Often the first to respond to disasters and emergency situations, firefighters fulfill an essential role in society. Each day, these real-life superheroes put in grueling shifts, working in hazardous environments to protect the lives and properties of others – often risking their own safety in the process. According to statistics compiled by the National Fire Protection Association, firefighters across the country responded to over 21 million medical emergencies in 2015, and over 500,000 structure fires.
Now, it’s quite evident that the job of a firefighter is not an easy one. Although the work is extremely rewarding, it’s extremely varied and fraught with challenges. The role of firefighters isn’t limited to just putting out fires. They perform a variety of different functions, including:
- Fire investigation
- Recovering and management flammable, toxic or hazardous materials
- Performing technical rescues
- Providing relief services after floods ad storms
- Responding to medical emergencies
- And more
It’s a job that requires, courage, physical fitness, mental strength – and perhaps most importantly – strong leadership qualities.
Why Leadership is Important in the Fire Department
Leadership is an element that’s critical to the success of any type of organization – and a fire department is no different. All groups need effective leaders – individuals who others can look up to for lessons an inspiration. Effective leaders bring unity and provide a vision to a group.
And the need for unity and vison is critical at the fire department. Dealing with high-pressure situations is part of a fighter’s everyday routine, and they often have to provide assurance to the people they’re helping, or instructions to their colleagues and other emergency responders.
Here are some key leadership traits every firefighter needs to have.
Being an effective leader means having a keen awareness of your surroundings and what is happening around you. Since firefighters carry so much responsibility, they simply can’t afford to say, “I didn’t know what was going on”. Whether they’re at the fire station or it’s an emergency situation, firefighters have to constantly be on their toes, ready for action.
Good leaders also have a firm understanding of what is expected of them, and their responsibilities. Firefighters often have to perform in high-pressure situations, and are often called upon to make critical decisions on a split-second’s notice. They need to be quick at collecting and assessing the pertinent facts and information.
The typical workday of a firefighter can go from calm to chaotic in a matter of seconds. A good leader knows that this is part and parcel of the job, and remains focused on what needs to be done. Before making important decisions in high-pressure situations, they always consider some key factors, including:
- Is there a safety issue?
- How their decision will impact their own and their people’s operational readiness
- Is it the best course of action?
- Are there any alternative solutions?
In every organization, accountability begin with the leaders. If they commit a mistake, they own up to it and learn from their errors. They do the same for their subordinates, but only to the extent of their authority and responsibilities. A firefighter should never be held accountable by an officer for an omission or error that wasn’t the responsibility of the firefighter.
Making mistakes is a part of being human. Everyone goes through rough patches, and experiences turmoil or tragedy at various points in their lives. A good leader makes efforts to stay on the same wavelength with other members of their team, and knows when someone is going through tough times. An empathetic leader not only holds members of their team accountable for their fulfilling their responsibilities, but also provides support and encouragement to motivate a person, and help them get back on track.
Confidence is perhaps the most important trait a person needs to become a firefighter. Serving in the fire department means that your primary job is to provide help and support to those who need it, and in order to do that, you first have to feel comfortable in your skin. A good leader simply exudes confidence – confidence which inspires others to be confident.
This is yet another crucial leadership trait firefighters need to have. In order to inspire confidence and give hope to people in distress, firefighters must always strive to make the best out of every situation – regardless of how stressful it is. In an emergency situation where lives may be on the line, firefighters simply can’t afford to think negatively. Instead of complaining or being pessimistic in a stressful situation, an effective leader will always try to seek solutions.
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