What? How? Why? Take the next step in your firefighter career
Encourage progress and change in your fire department and your personnel with clear expectations and mentoring
By Chief Marc Bashoor
What’s your next step in the fire service? Maybe the test is coming up. Maybe you’re a volunteer and it’s election time, time for a change of fire officers.
We all came in as rookies – like elementary students, we didn’t know what to do. As we progressed through elementary school to middle-school (firefighter-1), we knew what to do, we just needed to figure out how to do it.
Then we progress further (well at least most of us), and like high schoolers (firefighter-2), we knew what and how to do what needed to be done – our challenge at that point was getting the what and how in sync more often than not.
While college isn’t for everyone, those that excel at getting the what and how in sync are usually the ones that move on (fire officer, chief fire officer, executive fire officer) to at least some college and really learn the why.
Back to the firehouse, I know you’ve seen those resistant to the next step. They spend a lot of time complaining and worrying about what other people are doing, instead of focusing more on themselves and making forward progress. They’re the high schooler who hasn’t made the decision to graduate and move on – they’re stuck.
Lay out clear expectations for promotion
We need to set a rhythm in our organizations that encourages progress and change – not change for change’s sake – but change for progress in the fire service. It’s no different from tin helmets, 3/4 boots (ask an older firefighter) and back steps, all industry changes that we have adapted to.
That steady rhythm will set the stage for progressive advancement opportunities and pathways. Chiefs need to set the development example, ensuring there are clear training, education and development expectations within the organization. Clear and transparent expectations will help our people get to why, which will help build a healthy progressive-change environment.
Lay out the following expectations for the next step:
- What are the minimum requirements?
- What books need to be read?
- What classes need to be taken?
- What drills, exercises and conferences need to be attended?
- What certifications are required?
- How will applicants be evaluated?
- Are there specific due-dates?
- What counts against them?
- What will the selection process be?
- When will they know something from the chief?
An organization that has a good plan and maintains a rhythm that encourages development will see dividends in its own people over time. Are there mentors available to help anyone who asks – in fact, do the mentors seek people out?
Have you ever noticed certain organizations tend to breed more system fire chiefs and industry experts than other departments? Those are usually the departments you’ll find with a progressive development plan and a healthy rhythm.
Sync firehouse vision, mission and personnel
Process and expectations have been set – now it’s on you. Ben Franklin said, “to succeed, jump as quickly at opportunities as you do at conclusions.” Human nature’s problem is that we tend to spend more time jumping to conclusions, than we do jumping to succeed.
Chiefs – I ask you to be a leader who respects the past and present, while building organizations for the future. Make sure you have communicated a vision that is in sync with your mission and that your personnel are in sync. Provide the tools and guidance necessary to put your folks on the right path.
Firefighters and other officers – it’s your time. You know which paths lie in front of you. You know what to do and how to do it – make sure you understand why it needs to be done.
Be a force in the field, not just a face in the crowd.