership/management skills take priority over strategy/tactics.
A company officer can learn all the tactics for fighting a structure fire and be a good officer, but how many fires are we going to on every shift? Outstanding company officers must learn the leadership and management skills that will get them through everyday life in the house, dealing with all the issues that arise with the members of the company and the crew.
The greatest attribute of an outstanding leader or manager, is integrity, which is also one of the hardest to get right. Many company officers or chief officers must struggle to continue to learn and grasp this.
When company officers continually challenge themselves to improve their leadership and management skills, we build a cohesive company and crew and are willing to take on the new tactics and strategies necessary in today’s fire service.
By improving company officers’ management and leadership skills through our informal officer training programs, we breed a thirst for knowledge in every aspect of the company officer’s job. We must continue to learn, teach, and challenge ourselves so that we are better prepared to do the same for our members.
Bobby Shelton, firefighter,
Cincinnati (OH) Fire Department
Response: I have worked for a few fire departments over the years–for chiefs who were progressive and had the department’s best interests at heart and for chiefs who were polar opposites. It is difficult to answer the question of whether leadership/management skills or strategic/tactical skills are more important. Many would say right off the bat, strategy and tactics. These are the tools that lead to putting out fires, and that is what we do. But, the attitude with which we do our job is directly related to whether or not the chief is a leader/manager. I have worked for individuals who are the chief in title only, and it is a terrible thing to behold. To have a chief who is not a leader is as deadly as going into a fully engulfed building for no reason. That lack of leadership is pervasive and makes its way down to the line company officers, who, in turn, cannot effectively put out the fires, so here we are again in a deadly situation. Of course, the ideal, no, the necessity is for a chief officer to have a balance of both skills. To be a successful chief officer you cannot have one over the other. They are both equally important, and a lack of either one spells disaster for a fire department and its personnel, not just strategically and tactically but also in progressivism and in firefighter morale.
Michael Allora, captain,
Clifton (NJ) Fire Department
Response: A comprehensive ODP should focus on both areas. If I had to choose one, I would opt for the leadership/management area. Here’s why. The primary difference between a firefighter and a company officer is that the company officer is the leader/manager of the company. That is not to say that company officers always are, but that is their role. An individual may be strong in strategy and tactics and the skills learned as a firefighter but may not have the skills for successfully leading others at the same incident.
A training program on officers’ leadership and management skills will give the officer the tools to be effective even when there is no fire or emergency. An officer needs to ensure that training and administrative duties are performed as well. Some company officers work in administrative areas such as training, fire prevention, and EMS. Their ability to lead and manage is no less important than meeting fire department goals, yet they may not be performing strategy and tactics in the role to which they are now assigned.
Providing company officers with the skills necessary to be effective in the firehouse will ultimately translate into better operations on the fireground. I do not necessarily feel that the opposite is true.
Craig H. Shelley, technical advisor,
Fire Protection Department
Response: The larger question would be, How can you have one without the other? Effective strategy and tactics require effective leadership and management. These principles not only are required at the scene but in all actions that lead up to operating at the scene. This includes the recognition of the need for sound strategy and tactics, including the standard operating guidelines (SOGs) and the organization of the SOG development team, the actual development and review of the SOG, the training of all personnel on the SOG, the implementation of the SOG, and finally putting it all into practice on the fireground. If any portion of the chain is weak, then the mission may fail. As you can see, strategy and tactics cannot exist without effective leadership and management. Officer development must include both for mission success.
Christopher J. Weir, division chief,
Port Orange (FL) Department of Fire & Rescue
Response: I have seen officer development programs (ODPs) go way too heavy into emergency operations such as tactics, advanced life support (ALS) basic life support (BLS), or hose load techniques and then go very light in abstract terms as to what a fire service officer needs to know when not on emergency calls. This may irritate some set in their ways; however, officer development training goes beyond strategy and tactics. Although strategy and tactics are very important for NIMS 100-800 compliance, haz-mat, and other emergency preparedness objectives, those programs are better suited as continued “stand alone” courses for fireground command and control training initiatives. The idea behind the officer development program is to introduce the chief and company officer to what is beyond the fireground and hose evolutions–the administrative/supervisory responsibilities of the aspiring officer.
Development objectives should not apply to any type of fire or emergency scene operations-for me, that is another venue. The Officer Development Center should remain focused on curriculum items removed from strategy and tactics, such as report writing techniques, organizational development, employee evaluation techniques, employee development, workplace law applications, budget preparation and management, fire prevention and education development, customer service, and so on. Officers should know their responsibilities when away from the emergency responses and understand what their position is while performing their assigned duties as company or chief officers. It is never guaranteed that a newly promoted company or chief officer will go back to operations; he may be transferred to administrative duties for a quantifiable period of time. Being introduced to an officer development center that prepares fire officers for duties away from their fireground objectives will at the very least prepare them for administrative functions to which they may be assigned.
Jason Hoevelmann, deputy chief,
Sullivan (MO) Fire Protection District
Response: I would like to think that my officer came into his job with appropriate fireground knowledge. I think there is a real lack of leadership and management skills at the company-officer level. A great deal of emphasis needs to be placed in that area. The company officer is responsible for developing those serving under him; if he can’t effectively lead and motivate his crew in the firehouse, it is likely that it won’t happen on the fireground either. The future of our fire service depends on our company officers’ creating a positive, learning environment for their crews. When the company officer effectively leads his people, he creates trust and accountability. Both will be lacking on the fireground as well as in the firehouse if the officer is not respected, and it may create a dangerous working condition on the fireground.
Christopher Olsen, lieutenant,
Crystal Lake (IL) Fire Rescue
Response: This is a very tough question. Both leadership/management and tactics/strategy are extremely important to a company officer, as is experience on the fireground and knowing the members in the “house.” A good officer pays attention to the details that happen on a daily basis within the house and the department, in emergency and nonemergency settings. The officer needs to know the rig inside and out and have a good understanding of the department’s policies. Officers must understand that safety is of the utmost importance at all times. Treating the crew with respect will help officers earn the respect of their subordinates. The officer should have a good knowledge base and be able to share it with his crew.
