Good Leaders Prepare Future Leaders
Tim Bradley, BSFSE, CFO, EFO, FIFireE
Executive Director NC State Firefighters Association
One thing I remembered very vividly when I was raising my four daughters was something my dad told me when I was entering into my teens. “I want to prepare you better than I was prepared so you can do better”. Quite honestly, there were few greater than my dad, but the point stuck and I passed that philosophy on to my kids. As good parents, we want each new generation to be better, which means building on the past. As leaders, do we carry that thought process into the fire service, or do we simply hope folks coming along will take the sole initiative themselves?
One of my daughters is a school teacher, and as many of us have heard, one of the problems with schools today is the lack of, or wrong type of parental involvement. I became a fire service instructor in 1980, and over the years I witnessed the same issue with firefighters or fire officers in my classes. Students not prepared or equipped to be there, students taking classes they were not ready for or classes they were taking again because that was all that was available, or simply students there because it was posted on the training Board for “anyone” interested. Learning with education and training is never waisted, but in many cases training better suited for an individual need is more efficient, economical, and productive.
As children we had an established education path; Elementary School, Middle School, and High School. Even home schooled or Charter schools followed this basic premise. That basic structure is changing for students whose needs show more advanced course selection. A high school student can come out of High School now with a large start on a college or technical degree by taking courses through local community colleges as a High School student. Without some guidance, these young people may just take what’s there for them in standard structure and miss opportunities that would have advanced them further. This is not a negative comment pointed at school systems or parents whose kids went through 12 years of public education as I did the old-fashioned way. It’s simply indicative of the need and advantage for someone to help plan steps through education for kids. Truth is, we should start preparing future fire service leaders when we see interests in High School, but that is for another article.
Once a person exits High School there are several continuing educational paths available; Technical or Community Colleges; College or University Degrees; Licensing Programs; and training and education through employment are a few. Many joined the fire service out of high school, career or volunteer, and many were dependent upon someone pointing the way for their future educational needs and training. Good leaders were there for them.
Perhaps it’s time in the fire service for us to change the traditional title of Training Officer, in whatever format it exists, to Training and Education Officer. There are three primary areas of need for personnel; knowledge, skills, and abilities. It takes a well-rounded training and education program to meet all of those needs, especially when personnel start reaching for officer level positions. Many departments have charted paths for personnel through certification programs, but that is not the sum total for the needs of our people. As a firefighter advances to Company Officer, his or her needs change. They go from only doing, to doing and leading. It gets even more diverse when they move from Company Officer to Executive Officer positions. Each step requires the need to maintain a working knowledge of the operational aspects of firefighting, but now you have educational needs that focus as well on administrative components such as budget, personnel, financing, record keeping, etc. The list goes on.
We meet with new recruits and show them what they need to learn to ride apparatus; Firefighter; EMT/Paramedic: Haz Mat; etc. Once they are on the truck, do we meet with them again and tell them where to go from there? Some departments do this well, others simply leave it to the individual. We’ll remove a person from the roster who doesn’t complete their required training to get on the truck, but once there, many departments are satisfied the individual met their obligations, and so have we as leaders. If your department is one of these, rethink your process. At that point each individual is unique, and each deserves some direction, if they are willing to take it, on where to go to move forward. It may be that they are satisfied with stopping at company officer, or have the desire to do rather than lead. A lot of good potential has been lost over the years because people stayed where they were because they were good at their job, and their leaders were satisfied with that. Insuring every individual is given a fair chance, to the best of our ability and theirs, is the responsibility of a leader. Let’s all at least agree that simply posting available classes on a training board and letting folks pick and choose is not meeting our responsibility of preparing our future leaders.
There are many tools available to direct Chief Officers or Training and Education Officers on working individually with personnel with advice on advancement in education and job level. Talking to other departments on what they do is an excellent start. Obviously, the State’s Certification System Officer Level Certifications; contacts with local Community Colleges on Technical and AAS Degree programs; a listing of Universities and Colleges meeting the model curriculum requirements of FESHE (Fire and Emergency Service Higher Education) through the National Fire Academy at USFA; https://www.usfa.fema.gov/training/prodev/ National Fire Academy programs such as Executive Fire Officer; National Fire Service Professional Development Matrix; https://www.usfa.fema.gov/training/prodev/npd_matrix.html, etc., etc. One model that can give guidance early in a career is to look at the excellent individual Accreditation Models through the Center for Public Safety Excellence’s Commission on Professional Credentialing. http://www.cpse.org/professional-credentialing/about-credentialing-cpc.aspx These include Chief Fire Officer (CFO), Chief EMS officer (CEMSO), Chief Training Officer (CTO) Fire Marshal (FM) and Fire Officer (FO). Preparing to meet the requirements of each of these are a goal every fire officer should review and consider.
This article may be an oversimplification for some, a reminder for others, and thought provoking for those that simply insure training is available. Whatever the level of training and education your department prepares their people for, good leadership becomes great when we leave our departments personnel more prepared to meet the future. Work with them individually or in groups, but give them help on directions to better themselves. In the end personal advancement in education or careers are individual choices, just as it was with our kids, but give them the tools to make them compete fairly.
My Chief told me in 1977 that I had the potential to become an instructor, and he told where a methodology class was. In 1983, he told me he would be retiring in a few years, and gave me three areas he thought I needed to work on to prepare myself for a chance. I often wonder where my fire service career would have taken me if I hadn’t gotten that advice.