Line Boss Leadership

Ray McCormack

Being an Engine Officer is privilege, and as such, comes with tremendous responsibility. Taking on that role requires many skills and a strong will. The fireground is the real test of your skill sets and it doesn’t grade on a curve. You must be able to perform at a high level no matter what is thrown your way. To become proficient in the necessary skill sets requires study, practice and determination. The community’s fire protection relies on you.

Leadership must also take place in less hostile environments such as the fire station. New officers or senior officers can be terrible at leadership, but for different reasons. The seasoned officer, because they never cared enough to formulate the traits required, and the new officer hasn’t had the time to be seasoned.The other reality is that some people are just naturals for leadership while others struggle. 

One pivotal trait of leadership is being consistent:a If you are hot one day and cold the next, people will be confused and stay away. When your people don’t know what they’re getting from day to day, that is a problem for the leader and those they lead. In fact, more than half of your ideas will most likely suffer from being simply ignored. The reason for being ignored? Who wants to risk approaching you to discuss things if you’re always in a different mood. Implementing ideas will be an uphill battle with few supporters.

So, trust is vital for quality leadership in the fire station of the fireground; You build that by being a good listener. Digest others’ concerns and try and see their pitch. If your answer is typically rapid and in opposition, did you really think their proposal through? Don’t be quick to reject an idea, instead look for some merit. You must thoughtfully ponder what is presented to you – Meet again and hash it out. This should be something that you enjoy doing. If it isn’t, then the trust isn’t robust enough on your part. Early dismissal of ideas is often practiced by those who feel personally challenged. Remember it’s business not personal.

Fireground trust is built upon decision making. Your decisions must follow the pattern of common sense and risk vs reward. You must know what’s manageable and set your crew up for success. If either one of those is out of balance, good results can suffer, and safety can tip towards being compromised. Know what an outside operation looks like from the start and stick to it. Mixing exterior with interior on such calls can put firefighters at great risk. Know what you want to do and move others to support the plan. Always stretch another line for those just in case moments.

The fire service practices top down leadership. Communication also follows that route sometimes to our detriment. While leadership can be found at all ranks, leading above your rank is rare. I don’t think that’s a bad thing it’s how the structure functions. There are, however, opportunities to influence and collaborate with others of higher rank towards common goals. Remember leadership is about sharing.

Fireground leadership is controlled by the IC and filled in at the task level by company officers. Small unit operations is how we function on the fireground. The goal is saving lives and property. Stretching lines for extinguishment, performing smoke removal ventilation, conducting targeted searches are categories that we use to accomplish our main goals. Direction and focus are two traits of the company officer. Lead your people with insight and encouragement because you understand what is occurring. You must be a student of the fireground anything less and your leadership suffers because it’s blind. When leadership suffers so does followership.

Keep Fire in Your Life

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