If the officer knows his crew, he will know what to expect on the emergency scene. The officer needs to make his expectations known early–expectations in the firehouse and on the emergency scene. By identifying the weaknesses of the crew members, the officer can work and train with them to share his knowledge to improve their performance. This can be accomplished by working on tabletop drills in-house, hitting the streets to become familiar with the district, or by hands-on drills. If the officer’s knowledge and expectations are shared prior to the incident, the crew will work more effectively and safely. Knowledge and experience from real-life incidents should be shared and drilled on. If the officer has a good knowledge base and can share that, his crew will then know what to expect on the scene. That will spill over to everyday duties and increase the crew’s respect. Conversely, if the officer has the respect of his crew in nonemergency times, they will respect him and his abilities on the fireground, which should in turn provide a positive outcome.
Edward Dunbar, training chief,
Benton County (WA) Fire District 4
Response: I prefer that an OFDP focus on leadership issues. The strategy/tactics training can occur with other training programs, as that benefits everyone because they see the expectations of the officers and how the firefighters can help in that arena. The leadership/management pieces should include not only fireground issues but all other times, including in the fire house, at drills, and in between calls/incidents. There are also training opportunities outside the fire service.
Gary A. Gaffney, fire inspector,
Houston (TX) Fire Department
Response: I would like to see a FODP that leans more to the leadership/management aspect of the fire service. A couple of hours should focus on strategy/tactics of the individual department, but officer development should not turn into a Fire Operations 101 course. Not all officers in a fire department work in the fire suppression field, and not all officers who move up stay in the fire suppression field. Diversity of training, education, and assignments make a well-rounded fire officer.
Part of the course structure I would like to see included are the following: fire administration, basic instructor station training, fire prevention basics, department policies, cultural diversity, employee coaching/counseling, labor unions, employee performance evaluations, and daily tasks and reports.
David DeStefano, lieutenant,
North Providence (RI) Fire Department
Response: I would choose leadership/management. Valid arguments can be made for both choices. Strategy/tactics is the bread and butter of the fire service; we can’t accomplish our mission without mastering these disciplines. However, strategic objectives and tactical lessons are learned in the fire service from the first day of the academy, through the probationary service, on through an entire career. Instructors, senior firefighter, and officers of all ranks learn and reinforce these skills on a formal and informal basis.
When was the last time we received structured information on leadership or management? For a prospective officer to reach his full potential and supervise his company, shift, or division successfully, he must understand the qualities of effective leadership in emergency and nonemergency conditions. Motivating personnel, handling daily issues, and maintaining an organized and efficient unit are not topics generally presented as fire service training. Yet these subjects, if not properly addressed, can hamper the effectiveness of a company operating in the field. The best firefighters, without good leadership, may be unable to safely complete the strategic objectives they have studied. In these turbulent times, quality leadership is paramount to maintaining focus and diligence in all aspects of our operations.
Jaime Ponce De Leon, division chief of training,
Missouri City (TX) Fire & Rescue Services
Response: I think the focus should be on leadership/management. Most of what fire officers do, in fact, is manage. Managing/leading people is also a component of strategy/tactics. Let’s make these officers good leaders and managers and then tie in the strategy and tactics.
Patrick S. Mahoney, lieutenant,
Baytown (TX) Fire Department
Response: I would advocate a two-tiered officer development program. Acting and company officers should benefit from an intensive strategy and tactics curriculum while battalion and staff officers would benefit more from the emphasis on leadership and management. I believe our ridiculously high injury and fatality rates are largely attributed to inadequate appreciation of risk management and the relationship between strategy and tactics.
The fire service as a whole does not study tactics and strategy in an organized and scientific way. I suspect we would be much safer as a group if we adopted the military model of officer development. Intensive, rigorous, academic programs of study would help us apply lessons learned but would also help us develop better methods for addressing our everyday responsibilities. The study of firefighting strategy and tactics in most departments consists of little more than what amounts to a light correspondence course when someone studies for promotions. We need to move to a seminar course where our officers and acting officers study, discuss, and debate, and then feed back into the system through journals or internal processes. The underlying point is that we need to take the good kitchen table conversations about strategy and tactics and turn them into structured, documented, discussions that include all acting and company officers.
Jack Bennett, fire commissioner,
Bluffton (SC) Fire District
Response: I have gone through the ranks in Los Angeles County (CA) Fire Department and have presented seminars on leadership/management. By the time a firefighter becomes an officer, he should have a very good understanding regarding tactics and strategy. This is especially true if there are active incidents where the officer can practice the basics. To prepare that officer for leadership skills, he must move into the chief officer ranks and must have a good understanding of the difference between leadership and management. Real leadership is accomplished on the fireground and during training sessions. Take a look at a multiagency command post during a wildland fire. There is a mix of management and leadership skills.
Greg Wild, captain,
Franklin (TN) Fire Department
Response: In today’s society, many of our recruits are experiencing not only their first fire service job, but this may also be their first time entering the workforce. These recruits expect and deserve to be treated fairly. All employees deserve a workplace (paid or volunteer) that is free from discrimination and favoritism. This sometimes can be very difficult to manage inside the firehouse, but all must adhere to these rules, especially officers. New lieutenants need the tools to manage these situations; this leadership/management training should be delivered by a qualified agency, internal or external. As officers, we need to understand the rules and repercussions for allowing or participating in unfair labor practices.
Now, we expect our officers to be tactically trained and to understand the strategies of the fireground. This is where things go from bad to worse, even on a good day. In my opinion, strategies/tactics needs to be the primary area of focus not only for new lieutenants, but also for ongoing training of experienced officers. We need to ensure that all officers attend and pass a detailed and credentialed officer development program that included strategies and tactics to allow them to learn and master the skills of their job. It is imperative that we create a system that will allow officers to learn before their feet hit the street. It is better to err in the firehouse and lose a dollar than to err on the scene and lose a brother.
