Are You the Kind of Boss You Would Want to Have?

Several years ago, I had the privilege to spend a weekend learning from Chief Alan Brunacini when he came to the South Piedmont Community College to teach. I even had a larger privilege of spending some one on one time with him and trying to absorb everything I could from him. There was one topic that we discussed that has always stuck with me.

Workers do not quit their jobs, they quit their bosses!

I remember thinking about this topic and my time in the volunteer fire/EMS service, as a career firefighter/paramedic, and in my current career in Emergency Management. Why does a worker quit? As we spoke, all I could think about was the times I was unhappy in my job and how often it was my immediate supervisor that either made my job awesome or how they made things miserable.

This led me to start a process where I am constantly asking myself a question in regard to my staff. “Am I the kind of boss that I would want?” Invariably the answer is going to be yes and no. There are always areas where we could improve and be better, but I hope the majority of the answer is yes.

So, what makes a good supervisor? Well let’s take a look at several points that I have gleaned through my years of experience — and I am sure you can add more to this as well.


It is important that we are engaged with our staff. A supervisor does have tasks that will take them away from being engaged all the time, but it is vital we are engaged overall with our staff. What does being engaged look like? Being engaged looks like:

  • Knowing the basics about our firefighter’s family like their children’s names
  • Not watching the firefighters train but training with them
  • Cooking, eating, and cleaning up for meals
  • Paying attention to the needs and concerns that the firefighters bring to you

Our staff need to know how important they are but if you barely know who they are, what they do, and such, then we are failing them personally and in our profession.

A great example of being engaged can be seen through a great friend of mine, Deputy Chief Steve Prziborowski of the Santa Clara County Fire Department (CA). Chief P (as we call him) is known to often go to a station within his department once every few weeks, sit down and eat lunch with the crew, and maybe hop on the truck for a short while. He attempts to be actively engaged with the members of his department.


Trust is so important to our service. As a supervisor and leader, our crews need to know they can trust us. This is going to strengthen the bond we have. The staff member needs to know that it is OK to tell us they do not know something, they made a mistake, or that they have troubles at home that may impact their work. Too many times in this day and age supervisors will ridicule and criticize these staff members for this honesty. However, what is best for the organization? A staff member who will admit mistakes, try to learn from them and better themselves for the organization or a staff member who makes mistakes and tries to sweep it under the rug? As a supervisor, I would much prefer the staff member who will come and talk to me.

Now here comes the hard part of trust. It goes both ways. We like to think we are superheroes and can handle anything. As supervisors we need to be able to tell our crews that we do not know something or that we made mistakes. If we trust and appreciate them for their honesty, in most cases the firefighters will reciprocate that feeling. However, I am sure you have had a supervisor in your career that would never admit an error even though everyone knew it perfectly. This does more damage than we know in many cases.

The trust we give and get will only make our bond stronger and the services we provide better.


Delegation is the process of allowing a lower level staff member to make a decision based on their abilities, authorities and capabilities. By delegating you empower the staff member and increase their buy in to the system and organization. I have always said that we should delegate decisions to the lowest level possible for this purpose. This not only empowers the staff and increases their buy in but also provides real world experience and training in decision making as we build them up for potential future promotions.

This has been an issue for me in the past. I want to know that I am making a difference in the organization that I am a part of. The supervisors that saw this found ways for me to be empowered and I exceled. For example, one time I was hired when a county just started a county EMS agency. As time went on and my supervisor saw my passion and need to be empowered to help, he asked me to take over the scheduling for the stations that we ran. Had he not seen that passion and provided me an outlet, I would not have succeeded as much.


Have you ever dealt with communication issues? I would bet that more than likely you have. These are prevalent this day and age. Maybe it is because we have better communication options and we fail to use them. Maybe we just have failed to learn how to communicate. Either way, we as supervisors and leaders need to step up and ensure that this happens.

Our staff cannot read our minds. We must communicate our message to them and ensure that they have received and understood the message. This does not matter if it is in a daily matter situation or on the fireground. If we ensure communicate properly then we will be more efficient in our response and daily operations.


These are just a handful of traits and considerations we should have when doing an internal assessment of our abilities as a supervisor. We should strive constantly to better ourselves as supervisors and leaders. Strive to be the supervisor that your staff and crew deserve. It is a constant and difficult task but the rewards for you AND your staff will be well worth the work!

Until next time, be safe!

David Hesselmeyer, M.P.A., has been in emergency services for 16 years. Currently he is a firefighter, rescue technician, paramedic, and North Carolina Executive Emergency Manager. Hesselmeyer is the owner and primary consultant with On Target Preparedness (OTP) which contracts with emergency services 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 Harnett County EMS. He can be contacted at or visit his website at

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