AMU Emergency Management Original Public Safety

Company Officers’ Need for Knowledge and Responsibility

By Randall Hanifen
Contributor, EDM Digest

In serving as an assessor in company officer assessment centers, I have noted a key theme in the candidates: the focus on on-scene functions. While this function is the most important to the public, it is the preparations and management in the fire station during non-emergency activities that matters the most.

On-scene successful actions do not happen by accident. They occur because company officers have built a competent, highly trained, and educated team and have participated in activities that allow the purchase of apparatus and equipment that enable a crew to perform at their best.

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Why Should There Be Such a Focus on On-Scene Operations?

As trained firefighters, we continue to focus on our scene operations. From the day that fire school starts, almost all of the curricula is about the operations at the scene.

We have a few courses that discuss the administrative portion of the firefighter’s job, but this is often glossed over. Most tests are focused on manipulative skills, and there is also a written test that does not have many questions related to the administrative parts of firefighter jobs.

The company officer is the next level of promotion above the firefighter level. Because of the internal promotion that 99% of departments conduct to find and promote their company officers, we find this programming of on-scene competence and focus prevalent in our company officer candidates.

In fact, almost all of the external training opportunities available to firefighters is focused on the on-scene tasks. Beyond the firefighter, the next most prevalent external training opportunities are the strategy and tactics courses that concentrate on the company officer as the first due incident commander and/or how the company officer fits into the division and group supervisor role.

Why Should Company Officer Training Consist of More Rounded Curricula?

As most fire chiefs will proclaim, the morale and beliefs of the firefighters are most influenced by the company officer. If a company officer is not motivated, not highly trained and without a thought process that aligns with fire station goals and objectives, the fire station crew working for the company officer will likely not perform well.

Fire station crews may also have thoughts misaligned with the organization and have less training than is needed to properly respond to incidents. This is not a guarantee, however. I have noted some company officers who are very low performers, but their crew is high performance and often carries the company officer through calls.

Many of our issues that end up on the front page of the paper or on the daily fire magazine news could have been stopped by a well-trained, educated company officer aware of issues such as sexual harassment, hazing, and other human resource landmines. Those types of company officers could have stopped illegal activity, reported it or trained their personnel to prevent it.

Small Organizations Particularly Need Well-Rounded Company Officers

Smaller departments cannot afford to have middle and upper management executives who have time to tend to all of the necessary administrative tasks. That work includes budgeting and operational planning at the project level, such as management of personnel protective equipment or EMS supplies.

As a result, many of those administrative tasks are left for the Fire Officer 2 and 3 level (as defined by the National Fire Protection Association 1021) to perform. This responsibility far exceeds what most larger fire departments ask from their company officers, but due to a lack of personnel, this expansion in responsibilities is needed.

Company officers’ responsibilities can vary depending on the organization. However, it is definitely necessary for company officers to have a well-rounded education and proper training. That will enable them to build a great and well-trained team, equipped with the proper equipment for on-scene service delivery.

Dr. Randall Hanifen serves as a shift commander at a medium-sized suburban fire department in the northern part of the Cincinnati area. Randall is the CEO/principal consultant of an emergency services consulting firm, providing analysis and solutions related to organizational structuring of fire and EMS organizations. He is the chairperson and operations manager for a county technical rescue team. From a state and national perspective, he serves as a taskforce leader for one of FEMA's urban search and rescue teams, which responds to presidential declared disasters. From an academic standpoint, Randall has a bachelor’s degree in fire administration, a master’s degree in executive fire service leadership, and a doctoral degree in business administration with a specialization in homeland security. He is the associate author of “Disaster Planning and Control” (Penwell, 2009), which provides first responders with guidance through all types of disasters.

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