Driving around on any given day you will see buildings lining the streets of your run districts. Some of these buildings are made of brick or at least have a brick veneer. If we break down the parts of this wall, we can identify one critical component—the mortar. Look at the entire wall as your organization and the bricks as individual firefighters. That leaves the mortar holding it all together. If we look at the definition of mortar in a fire service textbook, it is defined as “an inherent part of most masonry construction. The primary function of mortar is to bond individual masonry units into a solid mass.”
Just as brick mortar holds a wall together, the company officer plays a critical role in holding together their organization by serving as fire service mortar. We all want to have great leadership at all levels, but if an organization has great leadership at the top and brittle leadership at the company level, there is a greater chance for collapse. Company officers need to realize how important their role is to the survival and long-term effectiveness of their fire department. Just because everyone comes to work in the same uniform doesn’t make them a team; they are simply co-workers. It takes time, energy, frustration and passion to build a prideful team. My goal with this article is to share just a few ideas/concepts that will help you as the company officer build a team of performers.
One of the first things an officer needs to have is credibility. It should not take anyone long to learn that people in the fire service have long memories. I have known firefighters who can’t crawl out from underneath a rough probationary year. What you do to prepare for your role will build your credibility when you step into it.
As a firefighter, are you a student of the fire service? Do you have the TV remote memorized, but not the rig? When you place those trumpets on your collar, can you practice what you preach without hesitation? Realize the importance of preparation. Realize that it is no longer about you, it is about your crew. Attend classes, seminars and other hands-on training. Take leadership courses, but keep your hands on some hoselines, ground ladders and saws; after all, you will be the one responsible for passing it on and being an instructor in your station. The last thing anyone wants to see is an overnight sensation. You know the kind, they get the trumpets on their collar and immediately try to preach about fitness, training, education, etc. All the while, before they were promoted, they didn’t make any of this a priority. Firefighters want to work for officers who set the example. This is at the absolute core of everything you do. Proper preparation for the role will make you that much more prepared when you step up to sit in the right front seat.
In closing, let me remind you that you are a walking, talking officer development program. People are watching everything you do and say. You have an opportunity as a company officer to turn the tide in your organization. Be true to the oath you swore and remember to keep your priorities straight when you are at the firehouse. Every one of us wants to leave a legacy when we walk away from the fire service. Years from now, when you are gone and the people you were privileged to lead are still here, what will they say about you as a company officer? What will they say about how you were as a leader? They may not remember the certifications you had, degrees you held or the rank from which you retired. While all those things are still important, they are not as important as what you taught them and how you made them feel. This is what they will remember. Your example is what they will use to mentor those in their charge when the time comes, and this is why the role of the company officer is so critically important to a long-term healthy-running organization. Look out for your people. Remember where you came from. Take your job as a company officer very seriously. People are counting on you.