By Linda WillingBecoming a company officer can be an overwhelming prospect. There is so much to know, so many new responsibilities, both anticipated and unforeseen. When planning to become a company officer, what do you really need to know? Consider the following:
1. Technical Skills
This is the area that most prospective officers give the greatest attention. Will you know how to manage a large incident? What about a complex hazmat situation or a multi-casualty event? Technical ability is the reason firefighters exist as a community service, so being concerned about knowing enough in this area is important. But technical skills are also what most firefighters do best and spend the most time on during training. Technical knowledge is essential for every company officer — but it is only the beginning.
2. Operational Procedures of Your Department
It is not enough to be knowledgeable with technical skills in a general sense. You also need to know how your own department works in a specific sense. What are the particular expectations for scene management? How does mutual aid work? What is the chain of command and how does the company officer fit into it?
3. City/District Operational Procedures
As a company officer, you will be working with people beyond the members of your own department. Officers routinely interface with police officers, health department officials, social workers, utility workers and others. As a company officer, you will need to know not only your own department's expectations when working with other agencies, but also how those agencies function and how you can best work together as a team.
4. Your Own District
As a company officer, you need to know your district inside out. Not just the streets, not just the businesses, but also the people, the oddities, the specific hazards. You don't have to know every district in the city intimately in order to become a company officer. But as soon as you become an officer and are assigned a district, hit the streets. Talk to people. Set up appointments for tours of businesses. Just walk around and look at things.
5. Your Department's Personnel Policies and Rules
One of the biggest shifts from firefighter to company officer is the need to supervise others and enforce rules. In order to do this fairly and competently, you need to know what the rules and policies are. What policies apply to time off, discipline, complaints of harassment on the job? You need to know these policies before the need arises.
6. How to Manage Your Time
One of the biggest complaints by firefighters about officers is their inability to manage their time effectively. The company officer is responsible for structuring the work day, and using the limited hours available in an efficient way is a big part of this task. Keep in mind that how you use time not only affects your own ability to get things done, but that you are also making decisions that affect the members of your crew. Good time management is not only important for being effective, but also for earning the respect of your crew.
7. Team Skills and Roles
As a company officer, you shouldn't be either an autocrat or one of the guys. You are the leader of the team, and for a team to be effective, roles should be defined. Establish clear expectations for the team and be a model for good communication and respectful relationships among members. Even if you are working with people you consider friends, always remember that when at work, you are an officer first.
8. Specific Expectations of Your Boss
Whether you love or hate the person you work for directly, as an officer, it is critical that you understand what that person expects from you. If you feel that those expectations are not realistic, then deal with that conflict appropriately, but you cannot just ignore them. Try to see things through your boss's eyes and understand the pressures that person is under. Your future, and the department's credibility, depend on it.
9. How to Find Out What You Don't Know
Officers can’t know everything, but they should know how to find the answer when they don't know something. Learn what resources are available, both within the department and within the greater community. Don't be afraid to say you don't know. Just make a commitment to find out the answer.
Ultimately, it comes back to you. Why do you want to be a company officer? What are your personal goals within that position? What are your strengths and weaknesses? What mistakes have you made in the past and what did you learn from them? What have you done on the job that you are most proud of? What can you bring to your crew to make them better firefighters? How can you make your community a safer, better place to live and work? You don't have to know everything to be a good company officer. But knowing yourself is the first key piece of knowledge that will take you a long way toward being the best officer you can be.