The Power to Empower

Firefighters listen during an extrication training evolution.

(Photo above by Tony Greco)

Article by Mark Rossi

Leadership is an attitude; management is a position” (Kevin Burns, CEO of BGI Consultants).

In the fire service, this couldn’t be closer to the truth. Firefighters respond to emergencies 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. The decisions firefighters make and actions they take are just as important as how they are delivered, especially in a customer-service driven business. Everyone in the fire service, regardless of rank, follows some sort of “chain of command” that stems from military organizations throughout history to present day. Without a “chain of command” in the fire service, freelancing would develop and lead to organizational problems, and worse case, an increase in firefighter injuries or deaths. From the newest recruit or member of the department all the way up to the fire chief, there is a specific reporting structure. Fire suppression would not be able to function if it were not for the administration, logistics, prevention, and training divisions of the department. Collectively, we support the combat personnel and run the fire department business. Additionally, each rank comes with its own responsibilities, authority, and behavioral traits, and the behaviors of the “bosses” can positively or negatively influence their subordinates.

RELATED: Power Goofs | More Power Goofs  

Alan Brunacini once wrote “anything and everything a boss does is affected, conditioned, and influenced by his use of personal or positional power.” (Fire Engineering, June 2015). This is true, and I believe that many bosses (be it the company officer level or senior officer level) misinterpret power versus force.  According to Dr. David Hawkins, good leaders favor power over force; leaders who use power influence others because they are drawn to their high energy and motivation.  Everyone is working in harmony and influenced by this “happy” feeling. Force, on the other hand, reminds us if the rules are not followed and we do not “do as the boss says,” we will be disciplined or fired. This influence is based on fear and insecurity or low energy. (Hosaka, 2010).

As a training officer in my department, I work with another training captain, and we both report to the battalion chief of training. We have an administrative assistant that plays an important role in helping run the daily operations of the bureau and our various courses we deliver to the department. We all share the same “A-type” personality want to be in training versus having been forced into the position. Although our training bureau is not a big one, we run it as if it was. All of us in the bureau manage different training programs and rarely say “no” to a project that comes our way from upper management, fire suppression, or the community in which we serve. I am challenged professionally on a daily basis to deliver the best possible fire and ems training to our customers and have been empowered to do so by the training chief. We are lucky to have an authentic leader that leads from the front and practices his values consistently.

In Brunacini’s article “More Power Goofs,” he mentions that bosses must evaluate the current situation, and then direct and influence workers to perform so they can achieve a desirable outcome (Fire Engineering, June 2015). Good bosses empower their employees. They allow their employees to find solutions to problems, manage projects, make decisions, and deliver results without having to run to management and ask for permission to do something. To me, being empowered to perform the job I was asked to do will only make me want to work harder to be successful both professionally (for the organization) and personally (to achieve my career goals).  Empowerment in the fire service does not always come easy. It requires the department and its upper management to be committed to continuous employee development. It means fostering an environment of trust and helping employees learn from successes and analyze failures (Forbes, 2011).

Often when a training program or course is being requested from one of our department members or shift division chiefs, our jobs as training officers become busy. It would be great if all we had to do is deliver the training, but in our agency the training officer must research the project and procure resources, equipment, and training sites. We also must develop the budget for the training program, develop the course curriculum, develop presentations or videos and all of the applicable literature, schedule the participants, as well as deliver the training and evaluate the program after the class is completed. The amount of work can be overwhelming at times, but it is very challenging and rewarding when change has been implemented for the better. None of this would be possible at our level if we were not empowered by our boss.