Steve Prziborowski, battalion chief,
Santa Clara County (CA) Fire Department
Response: Both are critical to fire officer development, firefighter safety and survival, customer service, and overall department success. One could argue that proper and appropriate strategy and tactics are key in reducing firefighter fatalities and injuries, even though working fires typically make up a very small percentage of our call volume and time spent on the job.
On the other hand, it could also be argued that leadership/management takes up 100 percent of our time. Whether it is at a working fire or some other type of emergency response, performing daily duties inside and outside of the fire station, or just supervising and training our personnel, proper leadership/management is critical for getting the job done by taking care of customers’ needs but also for keeping our personnel safe and prepared them for the future.
A properly structured program should include strategy/tactics, since leadership/management are two of the biggest components of determining appropriate strategy/tactics-and, more importantly, fireground command and control. When reviewing firefighter line-of-duty death and injury reports, inadequate command and control, inadequate leadership/management, and inappropriate strategy/tactics are consistently mentioned as contributing factors to the deaths and injuries. Since leadership/management is more big picture-oriented and encompasses more than just strategy/tactics, those two topics would best serve an officer development curriculum. That said, if I had to choose one, I would say that officer development should focus on leadership/management.
Randall W. Hanifen, lieutenant,
West Chester (OH) Fire-Rescue
Response: This is one of the toughest decisions a leader would have to make. Leadership and management are used 95 percent of the time and often result in accomplishing 95 percent of the work, but the strategy and tactics five percent is where our life-and-death decisions are made. If I must chose one, I would choose leadership and management. A good leader and manager would ensure that the firefighters working for them would know strategies and tactics as much as possible within their limitations. This synergistic effect of their collective knowledge would produce better results than just ensuring that one person on the crew knows strategies and tactics. Second, a solid leader would ensure that items such as preplanning and training are completed prior to the incident so that members’ situational awareness would be as well developed as possible at the incident, increasing responders’ safety. We must always train to know the 5 percent of our jobs upon which our citizens rely while ensuring that we develop good leaders and will not have to make such a decision now or in the future.
Nick Morgan, firefighter,
St Louis (MO) Fire Department
Response: I would pick strategy/tactics. Our department does not have a formal ODP. Our promotional process is based solely on the scores from a Civil Service-administered promotional exam for captains and battalion chiefs. The fire chief wants to see fire service-related education included in the promotional process, but nothing is in writing as of yet. After promotions are made, our newly promoted officers are required to attend Civil Service classes on personnel management. I believe leadership and management are very important to fire officers, but these are subjects that can be mastered over time and are not critical for life.
Fireground strategy/tactics is a different story. A new officer could be confronted with a serious fire or emergency on the first day of his new position and will be required to make immediate decisions under stress with inadequate initial information while the lives of civilians and firefighters hang in the balance. Strategy/tactics is the most critical set of skills a fire officer needs. Granted, these skills must be continuously developed and refined throughout the officer’s career, but they will determine the outcome of most fires and emergencies to which fire officers respond with their crews.
True leadership is often the by-product of personality type and modeled experience from others. Management often has to do with daily fire station routine activities and enforcement of basic rules and policies. These subjects can usually be researched before decisions are made. The emergency scene must be managed with the officer’s current level of knowledge and experience, and with little or no time to prepare. There is also an element of leadership and management in strategy and tactics. For a fire officer to develop a strategy, he must be able to look at the “big picture” at the emergency scene. And for an officer to order and oversee tactical operations, he must understand how the tactics chosen coincide with the strategy in place. Finally, an officer must have some leadership ability to assist the crew in carrying out the tactical objectives. Most firefighters I know prefer an officer who is calm and knowledgeable on the emergency scene and who is able to “lead by example” rather than just give orders “because they can.”
Lucas Maas, Firefighter/paramedic,
Newton (IA) Fire Department
Response: My department does not have an official training/program for officer development. If I had to pick, I would choose leadership/management over strategy/tactics. There are many reasons for my decision. If a person feels that he is qualified and ready to become an officer, there is no reason we should have to spend a vast amount of time on strategy/tactics with him. If he does not have this down by now, he has no business testing or trying to become an officer. An officer is the one in charge at an emergency incident, and he had better have a good idea of what he is doing and know how to handle the incident efficiently.
Leadership/management training programs for officer development are more important because these areas are more often used daily at our jobs. It is very important to know and understand different types of people and how to effectively manage/lead them. Either individuals are born good leaders/managers, or they need the proper training and information. Having effective leaders/managers makes good fire departments great. To have the trust and confidence of those below them, officers must have the skills and knowledge that go into being a leader/manager along implementing strategy/tactics in the most professional and proper way.
William Shouldis, deputy chief (ret.),
Philadelphia (PA) Fire Department
Response: It was my pleasure to have been an instructor in the Philadelphia (PA) Fire Department’s Officer Development Program for nearly two decades. During those years, there were many administrative and operational changes. Fortunately, organizational directions made the “grooming” of newly promoted officers a top priority. The department hierarchy trusted the Training Division to generate a structured “in-house” program with an “up-to-date” written curriculum. Historically, new officers lacked time management skills. Often, the novice supervisors wasted energy, efforts, and enthusiasm on low-impact issues.
Mastering the management of time is a learned skill and an organizational responsibility. Officers must properly prepare for each shift. Forecasting of the variable contemporary “workplace” challenges is mandatory. A personal daily “plan of action” is essential. Sufficient time must be allotted for reviewing new procedures; leading worthwhile training sessions increases proficiency for company/crews; resolving misunderstandings relative to organization policies and individuals’ needs improves communication. Finally, regular post-incident reviews with superior and subordinates can provide significant insight into decision making. Seasoned officers at all levels learn how to cope with the pressures of command. There will always be dangers in the stations and at the emergency scene. Both can be effectively mitigated by the new officer by balancing time and tasks.
Timothy P. Hennessey, chief,
Waterford (CT) Fire & Emergency Services
Response: Our community does not have an officer development center; we rely on the state fire academy to provide fire officer courses. If we did have a center, the strategy and tactics component would be most beneficial. Depending on budget and time constraints and department makeup, there are many management classes out there.
