You’re a New Officer: Don’t Try to Save the World all at Once!

As progressive, engaged and enthusiastic firefighters, we all took classes, trained hard and created an image of the way we would be when we got promoted. We would do this and we would do that, damn the consequences and those we might piss off. But, when we got there, it may not have all gone as planned. Hmmm…..did you ever wonder why?

I have seen this happen over the years and it has happened to me during my first years as a young company officer and later on as a chief officer, the Utopia that we want so badly to have and institute in our organizations or companies will not happen as fast we like, or maybe not at all.


New fire officers for all of their faults fail in high numbers due to a lack of patience and timing. Yes, they must learn how to lead and they must gain the respect of the crew. That respect must be earned over time based on the actions and consistency of the new company officer. How is that done? Patience.

So, a new company officer comes in and starts to read his laundry list of things that are going to change under his leadership. He sits down with his entire crew and lays out the new “ways” of doing things and sets his expectations. Then they are off running. The only thing that he didn’t count on is the temperment and willingness of the crew.

Changes may be needed and the new officer may be right in most instances, but there has to be priorities to address the most critical first; tactics and safety issues. After that, he needs to learn and apply gentle pressure consistently to make change.

In effect, the new officer while trying to institute wide, sweeping changes has stated that the prior officer and his crew have been doing everything wrong. That is perception and it must be considered. It is a good way to get a whole lot of resistence real fast from your new crew.

Take the time to learn who your crew is, learn what needs to be changed and learn what works. Give them time to learn who you are and what your expectations are. This will make any transition easier and more effective if everyone understands the reasons behind them.

Some issues need addressed immediately. Don’t allow insubordination of deptartment policies and varying from safety issues. Seat belts must be worn. Equipment must be checked, etc. Those things must be corrected as soon as possible.

Just be aware that change is not easy and even the most benign changes can and will be met with strong resistance. Be prepared and be patient. It won’t happen over night and it will give you time to gain their respect. Have purpose for your changes and be willing to admit when something doesn’t work out.

The bottom line is that Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will your company or house be. To be the best team, you need all of the players. If your patient, respectful, consistent and you lead from the front, they will all contribute to the successes and help remedy the failures.

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