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4 tips for surviving a bad company officer

From staying positive to engaging with the broader fire community, the key to survival lies within


From micromanagers to those only worried about their next promotion, a bad company officer is bound to impact you at some point during your career.

Photo/Ben Thompson

A bad company officer can make the greatest job in the world feel like the worst. From micromanagers to those only worried about their next promotion, a bad company officer is bound to impact you at some point during your career. But what can you do to ensure one bad company officer doesn’t ruin your experience? Here are four tips to surviving a bad company officer.

1. Look in the mirror

It is easy to blame our unhappiness on others, and your company officer is an easy target. Before you attempt to organize a mutiny, take a long look in the mirror. Ask yourself, am I being a good member of the crew? If you are not sure, this might be a sign that you need to ask your officer if you are meeting their expectations.

Don’t confuse a bad officer with someone just doing his or her job. The best way to do that is to have clear communication and a healthy dose of self-awareness.

2. Learn what they need to earn their trust

Every company officer has their quirks. Some demand that the apparatus be waxed using a counterclockwise motion. Others obsess over daily check-off sheets as if they were sacred documents.

Whichever it is, learn what they feel is important and see that it gets done. Even if the task seems frivolous to you, these simple acts can help instill needed trust. A lot of bad company officers are born out of their own anxiety. The less they have to get excited about, the better your life will be.

3. Stay engaged with the larger fire/EMS community

It is easy to feel like you are stuck while serving under a bad officer. Taking charge of your own professional development is the best way to fight off that feeling. Attending an inspiring training class or conference to learn something new can shake off the monotony of having focused on your shift-to-shift routine.

But more importantly, it allows you the chance to speak with other firefighters who may be dealing with similar issues at their own departments. Swapping ideas and sharing stories can make you fall in love with your job all over again. Plus, after hearing what is going on in other places, you may not feel you have it so bad after all.

4. Remain positive and professional

Do not allow your feelings about your officer influence your attitude toward your work or your fellow firefighters. Fire departments are small places, so it’s hard to shake a bad reputation no matter the reason. If you have a bad officer, most people outside your shift and station already know it. It is not necessary to complain or not take pride in your work to show your frustration.

On the contrary, if you remain positive in the face of it all, you might find yourself being heavily recruited by other company officers, thereby giving you a one-way ticket to greener pastures.

Survive and you will be better, too

Dealing with a bad company officer is hard, but look at it as practice for the day you are in charge of three hardheaded firefighters, because whether you are taking orders or giving them, you are still dealing with tough personalities.

Just remember what not to do when it’s your turn.

Editor’s Note: What tips do you have for surviving a bad company or chief officer? Share them in the comments.

Ben Thompson is a battalion chief in Birmingham, Alabama. In 2016, Thompson developed his department’s first mobile integrated health (MIH) program and shared his experiences from building the program at TEDxBirmingham. Thompson was the recipient of the 2016 Emergency Medical Service Provider of the Year Award and the 2018 Joe E. Acker Award for Innovation in Emergency Medical Services, both in Jefferson County, Alabama. He has a bachelor’s degree from Athens State University in Alabama and is a licensed paramedic. Connect with Thompson through his website