Top Ten Qualities of a Great Fire Officer

toptenWelcome to the Fire Critic’s take on the top ten qualities of a great fire officer. This top ten list was actually provoked by a friend of mine who asked me my take on the ten best qualities of a fire officer for their NFA Leadership class. This was not meant for him to copy (and he didn’t ask for that) but merely my take on what I think makes a good leader.

As always, I sometimes miss a great point. If you think I miss something feel free to add it in the comments.

I would like to prelude the list with some common misconceptions.

Some people think that leadership is a popularity contest. It is not. I know some great leaders who are not popular Company Officers, I also know some very popular Company Officers who are not great leaders. Some abuse leadership roles as popularity contests to feed their egos. These people need a good lesson in humility.

One other misconception is that managers are leaders. This is wrong. Managers can be leaders, but not because of their management position. Most top level Chiefs are managers. Many couldn’t lead a horse to water. They can write reports, create budgets, and deal out discipline, but they couldn’t lead a search and rescue team because of the lack of qualities below. Management is not the same as Leadership.

These traits below can be possessed by any firefighters. They should be goals for firefighters to become leaders. Remember, not all leaders are formal leaders like Company Officers. Their are plenty of informal leaders in the fire service…usually one in every station on every shift.

Formal Leader vs. Informal Leader

Informal leader – Can be a firefighter on up. These are the ones who usually keep the wheel greased. The other firefighters look up to the informal leader to make sure that all the house duties are completed, that meals will be made, trucks washed, trucks fueled, and might even be sought out on issues prior to going to the Company Officer for advice.

Formal leader – The Company Officer or other person who fits the role as first in charge in your chain of command.

The formal leader can be the informal leader but that usually is not the case.

This list is not in any particular order. I think ranking them is pointless because all good leaders and fire officers should possess all of these characteristics.

10. Modesty – Gives credit where credit is due. Decent and simple. I am probably too modest which can actually be a weakness. It is painful when someone else takes credit for something I do or when I realize someone is taking credit for something someone else did. Don’t worry, those things are not forgotten and eventually it will catch up to them. They are not good leaders, they are deceitful abusers.

9. Dedication – Dedicated to the team, to the cause, to the goal, to their subordinates. Dedicated to learning, to teaching, and to understanding. Understands the goals and works towards completion and accomplishment.

8. Assertiveness and Communicating Effectively – Must understand when to stand up and say something and when to sit down and listen. Able to show displeasure or pleasure by the words and tone of voice in the actions of subordinates. You have to be able to speak your point without much ado. When seconds count, long winded discussions and instructions are killers. You have to make sure you are quick, to the point, and that your followers understand your objectives.

7. Integrity – What you see is what you get. No hidden agendas or deceitfulness. Your moral fiber is more important than popularity. Things that come to mind when building integrity are honesty, orderly, clean, ethical, trustworthy, dependable, competent, consistent, caring, reliable, and authentic.

6. Being Humble – Don’t be arrogant. I know this is hard for many firefighters, but arrogance is unbecoming.  In firefighting terms…don’t be a prick and throw around your position. We all know an officer who is always quick to make sure everyone know they are in charge. Their is no I in team. Understands that the team is as strong as the weakest link. Does not use their leadership position as a weapon.

5. Good Listener – You must have the ability to listen to others and realize that they might have good information to help the team. You should be willing to listen to opinions that may be contrary to your own. Realize that “My way or the highway” does not build a team.

4. Sense of Humor – This is my favorite because I am a cut-up. I enjoy having fun…all the time. However, I understand that when we are working on a call I have to act accordingly. Humor can make or break a team. Most firefighters enjoy having a good time. Around the fire station we must be able to shrug off our emotions from certain calls and we usually do it through humor.However, you must understand the guys/gals you work around and realize what they might and might not find humorous.

3. Vision – Understanding the goal and what objectives are necessary to obtain that goal. Realizing the goal and ensuring buy-in by your subordinates. It is also important to have clear and concise rules and guidelines for your followers. They must understand their role, your expectations of them, and their benchmarks for success.

2. Being Decisive – Leaders cannot be afraid to make a decision. In our jobs, we are not always afforded the opportunity to sit down and layout the risks vs. benefits of certain decisions. We must act on instinct, education, experience, and lessons learned. Likewise, we must be able to live with the decisions we make and admit mistakes when we make. If you aren’t making any mistakes you are not doing your job correctly. I know some very indecisive fire officers. Plain and simple, they suck. If you can’t make a decision get out of the way and follow someone who can.

1. Help others succeed – Helping others reach their full potential. When you are leading it isn’t about you, it is about your followers. Success might be a promotion for a subordinate or might mean your crew going home in the morning.

What characteristics do you think make a great leader?