The biggest challenge today is the learning curve we have through a decrease in major emergencies. A decrease in fire duty on a national scale and other major emergencies is a good thing for the public, though we now have a growing officer corps and potential officer corps who have less “combat time.” Valuable lessons on strategies and tactics may not be learned on the job; we must stress these lessons more and more in courses and by wisdom passed down from seasoned personnel. Our front-line staff continues to populate the line-of- duty death rosters each year. Most errors on the fireground are resulting from decisions made by the first-due units, which may not always be the most seasoned or adequately trained department members. This is especially true in the volunteer system.
While a focus on management and leadership is important, it may result in bad relationships with supervisors/subordinates, administrative errors, and destroy morale. It could be argued that the aforementioned is important to safety, but these are shortfalls that can be identified before an emergency. A lack of understanding of strategies and tactics will become evident during an emergency and may be too late.
Mike Bucy, lieutenant,
Portage (IN) Fire Department
Response: At first this appeared to be a tough decision. I teach both of these areas to a large number of firefighters and departments across Indiana, and I always emphasize how important both are. As important as strategy and tactics are, they should already be learned by the time the member is at the officer level. I try to push new people into strategies and tactics classes as soon as possible. That way, they have a better understanding of the fireground and they can develop their own styles while continuing to learn the jobs. By the time an individual attains the company officer or chief officer level, he should already be proficient in strategy and tactics.
Therefore, leadership and management are more important for fire officers. There is such an enormous leadership vacuum in our business that it has become dangerous. Too many assume that because they have rank or a title of some kind that they are leaders. This is the furthest from the truth. Leadership is one of the most important issues in today’s fire service. Leadership will save lives and prevent injuries while allowing personnel to operate at peak performance (while having fun).
Tom Rinoldo, lieutenant,
Framingham (MA) Fire Department
Response: While both are very important, if I can choose only one, it would be strategy and tactics. In today’s fire service, we spend more time on peripheral responsibilities such as inspections, drills, and station and equipment maintenance and less time on the fireground. Gone are the days when we stick the members on the tailboard, tell them to stick with their officer, and they will learn all they need to know. Our fire runs are down because of progressive fire prevention and code enforcement. That means our firefighters are getting less fireground experience and ultimately less experience gained as we enter into the leadership role, where we are now responsible for an entire company. The leadership/management training to deal with personnel issues, drafting and implementing budgets, requisitioning equipment, and other issues–although important, quite frankly might hurt some feelings or not make the most cost-effective decisions if we are not adequately trained or make a mistake. If we are not trained on how to read a building or smoke or how to recognize, prioritize, and implement the needed recourses to deal with an incident, someone could get injured, or worse.
Douglas Foster, lieutenant,
Killeen (TX) Fire Department
Response: Strategy and tactics should take precedence over leadership/management. In today’s world of fire prevention and building construction, we are seeing increasingly fewer fires from which a potential officer can gain on-the-job experience. The result is that a lot of tasks and tactics on a fireground that used to be mundane are becoming low-frequency, high-hazard situations. In my department, vertical ventilation is an excellent example of this. A company officer needs to be able to size up a task-oriented situation as accurately as possible. His life and the lives of the company personnel are dependent on it. This is not to say that leadership/management skills are not important, but they take a back seat to anything that determines the outcome of safety. Leadership/management is not rocket science. I think all the officer development training for management could be summed up in three points: 1) Always work harder than your subordinates. 2) Don’t ask them to do anything you wouldn’t do or haven’t done yourself. 3) Treat them the way you would want to be treated.
Tim Robinson, lieutenant,
Concord (NH) Fire Department
Response: This topic is reminiscent of the old-time question, Which came first the chicken or the egg? It is obvious that a blend of both is prudent and necessary. Since I am forced to pick one, I would pick leadership and management. Firefighters experienced and educated enough to be sitting to take promotional exams should have a good enough handle on strategy and tactics to take the promotion. I remember worrying about strategy and tactics when I was promoted. I quickly came to realize that they are important but come much easier than the personnel management and supervision challenges an officer will face. It seems that many lack the background to handle this 90 percent of the job. The majority of a fire officer’s job is centered on management and supervision of daily activities including equipment maintenance, training, and routine calls for service. An officer candidate or newly appointed officer must have sufficient experience in strategy and tactics to gain the trust and respect of his crew members. If this is not present, the culture will usually not look beyond the lack of experience to recognize the management and leadership abilities of that individual. It behooves candidates to do a self-assessment to see if they have sufficient strategy and tactics experience prior to testing for or accepting a position.
Larry Lewis, deputy chief,
Oak Ridge (TN) National Laboratory
Response: If an officer understands the responsibilities of a leader, he knows he must understand strategy and tactics. When an officer has the ability to manage safety, training, daily operations, and emergency response incidents, he is in a position to make effective use of his knowledge of strategy and tactics. On the other hand, an officer who has mastered strategy and tactics but doesn’t effectively lead or manage will not be an effective officer no matter how much he knows. Obviously, you cannot develop competent officers without focusing on both sides of this equation.
An officer who understands leadership and management can become effective if assigned a duty that requires him to learn new strategy and tactics. Leadership and management skills are needed at any duty assignment from structural firefighting, EMS, technical rescue, airports, hazmat, and marine and wildland firefighting. Strategy and tactics depend on the duty assignment.
Robert J. Post, chief,
Barrow County (GA) Fire & Emergency Services
Response: A quality officer development program should be a combination of leadership/management and strategy/tactics. But to respond to the question on which area the program should be centered on, I would have to choose leadership/management. The ability of a fire officer to lead his crew to accomplish a task and his ability to manage the process in accomplishing that task is paramount to a successful outcome. In today’s society, the challenge of many organizations is to foster a teamwork environment for addressing a problem that presents a monumental hurdle in mitigating that problem. This is especially true in the fire service. A fire officer who receives quality leadership and management training will have a greater likelihood of developing his team into a cohesive work group that will have greater success in accomplishing the task. This then will spill over on the fireground. In addition, a properly trained officer will be more confident in his ability to address problems that arise within the scope of his responsibility. These may include, but are not limited to, personality conflicts, rule violations, discrimination, and harassment allegations. Although serious and complex issues may not be able to be resolved at the company officer level, proper training may permit the officer to detect issues and take actions to resolve them before they escalate into a serious problem.
