The fire service has been founded upon and operated as a paramilitary structure. This means that we follow a chain of command that leads up to one person, the fire chief.
This same chain of command also leads down to the bottom, the firefighter or task worker. This serves an important function as it allows for information, questions and assignments to flow smoothly up and down in each direction.
The most important position within the chain of command is the frontline or company officer. This person sets the cadence to which the company will march.
Without the company officer, the fire department would not be able to operate as efficiently and effectively. Freelancing would occur on a much higher scale than it does now and the effects would hamper successful operations.
There are three behaviors that have an impact on every fire department with respect to the company officer. These areas are small dominos that line up, just waiting for the right push to start falling — leading to handicap firefighting.
Being a leader means leading
The first behavior is not leading. It sounds obvious, but a company officer's job is to lead the crew. Much training is devoted to ensure that men and woman are a taught how to be good leaders within the fire department.
Leading a crew is not just being the first one in line — it is setting the cadence. Setting the example for others to follow is a huge step in being a leader. If others see that the officer is not doing what is expected and that there are separate rules for them and the officer, moral and control are quickly lost.
A good leader also needs to have a servant-like attitude. An officer who is willing to serve the crew will quickly find themselves leading that crew.
Close at hand
The second behavior is not going in with their crew. There are fire departments today that still have firefighters conducting interior operations without an officer accompanying them or being present inside the building.
The company officer needs to be present at all times with the crew. This serves two functions: provides proper supervision for health and safety, and provides the crew confidence that their leader is with them.
The company officer is supposed to be the most qualified person with respect to knowledge, experience, decision-making skills and adaptability. Without them there, the crew is operating blind — opening the door for mistakes to be made.
The third behavior is immaturity and wild antics. The company officer needs to be a mature individual who will not resort to wild antics.
There is one fire department that I train sometimes that has an officer who is wild on the fire ground. This individual becomes a bull running through the china shop.
These antics do nothing to progress the overall operation and just adds stress and heightened hysteria to the crew. The officer needs to be a calm individual who can deal with any type of situation and whose actions keep the crew calm as well.
Avoiding these three simple behaviors can be improved upon in the fire station at any time without much dedicated resources. Whenever mistakes are made, they can always be traced back to a point where things took a wrong turn or in this case, where the first domino started to fall. If you are a company officer — be a leader.