Successfully Transitioning from Company Officer to Battalion Chief

One of the most difficult and challenging transitions in the fire service is going from “us to the them,” particularly the jump from company officer to battalion chief. One day you’re riding shotgun in the engine supervising a crew of typically one to four personnel, and the next day, you’re most likely driving the SUV or Crown Victoria, riding by yourself, and supervising anywhere from five to thirty personnel, or even more.

Becoming a chief officer should not be taken as a death sentence, or the realization that you have gone to the dark side. Successfully transitioning from company officer to chief officer can be very challenging or frustrating if you are not adequately prepared for your new position; this preparation should have begun long before you have taken a test or filled out an application to become a chief officer.

What does it take to be a successful battalion chief? Becoming a chief officer requires the company officer to go from a first-due station mentality to a first-due department mentality. Chief officers are expected to think more big picture and more strategically, something the company officer is not used to. Additionally, it is not uncommon to have administrative and program management responsibilities, something most company officers are not adequately prepared to immediately handle.

What are some traits of an effective battalion chief? Some thoughts that come to my mind initially are leadership, command presence, the ability to maintain positive working relationships with various individuals, excellent written and oral communication skills, and the ability to train and mentor their personnel for not only the present, but the future.

Future battalion chiefs need to already have a plan for their first day and their first year as a battalion chief, including establishing personal and personnel expectations, how to build credibility and respect, how to make ethical decisions, how to manage personnel problems, how to increase the chances of having your personnel go home safely at the end of the shift, and how to manage an incident, just to name a few.

Steve Prziborowski, Battalion Chief, Santa Clara County Fire Department will talk more about “Successfully Transitioning from Company Officer to Battalion Chief” at Fire-Rescue International (FRI) on Thursday, August 27.

Visit the FRI website for more for more information on this session, as well as the Company Officer Leadership Symposium.

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