According to Lisa Quest (Forbes Magazine 2011), working to create an environment that empowers employees has been shown not only to increase customer satisfaction levels, but also improve employee morale. When I am tasked with a project in training, my boss doesn’t tell me how the training needs to be developed or how to deliver the training. He respects my judgment. He values my education, experience, and knowledge enough to trust I will deliver a quality product that both our training bureau and department can be proud of. By doing so, he helps discover my potential and helps fulfill my own leadership destiny. He is also the type of leader that consistently places me or the other training captain before himself; be it a meeting with upper management, community training event, or when dealing with the public directly. These behaviors displayed on a day-to-day basis are one of the biggest reasons we are successful in training. Our leader uses his own charisma and influence to inspire us to learn more, do more, and become more.

In Brunacini’s article “More Power Goofs” the author goes on to explain and list the various negative behaviors that various bosses have displayed over time so we can study them and improve upon them. It’s a rather long list of behaviors that workers on the receiving end have had to endure over the course of their careers. He calls these behaviors “Power Goofs.” Below is a short list of what I like to call my own “Power Triumphs.” This is a short list of some of the more influential and positive behaviors I have witnessed from my bosses (specifically in the fire service) in which others in a management or leadership role can learn from. Again, it starts with attitude.


  • ATTITUDE: You want to keep your team motivated towards the continued success of the company, and keep the energy levels up
  • LEADER: They lead from the front and lead by example. They know where they are going, know the mission, and how to lead others along the same path
  • HONEST: They are honest. The way you conduct business and its employees are a reflection of yourself, and if you make honest and ethical behavior a key value, your team will follow suit. Your workers want to feel good about their jobs−it’s important to establish core values for both the business and yourself as a leader, and to then live and lead by those values as an example to your employees.
  • INSPIRE: They inspire the uninspired and keep morale up. Recognize your employees and praise them often.
  • CARE: They think about others and their concerns before thinking about themselves. They care no just about the department, but the people in it ad the way people are impacted by it.
  • PASSION: They have passion for what they do. They engage everyone by offering them challenge, seeking their ideas and contributions and providing them with recognition for their contributions
  • RESPECT: They respect others, regardless of rank. They respect their employees’ experiences, knowledge, education, and decisions especially when contributing to a project or task.
  • COMMITTED: They are not afraid to “get their hands dirty” with the rest of the workers. Showing your commitment sets the example for others to follow, and leads to greater loyalty and respect for you as a leader. You are in the spotlight as a leader, and you will be judged harder for your actions than others will be. Set the tone of commitment, and others will follow suit.
  • HUMOR: Your unique personality and sense of humor shows your employees that you are more than a leader, and that you aren’t a machine, which encourages them to feel comfortable around you.
  • MOTIVATED: A good leader is committed to excellence. Second best does not lead to success. The good leader not only maintains high standards, but also is proactive in raising the bar in order to achieve excellence in all areas.

The power to empower others starts with the individual. We must believe in ourselves first and have the faith that others will have the same goals as we do in our organization if we give them the power and tools to succeed. This goes for the fire chief down through the ranks to the newest recruit. Most people thrive in environments where they consistently receive positive feedback. It helps them to know what they are doing is appreciated, and will encourage them to continue their good work and feel empowered. The fire service is about helping others, but along the way, sometimes we need to help ourselves, too.


Hawkins, David. “Power Verus Force.” N.p., 26 Oct. 2010. Web. 28 June 2015.

Brunacini, Alan. “More Power Goofs.” Fire Engineering June 2015: 48-51. Web. 28 June 2015.

Quest, Lisa. “6 Ways to Empower Others to Succeed.” ForbesWoman, 28 Feb. 2011. Web. 28 June 2015.

Mielach, David. “Defining Leadership” 8 Ways to Be a Great Leader.” N.p., 16 Mar. 2013. Web. 28 June 2015

Mark Rossi is currently a training officer for the Fort Lauderdale (FL) Fire Department. A 15-year fire service veteran, he is a fire instructor for Coral Springs Fire Academy, teaching driver-engineer and hydraulics, firefighter survival, minimum standards, and live fire training. He has a bachelor’s degree in finance and a master’s degree in business from the University of Florida, and is a hands-on training instructor for Coral Springs Regional Institute of Public Safety.

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