What is a Fire Officer?

Often times, we confuse someone in charge with someone who is a leader.  Now, I get it!  Shouldn’t the person in charge, lead us?  Sure they should.  They should inspire us to accomplish a task, work together, create, teach us to inspire others, look out for one another, etc.  But being in charge, does not make one a leader.

I have worked for several people who where in a position of authority but were not leaders.  In the fire service, to be “in-charge” you must be a fire officer.  Normally, it takes someone years to develop the skills, experience, and education to be a fire officer.  You go to work, try to learn from your boss, learn jobs skills, attend classes, go to seminars, etc.  Then one day, you take an exam and BOOM!  Guess who’s a fire officer.  YOU!

So the next day, you walk back in to work and you no longer are the follower. YOU  are the leader.  WOW!  What a big change.  Now it is your responsibility to teach, mentor, inspire, and lead your staff.  Do you know how?  Sure, you paid your dues and went through hell to get the position, but do you know what you are doing?  Are you prepared to lead.  I mean… REALLY LEAD!

Scary thought.  I know.  I was there.  But let’s examine what a leader is.  The Bing.com dictionary defines a leader as: somebody whom people follow: somebody who guides or directs others.

The key word is Guides.  It is difficult to be a leader for those who don’t follow.  I’ve seen it.  Ask any of your friends if they know someone who is in a leadership roll but has no followers.  Maybe it’s you.  Have no fear.  You can correct this and become a great leader.  –Side story.  I was a fire officer for a small fire department in the South East US.  I hadn’t been there long and didn’t know one of the officers that worked under me.  So one day I responded to a fire where the other fire officer was in charge.  I arrived, took stock of what was going on and couldn’t believe my eyes.  All of the firefighters were running around and doing their own thing.  In the fire service, we call this free lancing.  This is NO BUENO!  If you are on the roof of a burning building, and no one knows you are there, how will they find you if something goes wrong?  Free lancing kills firemen.  So after the fire, I asked a couple of the guys why there was so much free lancing.  The answer is a common one.  “No one respects the guy in charge.”- end of story.

So how do you gain respect?  It’s simple.  Here is a list:

Do what you say you are going to do.

If you promise to get something done, especially if it will benefit your staff, do it!

Mentor your staff.

Often times, you can connect on a personal level with your staff if you will simply take interest and mentor them.

Provide the tools your staff need, to be successful.

No one likes to be given a task and then not have the tools to complete it.  Remember that tools also means knowledge.  This will allow your staff to be successful and feel as if they are pleasing you.

Always tell the truth.  Even when it is difficult.

Your staff will respect you when you make the difficult decisions.  I know it difficult to do this when the news isn’t great.  But they want to be treated with respect, and this means telling them the hard stuff.

Be prepared.

I talked about this in a recent post.  Make sure that you are always prepared.  A simple plan will work.  Remember, your plan doesn’t have to be detailed.  It just has to have a method for dealing with the unknown (surprise.)  You are the person that everyone will turn to.  Make sure you aren’t standing there with no map to the finish line.


Overall, without respect, your staff will run all over you.  You need to have vision.  You can do this by following the steps outlined above.

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