After lecturing on leadership (as a truck company officer), I received an e-mail from one of my students who liked one slide best in my presentation. He said it gave new bosses like him something to strive for while reminding senior bosses of their responsibilities and duties. He was going to use it in his presentations as his wrap-up to drive home the importance of being a good leader. While developing my program, the last thing I wanted to do was create another acronym for the fire service to learn, but I felt it summed up the lecture. The slide was simple, but maybe the message of “TRUST” is something an officer should look at.
Training is now your responsibility, and how you’re going to go about it is your decision. You’re going to have to adjust the amount between hands on vs. table talk or critiquing something that the other shift or another company ran into. If you’re lucky enough, you can jump on the apparatus and go for a “field trip” and get into the building and see where the fire was, where it traveled, the building’s construction features, how the hoseline was stretched and the obstacles it encountered, and where the best place was for apparatus positioning. Don’t just talk about it; set up the truck! Doing is learning and counts as experience, which is better than just talking.
Make training fun and realistic. Use rebar to simulate cutting window bars, and use pallets to cut scraps of wood. Tie a traffic cone on the tip of the aerial and have the chauffeur place it to each of four cones you put in different locations. Sure, members might be beat up from a busy tour, but if you stop on a floor while exiting a building and see a peculiar locking pattern or device on the door and talk about it, you still drilled.
Another important item is the company after-action critique; it’s done to make us look at other options or tactics or to see where we could have performed better. Remember, it’s your team, and their performance is a reflection on you and their reputation; mentor and train them into a quality unit.
Responsibilities have now changed for you; you’re now the leader and the decision maker at many fires and emergencies. You’re responsible for the units’ operations and their safety at all incidents; you had better have a damn good grasp of department tactical guidelines so you can lead with confidence and keep them safe. Not having a handle on procedures, not knowing what to do, or lacking in experience will be picked up by the crew, and it might take a while until you gain the other “R”—the crew’s respect.
Also remember, when you get back to quarters and the tour is ending, you still must do the proper injury and overtime reports. You’re often going to be the last one to leave the firehouse because it’s your responsibility to take care of the members and their needs. Show some “pride in paper”: Complete properly reports that deal with injuries or exposures, fire prevention matters, department requests, and documentation of important information that will help responding companies long after you’re gone. It’s also your responsibility to do this paperwork in a timely fashion and stay abreast of new or updated department tactical procedures.
Understand that you’re not going to be a regular boss, and this isn’t some 9-5 job. There are going to be times when you’re going to have to make decisions on the fly based on gut instinct, knowledge, and experience. You might have to make decisions that are not popular but right. Understand that all your days and all your employees aren’t going to be perfect. You’re going to have to discipline and point out errors; try not to broadcast your disgust in front of the troops or scream at individuals. A mentor of mine set the example by telling a firefighter that the firefighter’s way of doing the task wasn’t the most efficient way to perform it; he then had the company talk about the other options. Don’t yell over the intercom for a firefighter to come up to the office; if you have a delicate matter to discuss, tell the member to stop by the office to talk.
S—Supervise, Safety, Support
Supervise, safety, and support are three important tasks you will have to perform as a boss. Supervise the unit’s actions at all times; that’s why you got promoted. Make sure they perform safely whether during drills or incidents. Support the organization, the public, and the members with their needs.
Traditions are a part of a fire department, a battalion, and even individual companies. Some might seem a little outdated and need updating, but be careful of doing away with all of them. Unit pride and traditions may be different from company to company; learning your unit’s traditions may take a while, but supporting the members will make your transition to company officer easier.
Many say you can’t be your members’ buddy and boss. Trust me, if you follow some of the tips above and watch over the members, support them, train them, and stand up for them, you will have the ability to be more than just an officer.
MICHAEL N. CIAMPO is a 32-year veteran of the fire service and a lieutenant in the Fire Department of New York. Previously, he served with the District of Columbia Fire Department. He has a bachelor’s degree in fire science from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. He is the lead instructor for the FDIC Truck Essentials H.O.T. program. He wrote the Ladders and Ventilation chapters for Fire Engineering’s Handbook for Firefighter I and II (Fire Engineering, 2009) and the Bread and Butter Portable Ladders DVD and is featured in “Training Minutes” truck company videos on www.FireEngineering.com.