Leadership Within a Fire Department Term Paper

Pages: 5 (1648 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Leadership

Leadership Within a Fire Department

There is a wealth of information on leadership, but not all of it relates specifically to the unique leadership role within a Fire Department. The book First In, Last Out by John Salka begins to address this issue. Salka recalls one of the most frightening experiences of his life as a fireman. Though not the first fire he had ever battled, it was the most fearsome:

While I can't say exactly what the other guys were thinking or feeling, I know what hit me as I stared at that snarling orange whirlwind. It was fear, but not like any I'd experienced before. It was a cold, coiling fear that took my breath away. By some unspoken consensus, we had slowed almost to a halt when our lieutenant turned around, looked each of us in the eye, and said, "Follow me." Turning around, without looking to see if we were behind him, he plunged toward the flames. And we followed.

First in, last out." that sums up the leadership code of the FDNY. Like most other leadership principles, it's a simple concept, but one that's difficult to live up to. Company officers are expected to be the first into every fire and the last to leave. It's our duty to expose ourselves to the same risks we ask our guys to take. It's part of the sacred trust that exists between officers and firefighters. "First in, last out" encompasses key leadership qualities like integrity, commitment, focus and intensity.

In his book, Salka explains the philosophy behind his actions as a FDNY battalion chief in the Bronx, having spent 25 years with the department, rising from firefighter to his current rank. He shares his insights on managing people, coping with crises, mentoring, decision making, adjusting to change and more. "[O]ur mission is to protect the people and property of New York City," he states. And this is a meaningful, yet stressful, job in many ways. Salka discusses how he works with his firefighters and how managers can use his tactics. For example, he says, "[T]he most effective way to show your people that you trust them is to delegate to them. This is standard operating procedure in the FDNY. By letting them tackle problems on their own, you demonstrate your belief in them." The book covers key aspects to leadership -- establishing trust, connecting with employees, decision making, engaging employees, dealing with crises and nurturing new leaders -- in a logical fashion.

Others have written books on their specific type of Fire Department responsibility, that of protecting a city from the dangers of fire and other similar hazards. (See Notes on other books on Firefighter Leadership on the last page.) Like Salka, they echo the thought that, while management training and experience is universal for leaders in most management positions, there are some unique aspects to leading a crew of brave men who have to face flaming infernos to rescue humans and kittens, risking their own lives, while systematically remembering the technical aspects of chemical and structural hazards, and utilizing technologically advanced firefighting equipment. These men not only have to respect their chief as a commander, they have to trust him implicitly with their lives. Thomas M. Cunningham, Chief of the U.S. Naval Academy Fire Department touts one quality above all the rest:

Of all the qualities a leader must possess, integrity may be the most important one of them all. Integrity is defined by Webster's as a firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values (INCORRUPTIBILITY,) an unimpaired condition (SOUNDNESS,) and the quality or state of being complete or undivided (COMPLETENESS.) Types: integrity of character, professional integrity. Synonyms: Honesty & Unity.

He warns that "Lack of trust, lack of respect, and lack of confidence will eventually lead the fire officer down the road to self-destruction."

The most comprehensive source for expectations in leadership traits in this unique occupation is, of course, the International Association of Fire Chiefs Officer Development Handbook First Edition, November 2003. Laid out in this book is a map of the planned, progressive, life-long process of education, training, self-development and experience that is the goal for Fire Chiefs everywhere. The Handbook addresses four distinct areas: Education, Training, Experience, and Self-development.

Education and Training are important, according to the Handbook, because emergency response training activities are more prevalent during the initial career years while organizational skills grow. It is expected that a rookie fireman educate him or herself in an approved school that teaches the elements of Fire Department leadership:

The educational requirements are consistent with those published through the National Fire Academy by the Fire and Emergency Services Higher Education Conference in its Model Fire Science Curriculum. The completion of all stipulated higher education course work should enable the student to qualify for the commensurate academic degree(s).

The third element, experience, is then addressed. Its worth is self-evident and is based on work experiences that are important to fostering the mastery of basic skills, including communication skills, and instilling self-confidence in the officer's ability to assess situations and improve them. The fourth element, self-development, is a more elusive element and a good portion of many books on management dwell on this aspect of leadership quality. It cannot be taught, but it can be practiced until perfected. "It results from how you have grown, matured and evolved over time. It depends upon your physical, mental and emotional health and is typically driven by your values."

This book and others spell out the qualities it would have in the different leadership roles within a Fire Department. The Fire Chief's role consists of general knowledge and skills, human resource management, community and government relations, administration, inspection and investigation, emergency service delivery, and health and safety. The Fire Chief is prepared to perform mentally and emotionally, moving from a closed, complacent, and resistant attitude, to an open, challenged, and committed one, receptive to new ideas and change, in the process of growing. As far as growth in leadership, it is expected that concentration would move from scattered, distracted, and unfocused to centered and focused in the present and on the task at hand. The general traits and skills of a leader are focusing on the goal or task (concentration), minimizing distractions, controlled reactions to external stressors, and, as a result, better decision-making. He or she is motivated, developing an inner desire to move from unclear, unrealistic, uncontrollable goals to realistic performance goals, committing to a mission and pulled by a vision.

The Officer Development Handbook, however, addresses more practical matters that must be developed in a leader, as well. The Supervising Fire Chief develops skills in peer coaching of recruits and other organizational workgroups. He or she is involved in small group leadership; sports teams, and youth clubs, directing resources, including emergency response and non-emergency activities. He or she is involved in incident management and planning, gives instruction (delivers training classes), is a human resource manager, develops teamwork skills, is a financial resource manager (participating in or contributing to a station project or small program budget), a project manager, an emergency manager, (participating in mass casualty training, exercises and incidents on a community involvement level) and interacts with homeowners associations and service clubs. Meanwhile, the Fire Chief maintains his or her membership in professional associations, networks with others in the service; and is involved in local, state and/or regional professional associations; such as instructors, EMS, inspectors, investigators, safety officers.

The Handbook also takes each leadership position within a Fire Department and creates a list of expectations apropos to that category. Other sections contain treatises on the Managing Fire Officer's training, education, experience, self-development, the Administrative Fire Officer's training, education, experience and self-development and the Executive Fire Officer's training, education, experience and self-development.

In conclusion,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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