As a firefighter, are you focused on your own self promotion, or promotion of the company?
That simple question opens the door for many roads to travel down. But as a fire service leader or up and coming leader, have you asked this question to yourself?
What is a fire service leader? The first answer usually out of everyone’s mouth is “officer”. While the answer “officer” is an accepted answer, this is not the only answer or possibly even the best answer. A fire service leader can be any firefighter. Notice that I refrained from using the terms “manager” or “officer”, but chose to use “leader”. The missing link in your company could be you. If you take an "informal leadership" role, your company's potential may sky rocket.
Lets take it back a step. What is leadership in the fire service? Think about it.
-The ability to positively influence the company both in the house and on the street?
-The ability to create a positive atmosphere in which company strength can be developed through training?
-The ability to have an influence on others in the company by a show of example? Doing the right thing always, knowing your job, and knowing your tools.
-The ability to have a personal mindset that places the company success before your own success?
Personal development is very important in this business as is education. The new fire service is quickly moving forward. Continuing education and developing yourself and your mind is critical. Don’t be left behind. However, while engaging in your personal development, share it with others. Encourage your brother/sisters to join you in your personal development. Every firefighter that takes their career, education, fitness, and skills to the next level assists in bringing the company to the next level.
What kinds of behaviors constitute “leadership”?
- Encouraging others to train with you on a topic instead of taking an “easy day”.
- Leading by example: Checking off the truck, checking your airpack, organizing your gear, practicing your skills, maintaining a clean firehouse and truck, and treating each day on the job as the day “the big one” is going to occur.
-Take company pride everyday, no matter how bad of a day it is.
Perseverance is a character trait to be proud of.
-Take an interest in your physical fitness and the company’s physical fitness. Remember, in this job, you rely on the members of your company to help you out in a bad situation. Everyone in the company should be focused on physical fitness for not only their own health, but the safety of your brothers/sisters.
-Go out and get an education. Go back to school for your degree, take an NFA course, work on your certifications, study the territory, read a book on the fire service, or refresh yourself on skills already studied.
-Encourage other members of the company with more experience to share that experience and real world skill craft with others. It doesn’t help the company if only one guy knows how to do that.
“ You don’t work for me. You work with me.”
- Captain Brian Goodwin
The above quote is one that my Captain said to me one night while helping me clean the bathrooms during house work in 2012. I liked the quote because I feel like many fire service officers do not have that style or view on their company. I wrote an article for Tailboard Firefighting of North Carolina in April of 2012 on the topic of management versus leadership. Again touching briefly on that topic, if you an officer are you a manager or a leader? Remember, a manager ensures that his subordinates complete assigned tasks. A leader creates an example, a focus, a team, and mentors others on the team to build the group’s abilities and success level. Are you the fire officer that you imagined yourself being when you rode the back step? Are you a fire officer that firefighters will shape themselves after when they reach promotion? Be honest with yourself. As the officer, developing your men/women for the future and allowing them to think on their own, giving them the tools for success, and letting them excel in their career is your job.
“A football team votes on its Captains to represent them: if your company or department were to vote, would you still be Captain?”
- Firefighter Jeff Hannum
In a society that focuses on “how can I get ahead and look good”, the members of the fire service cannot let that become our focus. Take a look at yourself and make a change if needed. Finally, no one person makes the company or fire service. We don’t have superstars. Share knowledge and ideas. We need to build the company up. If every company builds themselves up, the fire service is taken to the next level. Be open to changing and love your job everyday. When you think the grass is greener doing something else, picture yourself doing anything else. It might put things back in perspective.
Be safe out there, step up and lead, even if you are not the officer.