Leadership: The first steps

CarolinaFireJournal - By David Hesselmeyer
By David Hesselmeyer
08/04/2013 -

In emergency services we often talk about, or see conversations, about leadership. The topic has also become more and more popular in the private and public sectors. Why that is I cannot say. However, in today’s society and our service it is most definitely important.



Why is it important for proper leadership in emergency services?

The reasons can be summed up in the following:

  • Safety: There are more dangers that fire and EMS faces. Proper leadership adds to providing safety.
  • Efficiency: It is essential that we perform our jobs properly. This promotes protection of property and increasing ability to save lives.
  • Confidence: We need the confidence of our citizens. This provides for an even better relationship with the citizens.
  • Morale: In some departments morale is lacking. This also affects our performance. Effective leadership can ensure morale stays high or increases.

Effective Leadership

So what makes someone an effective leader? Without a doubt there is no tried and true recipe. That being said, there are some common characteristics that effective leaders have to some degree. We will talk about a couple of them here.

Self Awareness

One of the first steps or abilities in being a good leader is the ability to be aware of oneself.

This means that you can recognize your strengths and weaknesses. By knowing this you are able to do several things:

  • Ensure appointed officers and other senior positions are filled with people qualified in areas that we as leaders are weak.
  • Find ways to train and exercise to build upon your weaknesses.
  • Build confidence in our members by showing them we are not perfect but also feel the need to better ourselves.

This allows us overall to be more effective in our operations. By doing this self assessment/awareness we become influences to our members. This allows us the ability to have more authority as our members give that to us.


One of the things we must do nowadays is to provide to our members expectations. I have served under many fire and EMS chiefs/captains. Very few of them decided to explain expectations he/she had in themselves or the members. That gives members very little guidance to proceed on in terms of their actions. Then members become confused when they are confronted with a dilemma.

Expectations should be expressed in detail in meetings as well as on responses. They should be easy understandable and easy to follow. This gives the members additional guidance that cannot be put into policies and procedures.

So what are some good examples of expectations? Some examples include:

  • “I expect all members to attend every training and business meeting they are able to instead of just the required minimums as stated in the Policies and Procedures.”
  • “Even though members may disagree with each other, all members should act in mature and adult manners, especially in public.”
  • “Members should not wear department issued apparel when consuming alcohol or being in adult type clubs.”

These will ensure that members know how to act based on our rules and expectations.


There is no steadfast recipe for leadership but many characteristics are common throughout good leaders. In this article we discussed Self Awareness and Expectations. In our next article we will discuss some additional characteristics.

David Hesselmeyer has been in emergency services for 15 years. Currently he is a firefighter, rescue technician, paramedic, and emergency management coordinator Type I. David is the owner and primary consultant with Emergency Preparedness Consulting (EPC). EPC contracts with emergency services agencies, health departments, fire departments, EMS agencies, and non profits to assist in risk assessments, plan writing, plan revision, exercise development, etc. He currently volunteers with Buies Creek Fire Rescue and works part time with Pitt County EMS. He can be contacted at [email protected]
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