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Moving from firefighter to company officer

Your attitude and abilities will impact your crew’s safety, attitude and performance on the emergency scene

Western Wildfires

Firefighters have high expectations for their company officer to be technically proficient, to look out for their welfare, to keep them informed, and to provide them with just the right amount of supervision.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP

So you’ve successfully completed the promotional process for company officer. Yesterday you were one of the crew, and now today you are their leader as the company officer. Everyone is watching everything that you do and listening to everything that you say.

When you’ve reached this stage, it’s time to stop and take a good look at yourself because now that you are the company leader, your crew will take their cue from you. Your personal attitude and abilities will have the most significant impact on their safety, attitudes, and performance on the emergency scene.

The transition to company officer

You must immediately set your personal standards and then consistently follow them. Let your crew know what they can expect of you, and what you expect of them. It’s a fact that people tend to behave as you expect they will. Limited expectations will bring limited results, and high expectations will lead to exceptional results.

Your crew will expect you to be technically proficient in almost everything, to look out for their welfare, to keep them informed, and to provide them with just the right amount of supervision that they need, and no more. They will not want to be micro-managed.

Chief Alan Brunacini said it best, “Tell them what you want, give them the training and the tools to do the job, get out of their way and let them do their job, tell them how they did, and then help them get better.”

As the company leader, you should expect your crew to operate safely by knowing and following operating procedures, maintaining equipment and using it properly, and practicing accountability while on the fire scene. They should be proficient in their positions and be professional in their service delivery. Lastly, they should be nice to everyone, especially their co-workers. After all, we are in the “people business.” Quickly counsel those who are not meeting your expectations and recognize them when credit is due.

Focus on the important things that enhance safety and increase job performance. Yes, the fire station should not have cobwebs and the apparatus should get waxed, but it’s more important that your firefighters are familiar with the operations of their personal protective equipment and can perform a self-rescue. It’s more important that they practice basic firefighting and EMS skills to be better prepared for those “high-risk, low-frequency” events. It is your responsibility to ensure that they are ready to do their job safely and effectively. That’s what the community expects.

Do what you can to make your company better. Recognize and support each individual’s contribution to the team and help them get better. Know the capabilities of your team and operate within their levels of competency.

Keep learning, never forget

Be a student of the fire service. Continue to study and learn more about your position and all of the other positions in your company. Pick good mentors and seek their advice on important decisions. Constantly critique yourself after every decision, whether on the fireground or in the firehouse.

Also, remember it’s not about you, it’s about the company. Your most important asset is your firefighters, working together as a team. They are the hands-on task-doers who are responsible for determining the outcome of most emergency incidents. If taken care of, kept informed, and given the right amount of supervision, they will make your job much easier.

As you move from firefighter to company officer, your leadership, both in the firehouse and on the emergency scene, will determine how things happen. You will set the tempo and the attitude for every firefighter in your crew, and will probably influence the entire shift. The choice is yours.

Look for these nine traits when evaluating which firefighters have the potential to move up in the ranks

This article, originally published on March 13, 2007, has been updated.

Fire department company officers can influence every part of fire station life, from culture and motivation to LODD reduction. Learn to lead effectively with Billy Schmidt’s FireRescue1 exclusive column, ‘The Company Officer.’