Raynaldo Santiago, battalion chief,
Camden (NJ) Fire Department
Response: Leadership and management skills are among the most important primary skills of a good supervisor. The supervisor must be able to master these basic skills as a leader before he can manage tactical strategies. The supervisor must be a good listener, a good communicator, and a good trainer. These skills will be needed to help organize and coordinate things that need to be accomplished on a daily basis. If a supervisor can perform the daily task by using these skills, then when there is an emergency situation like a fire, giving orders or directing members on the fireground will not be as difficult. Being a good tactician and strategist on the fireground or at any emergency situation comes with experience and knowledge.
Ken Kincaid, assistant chief (ret.),
Reedy Creek (FL) Fire Department
Response: No one can deny that our purpose for existing is to handle emergencies, but the simple fact is that 90 percent of fire service life is getting along and following the rules until the big one comes. That said, behavioral issues most often gets us into the newspaper or on the mayor’s desk in a negative light. Supervision is the key to almost all our successes and failures. Whether it’s leading the training for the day or coaching for better performance, it’s all in the supervisor’s hands. His personnel skills are of paramount importance. For my money, training, education, and practice in dealing with personnel problems are worth theirs weight in gold. This training must be delivered by qualified instructors using professionally developed programs. We have resisted programs that are not “fire-service based,” but the reality is that DDI, Achieve Global, and numerous other vendors offer great programs, available through most community colleges. Managing our organizational change using concepts of Human Performance Improvement and growing our people to deal with the day-to-ay challenges of fire station life will be critical to our future success.
James Cleveland, assistant chief,
Prichard/Murray (ID) Volunteer Fire Department
Response: Ultimately, any officer development program should be well rounded and include instruction and mentoring in all the elements required of up and coming officers. Based on a situation where you had to choose one or the other, I would say that leadership outweighs strategy and tactics. Those progressing to an officer’s position will have seen strategy and tactics on a day-to-day basis and, most likely, will have asked the question, “Why did we do it that way?” This exposure may not make them the experts they need to be but will provide a foundation on which to base their decisions.
This may not be true of leadership. Most of us have experienced the mixed bag of leaders that exist in the fire service and are aware that more needs to be done to educate up-and-coming officers. I would also offer that a good leader would care for and watch out for those who serve under them as part of the team. The team focus of the leader should make him acutely aware of any safety issues that might affect them. That said, I still believe that officer development should be well-rounded; trying to narrow the focus to one aspect or another is akin to trying to ride a bicycle with a wheel missing: You may be able to do it, but eventually somebody’s going to get hurt.
Lee Wise, captain/paramedic,
Midland (TX) Fire Department
Response: Officer development by definition has to include education and training in both leadership/management and strategy/tactics; either knowledge and skill set can be learned through educational classes and, equally as important, observation and experience. They are also complementary and expertise in one is liable to promote effectiveness in the other. But the debate should focus on where we are making each of these types of decisions and their consequences? In other words, which area of development can least afford a bad decision?
Every emergency incident has the potential for immediate life-threatening consequences and, therefore, greater risk to our personnel, ourselves, and the people we serve. Since strategic/tactical decisions hold far greater and more immediate consequences for all involved, this area of development requires heavier emphasis; it’s where an officer can least afford a “mistake.”
Leadership/management challenges most often provide an officer the luxury of time to evaluate, develop, and implement a reasonable solution. Those types of decisions are seldom critical (i.e., life-threatening); and if they are unsuitable or ineffective, they can usually be re-evaluated without severe consequences. A basic foundation should be instilled in our officers, but in-depth knowledge can be safely acquired or fully developed after one becomes an officer. Strategic/tactical challenges rarely provide one the luxury of time; the consequences of those decisions are ultimately more critical and may be required within five minutes of pinning on the bars. For these reasons, I believe officer development should be centered on strategy and tactics.
Tim Shafer, lieutenant,
Miamisburg (OH) Fire Department
Response: Ideally an ODP should consist of both elements; however, if I had to choose between the two, I probably would choose strategy/tactics because in our community fires are far and few between. With the changes in building construction and the materials used in these buildings, our way of thinking for combating these fast-moving fires must also change. When it comes to management skills, many of them have to do the individuals’ core ethics and experience with past supervisors; communication is a key factor on or off the fireground. Unless you’re out there every day seeing what’s in your community or burning acquired structures to learn and anticipate how the fire is going to react, the only other way would be to have a program that emphasizes fireground skills.
Paul Hoyle, captain,
Portsmouth (VA) Fire Department
Response: I hope that any department progressive enough to have an officer development center will have a tiered response to this question. Training for entry-level officers must focus on strategy and tactics, with an introduction to leadership and management concepts. These officers will be the leaders of our front-line troops. They must have the knowledge and skills necessary to operate safely and effectively on the ground.
Training for middle managers must continue to develop the leadership and management skills necessary to effectively lead divisions or specialty teams, while continuing to hone the strategic and tactical skills needed for operational response.
Training for senior staff and executive officers must lean heavily toward management and leadership, while keeping them aware of new and changing strategies and tactics that their operational personnel are using on the street.
Michael Snow, battalion chief,
San Bernardino County (CA) Fire Department
Response: Development should center on leadership/management. Leadership is a critical component in developing our personnel for the way we do business, both internally and externally. Internally, we need to use leadership or develop our leadership to embrace the traditions of the job by teaching what we know and mentoring those who aspire to succeed us in future years. Today, we are losing hundreds of years of experience through retirement, career changes, and line-of-duty deaths. The experience we lose is not always captured to be taught to our rookies. Valuable history and the way we do business are being lost, but there is also a balance to the new information and technology brought to us from these new employees.
