Leadership Got Your Department ‘Boogered Up’?

I bet if you sat around the table or the tailboard of an apparatus or at any conference you would hear some folks talking about how “Boogered up” their department is. So what do you do when your department is “Boogered up”? The important component is to look in the mirror first and see if you are part of the problem. That’s right, I put the blame on you. Why? Well you are part of the department and most often we have a contribution to everything that occurs in the department at some level. So are you contributing to the “Boogering up” of the department? Well let’s look and see if you are part of the problem or part of the solution. image

The single biggest way to impact an organization is to focus on leadership development. There is almost no limit to the potential of an organization that recruits good people, raises them up as leaders and continually develops them.

Let the Department Clarify Our Motive

Let each individual in the department examine him or herself thoroughly and know their hearts. With that we mean, are we following the mission and vision of the department or are we working to meet our personal mission? Remember there is no “I” in team, so if you are more focused on your own mission than the department’s, then you are making a major contribution to the “Boogering up” of the department. With this said, we also need to look at this from both sides especially if you are an officer.

I question you as leaders to look and see if you are servicing both customers; external (the public) and internal (the troops). Often you will see individuals who make the officer level forget where they came from. It is important that you serve both sets of customers. So the bottom line is if we get in tune with the mission of the department and the strategic plan of the fire chief, then everyone will have ample opportunity to meet both the mission of the department and their own mission.

This is possible because most times these have many similar aspirations if you just really look at them. However, the organization has to come first! If you will put the organization truly first, I promise that you have a very high probability that all of your aspirations and personal goals will most likely occur.

Purify Our Thinking

In getting focused on the mission of the department you will see that the “Boogering” will just blow away. To do this the department needs to have pure thinking for the department and not just the individuals in the department. By focusing on the good of the community we will again go back to focus on the mission. This is something that leaders must do every day. As we talk the talk we must also walk the walk. The troops can see past the transparent membranes we try to hide behind as officers. If we focus on being pure of heart, we will see that the focus from the troops will come in line. Community relations are a big job, too big for a single person to handle. It will require the efforts of every member of your team to make this a successful venture.

Of course it starts with you as the leader. As the leader you must sell this concept to the group of people who deal with the community on a daily basis, the emergency responders. During their work delivering emergency services they must execute the plan. I know you are asking, what plan? The plan is what you want to accomplish in gaining community support. One of the more common theories that I heard recently at a conference made perfect sense. As an emergency services department you must make yourself so desirable that it would be political suicide for the governing agency not to give you what you want because the community would be upset.

For this concept to work each individual of the department must buy into this concept of community support. To think correctly as an officer you have to have to be honest with yourself and everyone else involved.

Reveal the Department’s Problems

I have always heard that everything in the department is G-14 classified and if administration told you they would have to kill you. Well where that anomaly came from — I don’t know. I have been in administration for multiple years now and it seems to me that if you want to know something you need to go to the troops. They appear to have some major inside connection that tells them everything— even some things that really never could be possible or true. As a leader you need to be open and up front with your folks. I have a hard time seeing where anything we do other than personnel issues and business applications are such a big secret. Here are some ideas:

  1. Make your budget proposal available for your personnel to see.
  2. Have input from others on the budget.
  3. Have a website section or a book for department communications.
  4. Strategic plans should be shared and reviewed by others.
  5. Conduct critiques and post incident analysis of incidents

These are just a few ideas that can open up the department’s ability to identify issues and make improvements with influence from all levels.

Replace Old Thoughts with Modern Truths

I know everyone has heard or said the following statement, “That is the way we have always done it.” If you are not in one of these categories you have either just started with the fire service about 10 minutes ago or you are in complete denial. These words have been spoken more times than we care to think. The problem is we never seem to move on from what we have always done.

As times change so do the situations that confront us. Responses are much different than they were 20 years ago. Firefighters entering the fire service over the last seven to 10 years have strong computer and technology skills. Fires are fueled with different materials and chemical compositions. Building construction has drastically changed. However, we are still in some cases deploying the same old tactics that were taught 20 plus years ago. The two just don’t match up.

The contents of our homes and businesses emit gases more quickly during fires and laden the smoke with more volatility than did the smoke witnessed by experienced fire officers from previous decades. To make matters worse, we are responding to fewer fires which significantly decreases our experience. As a result, we are seeing an increase in the number of firefighter injuries and deaths from flashover and other hostile fire events. It is time to take the “no changes” mentality off the back burner and update it to the challenges of today.

