Recently, I had a conversation with a group of Fire Officers about the state of Leadership and Character, in the ranks of the modern day fire service. I stated, without fear of contradiction that the “First-line Supervisor” Rank was the most critical position on the job. We all agreed. We went through all of the ranks and discussed them, 1 by 1; their impact on our profession, in all of its aspects. We then began to discuss the effectiveness and/or the lack thereof. We are willing to stipulate that there are so many areas to cover, that we ran out of time. There were so many items that we had to start narrowing the focus. We got down to 5.
1) Poor Communications
2) Lack of Accountability
3) Lack of Discipline
4) Lack of Commitment
5) Lack of Training
- Poor Communications – As is stated, so many times, communication is the principle method by which we get things done. At every level in the fire service, when there is a gap in service (both for our External and Internal Customers), the lack of communications or poor communication rises to the top of the list. Whether in the Fire Station, Headquarters or in the street, poor communications are at the root of calamities, disasters and miscues. Written orders, guidelines and rules must be clearly formulated and clearly communicated. Public Fire Education and Fire Prevention efforts must take the “end-user” into consideration. Complete and succinct information can make working with the public, on important issues, so much more easier. Yet, many Officers are not trained in effective communications and many don’t know when communications have gone awry.
- Lack of Accountability – ACCOUNTABILITY: for actions and responsibilities; for crew members, equipment and tasks, particularly at the scene of emergencies. Lack of Accountability could also be classified as a Lack of Responsibility; members being responsible for their own actions. A few years back, I saw so many classes being offered on Accountability Systems, Rapid Intervention Crews, May-Day’s and Self-Rescue techniques. I taught many of them. The prevailing issue that came up was working to keep our people from getting into those situations in the first place. Purposeful and proactive accountability can aid to that end. When we impress upon our people that situational awareness is paramount, we are telling them to be accountable.
- Lack of Discipline – Our service is effected, negatively, not by the exercise and issuance of discipline, but by the lack of the same. Many members talk about the lack of morale from time to time. Some attribute it to contracts, equipment, schedules, the person at the top, Officers, etc. However, I can say that the lack of discipline is a more pernicious element to low morale than any other. It’s easy to blame the Chief, Commissioner or Fire Director for your woes, however, what is going on in your neck of the woods. What about the things you have direct control over. I have found that when discipline is effectively applied and evenly enforced; when members know what your expectations are and you are willing to hold them to the standards, morale and productivity improve. It starts and ends with you! Yes, YOU! Lack of discipline, in your own personal and professional demeanor/deportment, can be contagious. You wear your uniform improperly, so will your subordinates; come to work late and stay unshaven/disheveled, so will your subordinates; cut corners, they will; break rules, they will.
- Lack of Commitment – I am a big proponent of commitments and being sure that you are clear on them. It is a significant character trait for firefighters and fire officers that is severely lacking these days. I have seen a great shift from a true commitment to the job, your crew, your officer and yourself to a true commitment to “yourself”. The number of self-centered, self-absorbed, conceited and narcissistic firefighters is at an all time high. It permeates every aspect of our service and I don’t see the trend slowing. There are several reasons why, but commitment stands out. Look up from the phone, laptop and/or iPAD and see what has happened to our beloved profession. It’s not pretty.
- Lack of Training – How does one get to Carnegie Hall?; Practice, Practice, Practice. How does one become an Effective Commander in the Fire Service (one that members will Trust)? TRAIN, TRAIN, TRAIN! You have to train, to acquire the confidence, skill sets and competence to operate in your position. You must read, take courses and network with other more experienced fire officers to stay abreast of emerging technologies. You must seek a mentor and then be a mentor to someone else. Your training must be multi-disciplined. There are some great corporate management books out there. There is required reading for our profession and acquired reading. Be a sponge. Continue on a course of achievement and education. It works!
expanded podcast online…
Copyright 2012 John Alston. All rights reserved.