Leadership and management must be taught to those who will succeed us. Officer development should focus on what makes an organization successful as well as what make it weak. Lessons from the past still seem to go unnoticed until the event happens again. There needs to be a better way to learn and retain these data. It will help rebuild the history of the job to identify our future and how the new generation will bring innovation and technology to keep us successful, safe, and viable to our communities.
Richard Wilson, lieutenant,
Bartlett (IL) Fire Department
Response: The way we are working this today, you must have three years on the job to take a promotional exam. You can be the best test taker and great at tactics and still lead a company into harm’s way. If you do not have the leadership that starts at every shift’s roll call, you will not have the respect of the firefighters. Officers at times have more to do and understandably cannot be out on the floor checking rigs with the crew, but they should make an effort from time to time to build that integrity. This goes a long way to building a well-operating and informed team (leadership).
As you train within and with your company, you will build that confidence within the firefighters to carry out any task they are ordered to do. Some of our greatest fireground officers are the worst leaders; some of our greatest leaders are our worst fireground officers. Finding that middle road is complicated. As we get promoted and are educated on how to lead on the fireground, the individual must want to lead and be willing to listen to the crew’s input. Our assistant chief of operations is working on many tasks within our organization–from simple running orders to how to handle difficult employees and writing reviews.
Since we have had a major growth spurt here within the past two years, many of our firefighters and officers are new to the role. Our management has taken the stance, “We are all growing together.” With this example of understanding, many of our department members will learn and grow faster than if focused on one task or if they are jumped on if they make a mistake and are not given guidance. I believe my department should focus on tactics because at times I serve as an acting battalion chief and would like to know what management expects out of this role in a strategic environment (running orders), so my view is a little different. This is a lot different than coming off an engine or tower and going to work with a crew as first-in.
Keith Lenderman, assistant chief,
Troy (MI) Fire Department
Response: Leadership is and will always be the key to success. Back in 1976 in my graduate program, I was taught that you manage things and lead people. This is still true.
William Brooks Jr., firefighter,
East Wallingford (CT) VFD
Response: We have a combination fire department. On the career side, I believe that because promotion is achieved through knowledgeexperiencetesting and seniority (minimum time on the job four years for promotion to lieutenant), officer development should center on leadershipmanagement. This is not to say that strategytactics should not be addressed. Career officers worklive with their subordinates and interact with volunteers; they need leadership and management knowledge that they probably don’t possess at the beginning of their supervisory career. They face challenges in their day-to-day station activities for which they should be trained. They will expand on their strategytactics experience through continued servicetraining.
On the volunteer side, officer development should center on strategytactics because of the nature of the volunteer service and the way officers are elected (or selected). Most volunteer departments elect their officers on the basis of popularity,, which sometimes results in people with little to no command experience becoming leaders. These officers need all the strategytactics training they can get. With luck, some may possess management experience from their “normal” job requirements. If not, they are usually not required to make decisions that would affect normal station routine. They should get some type of training in how to deal with the “troops,” but this will come with experience and further training.
Steven C. Hamilton, lieutenant,
Fort Jackson (SC) Fire Department
Response: Leadership training and operational ideology are equally important. However, only one remains fairly constant. Building construction, advancements in technology, adaptations to equipment, and staffing–all affect strategic and tactical decisions.
These areas are constantly changing. Leadership and management principles have remained the same for decades. Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs” was first published in 1943 and is still being taught in Fire Officer I curriculum. Strategy and tactics have drastically changed throughout the fire service since that era, except for surround and drown. If given a choice, I would focus on education constants first. Organizations that have leadership and management as a main focus in career development will not have to consistently adapt their curriculum to allow for change.
Additionally, departments are not experiencing the volume of working incidents they did 10 years ago. Conflict resolution, mentoring, progressive discipline, training, and general administrative tasking are monopolizing our time more and more. These areas are having a greater impact on our day-to-day operations than emergency incidents. It only makes sense to focus on the known obstacles that your personnel will undoubtedly face. Leadership and management ideology can be taught consistently and without much adaptation to a continuously changing fire service.
Marion F. Blackwell Jr., chief,
Stillwater (OK) Fire Department
Response: For the most part, our company officers are trained in strategy/tactics from the time they are hired until promotion. Tactics should be second nature at this point. There should always be maintenance training and attendance at conferences to continue to hone the tactical skills and develop new techniques. With few exceptions, this is not where our company officers get into trouble.
The new company officers must contend with personnel issues that, until now, did not concern them. What constitutes sexual harassment? Gender discrimination? Or, what places the department (and themselves personally) at risk for a law suit? How does the new company officer deal with the disgruntled or insubordinate employee? These are just a few issues that affect the new company officer.
While tactics are important, we, as fire service leaders, owe to our (new and current) company officers opportunities to gain the knowledge, skills, and abilities to properly manage their shift in such a way as to minimize exposure to mistakes that could cost the department’s reputation as well as the officer’s career. Sound leadership and management practices must be as commonplace in the fire service as putting the wet stuff on the red stuff.
Tony Tricarico, captain (ret.),
Fire Department of New York
Response: One choice will maintain harmony in quarters, and the other will keep you alive on the fireground. If a fire officer cannot lead his people into battle, he will never be able to earn the respect needed to maintain a harmonious working environment. Most of leadership and management is common sense, knowledge of procedures and rules, and never forgetting what it was like when you were a firefighter. My vote is for strategy and tactics. I would rather send them home angry than dead.
Keith Long, assistant chief of training,
Response: An ability to lead stems from leadership and management strengths. If we struggle here, it exacerbates directing tactics and strategies. Haven’t we seen enough officers, indeed even CEOs and world leaders, losing credibility by touting this or that? If leadership/management teaches only basics or double checking the facts before engaging, the tactics and strategies will improve. Strong leadership is magnetic; it attracts a strong team. Like minds and many hands make light work.
