Authority vs. Respect
By Billy Jack Wenzel
So you have been promoted and the bugles look good on the light blue shirt. Now what? As a company officer, you must make it your personal goal to be the leader of that company under your command. Leadership, mentoring, and training cannot be accomplished from the sidelines. You must get into the game!
Firefighters have little or no respect for an ineffective officer who is afraid to enforce rules and orders of their superior officer for fear of not being liked or accepted. Firefighters will feel that an officer who is shirking his or her leadership or teaching duties will not have the commitment to be their supervisor on the emergency scene when their lives are at risk.
Every firefighter watches his or her lieutenant, captain, or battalion chief, for traits that can be copied and stored away until needed. Whether you have had officers you admired and wanted to emulate, or officers you despised and wanted to forget, you have learned important traits. It is easy to remember the good officers with whom you gladly faced dangerous situations, but it is even more important to remember the ineffective officers you have encountered. You have learned traits to avoid from them. You should always remember how that ineffective officer made you feel as a firefighter.
No firefighter who becomes a good officer can take all of the credit. Most of the credit goes to the former officers who strove to give good examples to the men and women under them. It is the duty of today’s officers to continue to become more professional, to learn, to train, and keep your people safe. Remember, if you are not dedicated to the true meaning of our existence, the “troops” will know. It is never to late to change for the better.
Respect is earned. It does not come with the promotion. Make yourself better every day. Never coast along, because it only hurts those who want to do a good job.
As company officers, remember your priorities: (here are mine):
- Concern and care for my family and self.
- Concern and care for the community.
- Concern and care for my firefighters.
- Concern and care for the department.
- Concern and care for the fire station, apparatus, and equipment.
When those priorities are in order, your responsibilities and role as an officer will run smoother.
You owe those firefighters that have gone before you. Some of them gave their life in the performance of their duty. Make a commitment to contribute to the betterment of the fire service. Your contribution to education, training, and safety will improve our profession greatly. This improved professionalism will ultimately save lives and property while reducing our risks for years to come.
You get authority from rank; you get respect from your actions.
Billy Jack Wenzel is a 24-year veteran of the Wichita Fire Department. He is a past member of the department’s hazardous-materials team and has a hazardous materials technician level certification. He has been a member of the departments technical rescue team for 15 years and is certified in many areas including: high angle, trench, SCUBA, and confined space. Wenzel is an NFA adjunct instructor, an EMI adjunct instructor, a past instructor at FDIC, and an instructor for KUFRTI. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration. He is also a published author of several fire-related articles including, “Kansas Grain Dust Explosion” in Fire Engineering.