We have some of the very best of their generation filling key fire-service leadership roles. But how do we help them prepare for these roles and provide them with
I frequently visit with young leaders from the fire service and the military. Taking the first step into formal leadership can be daunting. When we begin our journey as fire-service leaders, we usually start as a company officer; in the military, it is as a non-commissioned officer, lieutenant or ensign. In either case, the new leader is the organization’s representative when no other representative is around.
In non-emergency situations, the young leader may be in a firehouse or barracks with people who were their peers the day before their promotion. With no one physically there to support them, the organization relies on them to carry out its direction, policies and procedures, and to hold their people accountable to the same. It can be very lonely at the top when it’s just you and your crew and you are the enforcer of the rules.
Even more challenging is when you are the leader of these small groups and you’re out in the streets. Young military leaders may lead their troops into harm’s way — during the last decade this has been extremely likely — and young fire officers can face that situation at any time. Your people count on you to make decisions that will keep them as safe as possible while protecting those we’re sworn to protect. On top of the life-and-death decisions that officers often have to make, they are the face of the fire department or military branch they serve. The choices they make reflect on those organizations, for better or worse. Nearly every day we can see news and YouTube videos that recorded the actions of a fire crew — today, such scrutiny comes with the job, and officers need to act accordingly.
Fortunately we have some of the very best of their generation filling these key leadership roles. But how do we help them prepare for these roles and provide them with the best information and tools to do their jobs? The military has its respective academies and ongoing training. Similarly, the fire service has the National Fire Academy, but the budget for this extremely important resource for leadership training and skills development is very small and always under threat of being cut or eliminated.
Fortunately, there are other opportunities for ongoing training in the fire service, such as the Center for Public Safety Excellence accreditation program for officers of all ranks. One of the newer tools is the IAFC’s company officer membership. The Company Officer Committee, which consists of current company officer members, made a presentation to the board of directors at FRI in Atlanta this summer. They suggested several important and innovative ways that company officers can help our organization, and provided insight as to how the IAFC can help them become better at their jobs and prepare them for moving into chief officer roles in the future. For a look at this presentation, or to become a member of this group, go to www.iafc.org. The future of the fire service, and its leadership, will be better for your contribution.