Fernando Canez, engineer,
Northwest (AZ) Fire Rescue District
Response: Fire officer development should center around teaching and acting on leadership and management skills. From day 1 of our fire careers, we are taught as firefighters about strategy/tactics. It’s what we do when the “big one” comes in. However, from the outside looking in, I find the challenge of the fire officer is in being in charge of the company’s day-to-day. Running the calls, whatever they may be, is not nearly as taxing as dealing with the various issues that can arise in the station. The fire officer should be considered as the heart and soul of the company. Sure, there are policy and procedural items in place to direct the action of the fire officer, but the importance lies in the needed daily application of those parameters to enforce good order, discipline, and ultimately build organizational spirit. In my opinion, fire officers who do not understand or cannot fathom the virtues and differences between good leadership and good management are persons who just passed the test.
Michael J. Lopina, lieutenant,
Lockport Township (IL) FPD
Response: I will take tactics/strategy over leadership/management in today’s world. Tactics/strategy seems to be fast becoming a lost art. I see many new firefighters coming onto the job with at least an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree in some sort of fire administration or related field. Many times, these degrees contain more leadership and management classes than the new recruit will ever need in his career. Don’t get me wrong. As a recent college graduate (BA in fire administration), I know the value of a good education firsthand. But, I also know that piece of paper is meant to help me succeed behind a desk, not on the street putting out a fire. All of our firefighters wishing to challenge the lieutenant’s exam must be Illinois State certified Fire Officer I (five classes; 240 hours) before applying for the exam. Of those 240 hours, only 40 are spent on tactics/strategy. The other 200 are fire prevention (40), Instructor I (40) and Leadership I & II (40 each). There has been an increase in offerings from fire academies with 40-hour “Officer Boot Camps.” These courses are designed to fill in the blanks for those looking for more tactical/strategy experience. There are practical and classroom applications of these courses.
Tim Christensen, battalion chief,
Lehigh Acres (FL) Fire Rescue
Response: It depends on the level of the officer. For line officers, (lieutenants, captains) the development should be centered more around tactics/strategy; for battalion chiefs and up on the ladder, it should focus on leadership/management. When first becoming officers, most of our decisions are based on the need for a tactical/strategy-related decision more often than not, while there is more of a need for the leadership/management type decision from a battalion or division or assistant chief who are usually on a scene in a command role. I’m not saying there is no place for tactics/strategy on a higher level or for leadership/management on a line-officer level, but I’d say the higher you go, the more you need to become a better leader/manager, because you still have more-than-capable officers to handle the tactical decisions. It’s not as much fun on your bigger-scale incidents sometimes to do the management type stuff, but it’s just as important nonetheless! It is still very important, however, for a line officer to learn how to become a leader so he can gain/earn the trust and respect of their line personnel so the tactical/strategy decisions he makes will be accepted without hesitation. In my experience, the education and experience I’ve had made it easier to make tactical decisions; but when it came time to make command-management decisions, I found more instances where I had no previous knowledge or experience about the situation and had to “wing it” as best I could until I had more education/experience to better deal with these decisions. Most of the training we had as line officers was based on tactics/strategy; the leadership/management training was lacking.
Mike Newbury, captain,
St Louis (MO) Fire Department
Response: You cannot sacrifice one at the expense of the other. Officers without sound strategic and tactical training make bad fireground decisions (a firefighter safety issue) and can cause a fair amount of “cowboying” at the fire scene (also a safety issue).
Bad management and leadership at the firehouse (where we spend most of our time on duty) can lead to a lack of attention to very important training and firefighter topics because of animosity of the crew toward its leader. Further, a firefighter mad at his officer might not be as attentive at the fire scene and may resist calls from his officer such as, “Never freelance” and “Always mask up during overhaul.” It is not because he is ignorant, but out of a very human resistance to change or mistrust of his leader. Firehouse controversies can and often do spill over to the fireground’ company offers with quality leadership and management can prevent this from happening. Leadership requires trust in the leader, and a bad firehouse environment can ruin trust.
Bad tactics/strategies often cause injuries and worse, which are completely avoidable. The crew’s lack of confidence in the leader who has made bad fireground decisions can and will spill over to the firehouse, making it an untenable environment and causing a management/leadership crisis for the crew. This, again, can lead to a loss of trust, which will only spiral out of control and amplify at the fire scene and in the firehouse.
As a newer company officer (almost two years now), I would advocate that each be taught with equal importance an officer development course.
Steve Mac Innis, training officer,
Kitchener (Ont., Can.) Fire Department
Response: Both components are necessary to have a well-rounded officer. However, if I were forced to chose, I would pick fireground tactics/strategies because of the potential of death or injury to oneself, other firefighters, and civilians if you don’t know what you’re doing. Making the wrong decision or one based on insufficient knowledge could be catastrophic. Understanding the “why” as well as the “how” will develop much better fire officers on the fireground.
Kenneth W. Cline, captain,
Charleston (WV) Fire Department
Response: In the black-and-white world, the focus should be placed on leadership and management training for the simple fact that our human resources are our strongest asset and, quite frankly, the only reason that tactics and strategies are achieved. This includes the emergency scene and, even more importantly, the overall mission of the department. Additionally, human and physical resources are not infinite; those resources must be efficiently managed to get the most value while maintaining a focus on safety.
Unfortunately, in the grey world, which is where the fire service seems to stay, there should be a proportionate mix of strategy/tactics and leadership/management training based on rank. Ideally, in a true ODP, the more bugles and the higher the responsibility, the greater emphasis that should be placed on leadership and management. A first-line officer may need 80 percent tactics and 20 percent management, whereas a senior administrator may need 20 percent tactics and 80 percent management training. Company and battalion officers may need a 60/40 or 50/50 ratio of tactics to leadership.
In addition to tactics, strategy, leadership, and management training, the focus should also be placed on the traditional education areas of communications skills, sociology, and psychology. An officer should be proficient in knowing the personality types of coworkers, what motivates them, and how to get the appropriate message to them in a productive manner.
Chad Jepperson, engineer,
Salt Lake City (UT) Fire Department
Response: An officer development program that focuses on only one skill set would fall short, but the question is obviously meant to consider the importance of each. It would seem to me that both skills are developed through each firefighter’s life and career.
