What Firefighters Should Expect From Their Leadership

Much has been written about what leadership is, how management is different than leadership, and what you can do as a leader to improve your department. Do we remember what it was like to be a firefighter and how we reacted to the many different leadership styles we were exposed to? I remember thinking, in some cases, that the behavior my superior was exhibiting is a good behavior to forget. In other cases I saw the benefits of different styles and felt I would easily remember them. Basically we all learned good things and bad things from the many leadership or management styles we were exposed to. With that in mind, here are some and certainly not all behaviors that the personnel who work for us should expect from us.

Practice honesty, be fair, and treat personnel in a consistent manner. At the very least, personnel management is a difficult job. However, by consistently enforcing clear and concise guidelines and defining a course of action for personnel in various circumstances, it will eliminate unfair treatment and strict enforcement of department policies as personnel know exactly what is expected of them. Nobody likes surprises; whether you are the Chief or a firefighter recruit.

As a rule, and with very few exceptions, Firefighters are mature and professional. These are the same men and women who are buying a house, paying monthly bills, getting their kids to school, and planning for the future. Why then, in so many cases, does it seem like the administration staff makes decisions that are based on the assumption that these same men and women are uninformed or just not sharp enough to understand. Firefighters are on the job because they want to be, paid or not, and as leaders we should remember they are our number one resource. Remember how we felt when we were there? Did you ever think no one was listening? They probably weren’t. We need to listen and understand what our personnel are saying. They have a lot of very good ideas. We need to lead by example and set the standard. I believe they expect that.

Whenever possible, we should take a personal interest in our people as individuals. A simple question about their significant other makes a difference in how they perceive you. And how our personnel see us as leaders is more important than how we see ourselves. Identify signs of stress, talk about their worries at home if they have any, and let them know you care. Theodore Roosevelt put it best when he said, “Most people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.”

Firefighters can be fiercely loyal, but only if they have a trust in you as a leader. As a group, we have been called a fraternity, a close knit group, and an extension of one’s family. Firefighters look to their leaders for dependability, confidentiality, allegiance and reliability. These attributes combined are the mortar that holds your team together

Firefighters expect that their needs are anticipated and provided for. We need to provide adequate resources to accomplish tasks such as training. Many of these needs are met through the budget process, but we can still be pro-active in providing for the never ending and forever changing needs of our personnel.

As the leader of our organization, or even as a company officer, we need to make and convey clear-cut, positive decisions and orders which are not constantly changing. This is part of our responsibility. We should only ask our personnel to accomplish those things which are commensurate with their capabilities. It is important to know the talents individuals possess and challenge them in their thinking and in their tasks.

Finally, firefighters want their good work to be recognized and publicized where appropriate. A simple, sincere thank you or a pat on the back for a job well done goes a long way. In today’s social media world, it is a good idea to research these outlets for information sharing. If we don’t, somebody else will and has. Whenever possible, get photographs and send them in with a story to local news outlets. These will be published in many instances.

Our number one resource looks to us as their leaders to provide and promote their interests. It’s part of our job.

Stay Safe – Everyone goes home.

Idea from an article in Responder magazine, 1998, written by Assistant Chief David Fulmer.