Making the Emergency Scene Work part 2 of 2

What Company Officers Should Expect From Their Chiefs

Firetown Training Specialist: Leader in Mission Focused Fire Service Training

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Article by our guest author: Dennis P. Reilly, MPA, CFO, Fire Chief

Making the Emergency Scene Work

What Company Officers Should Expect From Their Chiefs

Part 2 of 2

In the first part of this series we looked at what company officers need from their incident commanders to support them during tactical operations. This article will address the characteristics and capabilities that company officers should bring to an emergency event.

I would venture to say that we all agree that commanding any type of emergency is a daunting task. As was discussed in the last article the need for personnel operating at all levels to mesh seamlessly into a cohesive tram is absolutely critical for both our safety and operational effectiveness. There can be no exceptions or excuses for this. We have looked at what officers need to expect from their chief, now it is time to look at what chiefs should expect from their company officers. My experience tells me that the company officer is absolutely the critical link in making the emergency scene work.

First and foremost company officers must bring skilled competent companies to the emergency scene. Engine companies must be able to generate and deliver effective fire streams. Ladder companies must be able to vent any and all types of buildings. Specialty companies such as recues and squads need to be masters of multiple skills. Everyone needs to be able to function in the R.I.T. capacity. The officer’s job is to make sure their company is trained and capable. As a Chief I don’t want to hear “well chief we just don’t pull that skid load all that often and that is why we had trouble at that apartment” or “wow we never reverses out and my driver wasn’t sure about what to do”. The strength of your company is absolutely your responsibility. If there is a skill you question your ability to perform, turn off the TV and go out and drill.

Say what you want about procedures and guidelines, they are there for a reason. Successful emergency operations have some elements in common and one of them is that they are to an extent policy driven. I do not believe that a written document can answer all the questions and solve all the problems that the first arriving company will have to answer at 03:00 hours. I have been around long enough to know that good officers and good firefighters can take the initiative and make good things happen. I also know that every winning team works off of some type of play book. I put guidelines in place to help our officers, to give us some type of pre – determined battle rhythm, and to ensure consistency of operations no matter what day or time the emergency occurs. Learn your play book, and execute like you are expected. If there are problems with your guidelines craft a well written explanation of the problem, and suggest modifications that will fix the problems. I can tell you when you do this most professional chief officers will say thank you for making their lives better.

A disciplined company is an asset and an undisciplined company is a liability. Which one of these types of companies you will be, is what the officer allows. I do not need to be walking around the fire ground telling firefighters to put their gloves on. I don’t need to spend my time fixing mistakes because some officer did not follow the arrival sequence guidelines. Disciplined companies are the ones who make all the difference in the world. As an officer you really need to look at things not just your perspective, but from that of your chief as well. Go ahead and ask your chief the simple question “How important is for you to have disciplined companies on the emergency?”. We all know what the Chief is going to say so why not start to build that quality within your company?

I saw a great example of discipline in a video from the Oxnard Fire Department last year. Companies were engaged in a very aggressive, offensive attack at a commercial building. It appears from the video that the companies had been engaged for a bit and I am assuming the primary search had been completed. It becomes obvious that conditions are deteriorating and the incident commander orders everyone out and a transition to a defensive attack. The interior operations stop immediately, let me repeat that immediately, and all members exit the building and preform the P.A.R.. There is no “hey chief just give me 5 more minutes” on the radio. Companies follow orders when they are given. This is a great example of disciplined companies. When I give an order I need compliance not a debate. There is a real good chance I see things going in a direction that can endanger the members. If we need to hash out what happened later, so be it. If there are questions about a decision ask them during the Post Incident Analysis or the “tail board” talk. The fire ground is not a democracy and for me to be able to do my job I need to have faith in my officers that they will execute as instructed.

Another important element that you must think about as the officer is the consistency of operations. Is your company the same company when you are off? If you organization uses float or relief officers you may not have a lot of control over who fills the officer position when you are off. No matter, your people should be operating the same regardless of who is in charge. Chiefs want consistency among their forces. If your relief is an acting officer from your company then you do have the control. Train your replacement. Make sure your actor understands what good behaviors look like, and that they are capable of making this happen. We cannot schedule emergency events. The well-run company will work just as well with an acting officer as they do with their regular officer.

I am always looking for my officers to be an extra set of eyes and ears for me. The company officer is often in the position to see what direction an operation is headed. You will know from your vantage point if my plan is working or not. Officers need to be able to communicate in clear and concise terms regarding the effectiveness of the strategic plan. If my plan is flawed tell me. I don’t know many chiefs who look forward to failing. I don’t know many chiefs who like to burn down buildings. We are operating as a team so if things are not working then communicate that out ASAP. The sooner we can correct things the sooner we can get back on the winning track.

All these things are pieces of the puzzle. It is very important to understand that this is not the buffet line. You cannot look over the above list and just pick what you like and ignore what you don’t. The ability to do all these things is what will give you credibility with your chief. The good officers, who in turn have good companies, understand that credibility is the building block of trust and trust is what carries the day.

My final word is a challenge to those who say, “Don’t worry chief we are all in when the bells hit”. If you are not living a disciplined life, doing all the things I talked about before the bells hit, you are not going to be the superstar on the emergency scene. Being a good officer and having a good company is a full time job. You will be on the emergency scene exactly what you are in the fire house. As a chief I expect you to understand that and to make the most of your time back in the house. Train your folks and instill in them a passion for training. You can really leave an impression with your folks. Review your guidelines on a regular basis, which is the only way you are going to know what they say. Make all the other things I have talked about part of the way you operate, and your company will be that one the Chief prays to show up at the nasty jobs.

I hope you have enjoyed this series and more importantly I hope these articles have been helpful. I always enjoy getting feedback so if something has struck you, either good or bad, please feel free to reach out.

Stay safe, do work, and remember the fallen,

DPR