Help Each Individuals Identify Their Own Short Comings

A skills gap analysis is undertaken to identify the skills that an employee needs, but may not have, to carry out his or her job or to perform certain tasks effectively. The skills gap concept is used in areas such as businesses and educational institutes. The fire service falls under both of these areas. The first step in performing an analysis is to identify all the skills required by an individual to carry out his or her work. It should then be possible to identify the critical and noncritical skills that are needed to carry out a role effectively.

A critical skill is one that is required to complete a task successfully. Noncritical skills enable a task to be completed more quickly or efficiently, or at less cost than would otherwise be the case. There is a relatively simple method for determining whether a skill is critical or noncritical. Quite simply, if an employee lacks a skill but completes a task satisfactorily, the skill is noncritical. Conversely, if a person completes a task but the outcome is unsatisfactory, the missing skill is critical.

By applying a skills gap analysis across fire companies, it is possible to find out which skill and knowledge shortfalls there are in an organization. It is then possible to target training resources on those necessary skills that require the most attention. This should result in the optimal use of resources in terms of improving the overall performance of the individuals thus impacting the organizational performance. For individuals, skills gap analysis can be used to produce personal development and training plans. It can also be used to bolster morale by showing how they have progressed over time.

For a department, skills gap analysis can be used to identify which staff members have most knowledge of particular aspects of the profession as well as those with skill gaps. Furthermore, it can aid recruitment by identifying the candidate whose skills best match those needed to function effectively in leadership roles. For example, in an application of skills gap analysis to the role of a firefighter, the essential skills considered were: critical thinking, oral communication and the ability to work with others. Analysis also allows benchmarking and encourages tutoring and mentoring within teams.

Skills gap analysis can be undertaken using paper-based assessments, evaluations, assessments and supporting interviews. However, if an analysis is to be performed across a large number of employees, it can create a huge management and administrative burden. Many departments therefore use skill management software.

Analysis can be applied on a continuing basis or as a one-off exercise. Specialized software can generate a skills gap analysis report with a few clicks of the mouse. Paper-based reports take somewhat longer, depending on how many questions there are to answer.


  • A skills gap analysis can provide a critical overview of a company, allowing management to determine if staff has the necessary skills to meet department objectives or achieve a change in strategy.
  • It provides an analysis of skill gaps in an organization, department or individual role.
  • Analysis helps departments to prioritize their training plans and resources.
  • Analysis can help with recruitment and training, and it gives management a basis for deciding which staff should be retained and which are expendable.


  • Conducting a skills gap analysis can be costly in terms of the required investment in paper-based assessments or software, as well as the time required from staff to participate and for management to evaluate the results.
  • It may be simpler and more cost-effective to ask company officers to identify skill gaps in their fire companies, or simply to ask staff in which areas they need additional training.
  • The assessment can be subjective and open to distortion if staff do not answer questions correctly or do true assessments.

Do’s and Don’ts


  • Consider the potential impact of a skills gap analysis on morale. Assessing an employee’s capabilities can create fear and suspicion unless the reason for the analysis is understood and communicated effectively or done without the employee knowing it.


  • Don’t assume that you need to create a bespoke (in-house) framework to perform a skills gap analysis. Off-the-shelf frameworks can be suitable when adapted to your department’s needs.
  • Don’t focus only on training needs. Skills gap analysis can be used to plan recruitment and redundancy programs, support organizational restructures, build effective teams and manage business change.

Don’t Go Around Saying Something is OK When it Isn’t

I am sure you have been around people who like to bury their heads in the sand. You know the ones who avoid confrontation and have rose colored glasses. It is important to recognize and identify when situations are not OK.

Now that we know that it is not healthy for any organization, group or individual to go around saying it is OK when it isn’t, how do we fix the problem?

  • Admit there is/are issue(s).
  • Identify what the root issue(s) is/are.
  • Search for solutions to correct the issue(s).
  • Develop a strategy of solution implementation and evaluation.
  • Follow through with your efforts.


The single biggest way to impact an organization is to focus on leadership development. There is almost no limit to the potential of an organization that recruits good people, raises them up as leaders and continually develops them. Don’t let leadership get “Boogered Up” in your organization.

Douglas Cline is Chief of the Training and Professional Development Division with Horry County Fire Rescue. He is the Executive Editor for The Fire Officer and Executive Director for the Command Institute in Washington D.C. A 36 year fire and emergency services veteran as well as a well-known international speaker, Cline is a highly published author of articles, blogs and textbooks for both fire and EMS. As a chief officer, Cline is a distinguished authority of officer development and has traveled internationally delivering distinguished programs on leadership and officer development. He also has a diverse line of training videos on leadership, rapid intervention team training, vehicle fires, hose line management, and emergency vehicle operations, fire ground safety and survival.

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