Leadership skills are more of a lifetime skill and though they can be taught, they are more personal and should be developed in a personal arena. They may be learned on the job, but they do not need to be, and consistency across the job is less important. Since personalities differ, one style of leadership may work for one but not for another. Leaders are also identified early in their career; followers may follow only because of rank, not because one is a good leader. Being a good leader doesn’t come with a promotion or a few classes.
Tactics, on the other hand, should be consistent across the board. Every officer should understand what the tactical objectives are and what they will be when the situation develops. The safety of every firefighter depends on the expected actions of every battalion chief, officer, and firefighter. Inconsistencies are dangerous and should be avoided.
Since officer development is resource dependent, it would be better to foster leadership continually through example and leave the official development program to tactical-based training.
Jacob Waldschmidt, firefighter/paramedic,
Kenosha (WI) Fire Department
Response: For fire officers to be successful, they need to have the leadership qualities and tactical mind to solve problem that come their way. All ODPs have one or more strategies and tactics courses, but not all have courses that develop and build the necessary leadership skills. An ODP needs to go beyond strategies/tactics and what daily paperwork needs to be filled out. Leadership and management skills need to be the focus of a fire department’s ODP. Fire officers should be taught skills such as communications, strategic planning, team building, crew management, mentoring, and motivating, which they must develop. Most officer candidates and newly appointed officers have many years of firefighting experience, so they are usually well versed on fire-scene operations, but many have never formally led a company of firefighters. If an officer lacks leadership qualities or fails at a task, the rumor mill will start up, and that officer will be labeled as weak or not capable of doing the job. When the officer learns how to effectively lead his crew in nonemergent and emergent situations, they can build up trust and credibility as an officer. It is the Training Division’s job to make sure that new and existing fire officers are given the tools necessary to succeed. It is the fire officer’s job to develop and build on those skills for continued success.
Thomas M. Smith, TSgt. station captain,
U.S.A.F., Kikruk, Iraq
Response: Using my experiences in the Air Force reserve and also as a professional firefighter on the civilian side, I would have to say that without question leadership and management need to be at the forefront of our officer training curriculum. Too many firefighters take their professional military education through The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Career Development courses by mail and the Internet. Although this is convenient, it leaves a big hole in the knowledge and information they are retaining. They take the CDC, pass the written test, and they are now leaders and managers. This scenario is real. In my opinion, it has caused some real damage to the Department of Defense firefighting career field. Many very bright and promising firefighters have opted out of the career field because of this. Many DOD fire service leaders are not educated or trained for the positions; if confronted with real life situations concerning the use of their tools and abilities. they often fail. However, even with these failures, nothing is done to correct the problems. Blame is laid and directed, many times at the wrong people and in the wrong direction, and everything returns to what it was before, as if nothing has happened. Leadership and management should be the major focus; strategy and tactics will come from on-the-job training and job-related experiences.
Bob Carpenter, captain,
Miami-Dade (FL) Fire Rescue
Response: Actually, both are important. The company officer has a role in both arenas. The answer to this question is not an either/or, but rather, how much of each. Our department formerly conducted a 40-hour Lieutenant Orientation program that consisted of 32 hours of administrative/management ,which included a class on Strategies and Tactics. The week concluded with an Incident Command Drill. The result of the drill indicated the deficiencies many had with the hands-on elements.
In the past couple of years, we have expanded the program to 160 hours. The first 80 hours are dedicated to management/administration/tactics. The other 80 hours are devoted to firemanship skills and drills; hands-on training, including a live fire thermal imaging camera class; flashover awareness; and a full-scale, live-fire, multicompany response scenario. The hands-on classes also include search, firefighter survival, SCBA emergencies, standpipe operations, hose management, and drill development.
The result is predictable. New officers get focused class sessions to bring the volumes of study material into practical application. Then they receive a review and get to practice the firefighting skills they will now be assigned to evaluate and, if necessary, correct in their subordinate crew members. In short, they get the tools that they need to perform their new responsibilities.
Brian Ward, training officer,
Gwinnett County (GA) Fire and Emergency Services
Response: It is not good enough to know one without the other. It means nothing if an individual has a knowledge of all of the strategy/tactics in the world but does not possess also the leadership skills to execute the plan, or vice-versa. Consider some of the great fire service and military leaders, such as Chief J. Norman, Chief A. Brunacini, General G. Patton, and General C. Powell, they understood both equally as well. In Gwinnett County, we found it beneficial to teach both topics in our Acting Officer and Acting Captain programs. With acting officers, you have to ask one simple question: Who is going to have the greatest impact on the majority of the firefighters? As the acting officers are the informal leaders within our department, we decided to teach everything from Courage to Be Safe through strategies/tactics for single/multi-family dwellings and high-rise operations. With our newly developed Acting Captain program, we are planning to include leadership styles, management techniques, and fireground operations with comprehensive scenario-based training.
Chris Mc Loone, lieutenant,
Weldon Fire Company, Glenside, PA
Response: I believe you cannot have one without the other. A department could have a brilliant leader/manger but a horrible strategist and vice versa–you could have a master strategist leading a crew/company who is so abrasive that he cannot motivate the crew/company away from the fireground.
An officer development program must combine both leadership/management and strategy/tactics. You want your company officers to be well-versed in strategy and tactics because they are going to be making decisions very early during an incident that can determine whether it comes to a positive or negative end. But, as those company officers move up through the ranks, they will find their jobs include more and more administrative tasks, which is where leadership and management skills become invaluable.
The best officer development program will take place at the station. The best leaders will instill in their subordinates leadership and management values through the example they set on and off the fireground. Although strategy and tactics are learned best through experience, the leader of the fire company also plays a critical role back at the station, around the kitchen table, when he invites comment on the strategies and tactics employed at a recent job. Ultimately, the informal officer development programs that take place after the fire around the table are where some of our best officers are born
Subject: Officer development, leadership and management, firefighter strategy and tactics