Are we heading in the right direction?

CarolinaFireJournal - Lenny Yox
Lenny Yox
01/11/2010 -

If I were to ask you what the main differences are once you are promoted to a position of leadership in your department, what would you say? Some would glibly answer about the color of their helmet, a new radio, a response light in their POV, new keys getting added to their key ring. Far too often the most important answer is overlooked; more responsibility gets piled on.


One significant problem in our world (fire and EMS) is that we promote new leaders daily and then give them no or few additional management tools. There seems to be the thought that OJT (on the job training) is good enough and that it will all be OK!

A second issue I see in my small world here in Maryland, is that a county or municipality sets reasonable standards (certification based) for officers, announces that the new standards are on the way for a year or two, has the classes offered regionally, then ignores or pushes back the standards because a handful of people have not gotten the required certifications. NO other business operates this way.

I have chosen the two topics because I have recently heard several EMS officers complain about them, and I am in total agreement. Currently I am teaching an EMS Officer class in a county near where I live. This class is offered by the University of Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute (MFRI) and covers basic management and ICS for EMS. The personnel in this class are a mix of volunteer and career and are a great bunch of folks trying to help their communities. These folks came up with the  two topics.

If we are going to have leadership that is efficient and ready to function in the world today, I believe that we —as a culture —need to prepare our next generation of officers before they are promoted/voted in and then “thrown under the bus.”Has the new incoming Chief had a class similar to Fire Officer I or EMS Officer I before they take office? If not, why not? How is that person supposed to fully understand EEOC policy, forming a budget for the next year, or perhaps even a full understanding of NIMS?

Having spent the last 36 years or so in volunteer and career fire stations, I have to say that I do not often see “officer hopefuls”reading books on management —unless they are mandatory for promotion. There seems to be some thought today that if a class is not mandatory, then why take it? It must not be very good and I have more important things to do! If that is not the case where you work or volunteer, then consider yourself lucky.

If you look around your community, perhaps even at the state level, there are many free classes offered to employees/volunteers dealing with management, effectively supervising employees, budgeting and many other topics. Some are not meant just for fire and EMS, but all county/municipality employees and volunteers.

I have taught several of these classes which were sponsored by the insurer of the town/city to maintain compliance, competency and lessen exposure to lawsuits. If you are currently an officer, are you maintaining your competency? Are you staying a step ahead of your folks and providing the tough answers? Have you practiced some type of non-mandated “career growth”training on your own this year? Good for you, if you have!

The second topic I mentioned is the general lack of, or enforcement of, standards for fire and EMS officers within a company or county. This is a difficult topic, and I realize many of you will disagree with me. That is fine, and can only lead to a good discussion of the issue. We constantly refer to ourselves as “professionals”and yet there are those among us who do not want to see some reasonable standards developed and enforced —by us —to hold ourselves to the standard of a professional.

Case in Point:

A county in Maryland voted in modest standards a few years ago. Fire Officer I was one of the toughest things to attain —and it is offered annually in this area.

The volunteer chiefs voted the standards in and the entire county volunteer association followed suit —at the request of the chief officers!

Now, a year after the standards were to have been finally phased in, they are —once again —on hold because two departments do not have enough persons who can run for office.

Permit me to take a guess here, but I think the persons who were officers a few years ago did no career development of their personnel. Had they encouraged their personnel to upgrade their certifications back then, I would not be writing this.

Where are we going in relation to the rest of society? Are we keeping up with our desire to be presumed “professional”by others? I do not have all the answers here —never said that I did. However, it does seem that we need to get serious about management classes before —yes, before —we promote or vote people into office.

Set a reasonable standard, hold to it, and your personnel will attend the classes they need if they really want that promotion or position within your department. Set smart, achievable goals for your prospective officers, let everyone know the time frame, and your folks will meet them!

Remember —your family needs you back after the call. Be safe, do good and play well with others.

As always, these thought are mine and mine alone and I welcome any reasonable discussion on the topic.

Lenny Yox resides in Carroll County, MD, and has been a volunteer firefighter in that county since 1974. He has held most positions (both line and administrative) within the volunteer service, and has been the team leader for the Carroll County Technical Rescue Team since it’s inception in 1994. He is also a career Lieutenant with the Baltimore County Fire Department, a member of the NFPA 1006 committee and has taught for the Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute for 24 years. He can be reached at [email protected]
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