Fire Fighting in Canada

Features Leadership
Cornerstone: Making the transition to officer from firefighter

As firefighters we will face many new challenges in our careers: our first house fire; our first rescue; and even the first time we lead the way into a burning building. Fire departments throughout North America get top grades for teaching the technical aspects of the job but, with the exception of a few departments, there are no truly consistent succession planning and standard training programs to help with the transition from firefighter to officer.

September 16, 2008
By Lyle Quan

Topics

As firefighters we will face many new challenges in our careers: our first house fire; our first rescue; and even the first time we lead the way into a burning building. Fire departments throughout North America get top grades for teaching the technical aspects of the job but, with the exception of a few departments, there are no truly consistent succession planning and standard training programs to help with the transition from firefighter to officer.

This transition can be one of the most exciting times in our careers yet, at the same time, the most apprehensive. Why are we apprehensive? Because some new officers are simply given a new red or white helmet, along with a pat on the shoulder, and told to go out and lead. We know that a promotion will entail a physical change such as where we sit in the truck and how we dress. But are we prepared for the more challenging transition – the personal transition?

The physical part is easy but the personal transition will take some time and adjustment for both new officers and their subordinates. Most of us who have found ourselves in this position have planned for it and faced the challenges head on by taking courses ,whether they were offered through our department or other educational institutions, by searching out and finding a role model to emulate and from whom we were able to learn, or by going out and researching how others became good, solid team leaders through books and articles.

All of these work well, but it’s when we blend all three that we benefit the most.

Advertisement

Although this space does not allow me to build on each of the three methods at this time, we do have an opportunity to introduce two books that offer some solid guidance and encouragement on how to move to officer from firefighter. The fact that you are reading this column (and making notes) has already demonstrated your desire to improve and take on the leadership challenge.

These books will offer some great insight to those about to make the move to officer from firefighter. Even those who have already made the move will find some valuable lessons from the authors. The first book is From Buddy to Boss by Chase Sargent; the second is First In, Last Out by John Salka. Both authors are veteran firefighters and officers and have a great deal of insight to share on leadership.

In From Buddy to Boss, Sargent, who is a division chief and 26-year veteran of the Virginia Beach Fire Department, takes the reader through the ABCs of leadership, including the first day on the job, and lists leadership characteristics to embrace. The final chapter reflects on why leadership can fail and outlines some of the pitfalls to avoid. Sargent freely shares his experience and lessons learned during his progression through the ranks. One of my favourite leadership quotes in his book is, “You must get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats on the bus.”

The second book, First In, Last Out, takes readers to the next level in their leadership journeys. Even though Salka talks about his move to lieutenant (and upward) from firefighter in the New York Fire Department; he pays a great deal of attention to his position as a chief officer. Salka is a 27-year veteran of the fire service and his book uses some real-life experiences that reinforce his leadership lessons. Salka addresses such issues as the foundation of great leadership, making correct decisions and getting people to be fully engaged in their work. I found his open and honest approach to leadership quite refreshing. And, because Salka shares how he learned from his mistakes, he puts a personal touch to these valuable lessons.

Each chapter in Salka’s book is encapsulated into a final summary that highlights what you have read. I’m sure all readers will find these summaries to be a valuable quick references.

The books complement each other and will help you throughout your journey to chief officer from firefighter. And, even if you decide to remain a firefighter, you will benefit from reading these books. Never forget that the first person the new recruits turn to is the senior firefighter, so the absence of gold bars on your shoulders doesn’t make you immune to the leadership role. As a senior firefighter, you are actually the one who sets the foundation and path that these new firefighters will follow.

From Buddy to Boss by Chase Sargent. (2006), published by the PennWell Corporation and First In, Last Out by John Salka. (2004), published by the Penguin Group can be obtained online through Chapters and Amazon.



Lyle Quan is the deputy fire chief – administration with the Guelph Fire Department in Ontario. A 27-year veteran of emergency services, he is a graduate of Lakeland College’s Bachelor of Applied Business: Emergency Services and Dalhousie University’s Fire Service Leadership and Administration Programs. Lyle is an Associate Instructor for the Ontario Fire College, Lakeland College and Dalhousie University. E-mail: thequans@sympatico.ca


Print this page

Related



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*