“Many are called, few are chosen” In my humble opinion there is no more pivotal role in the fire service today than that of the company officer, it’s truly where the rubber meets the road.
This is the third in a series of four from the Fire Mentor on preparing today’s firefighters for their career goals, in this article we will concentrate on the role of company officer. The company officer is considered middle management in the fire service, the real difference with this position and all of the others is that this role is where we start to concentrate on a leader of a unit/crew, and you are the “boss”!! Unlike Firefighter and Engineer, the Company Officer has a massive impact on those around them and the product that person delivers will have lasting effects on other people’s careers for years to come, as well as the potential to make life and death decisions on the fire ground.
It should also be noted in this article, that we will concentrate more on the Company Officer that will go through a formal process for a position in a structured fire department that has promotion process, while there are some volunteer organizations that have these most are an elected/voted position, so this article will not address that process but hopefully everyone can take something away from this for preparation for the next position.
The process for Company Officer is similar to that of Firefighter and Engineer. There will be a written exam, there will be an oral interview, after the oral interview is where some departments vary on what comes next? The vast majority of departments will have a tactical scenario that the Company Officer must navigate through. Other agencies might have the tactical scenario or substitute it with what is called role play. Role play scenarios can range from an in basket to a conflict resolution task; we’ll get more into this later.
For the sake of argument we will get started with the written exam, all department’s like to know what your knowledge base is as you are getting ready to put some brass on your collar and start leading troops! The Fire Chief and staff want to ensure that you not only know how to fight fire, but manage budgets, know department procedures, and can at the very basic level interact with personnel while not on an emergency call.
It will be a safe assumption that the written exam will be lengthy and all encompassing. The material that could possibly be on the exam might include building construction, incident command, human resources, fire investigation, training; the list goes on and on. The best thing to do is ask what will be on the test if there is not a pre-determined resource list already published. I would also recommend that you study on your department’s SOP/SOG’s, as they will want to make sure that you are aware of how your department operates with various incidents/situations.
Now that you are testing for Company Officer, you are still responsible for the ranks that got you to this step, in other words you will still need to brush up on Firefighter and Engineer material as you are supposed to be able to train and mentor those under your charge.
Tips for success: Study, study, and study some more! You can never start too early, keep up on trends in the fire service that the test could hit on; always remember that there will be human resource type questions on a written exam.
The oral interview for Company Officer will be challenging to say the least! This is truly where the department you are applying for a Company Officer position will want to see what you are made of. The oral interview will probably have at least one member of the rank for which you are applying on the board, no doubt that it will be one of the department’s best officers, and there will also probably be battalion chiefs and or division chiefs and maybe the Fire Chief on this interview panel. The moral of the story is don’t get rattled, be prepared for the fact that this board is going to look rigid and polished and getting down to business, because they are.
The questions will vary, but there are a few areas that will almost always be discussed; personnel issues-conflict resolution amongst department employees, tactical questions-review SOP/SOG’s, budgeting issues, your personal philosophy on the Fire Chief’s management, apparatus issues, and training.
Tips for success: Expect them to throw the kitchen sink at you! At this point in your career you are expected to be able to handle everything at the station level as well as running an incident from beginning to end while being the Officer in Charge the entire time. Be polished in your appearance and answers, if you need to take a second before you answer then do so, it’s better to let there be silence for a moment (they think you are searching your massive years of experience and knowledge!) vs. saying the “um’s and uh’s” while searching for answer, don’t try to fool people who have been in the game a long time.
Tactical Scenario or In Basket
The tactical scenario usually will follow the oral interview or will be right before the oral interview, and usually it will be the same board/graders that will evaluate you. The tactical scenario is the one chance the board will get to see you work under pressure and see what kind of decision making skills and incident command presence you have before they put you out on the street.
The scenario that you could face could be anything from a water rescue, traffic accident, or working fire with entrapment, again be prepared and you won’t be caught off guard, expect the worst and hope for the best.
The board in most departments are going to grade you on several factors, most of which are similar to the oral interview phase: how did you compose yourself, did you have a commanding presence/spoke clearly and calmly, did you know what to do according to the department’s SOP/SOG’s and standard practices, did you get flustered when multiple things started to occur on scene, and lastly can you handle the no win situation? The no win situation is simple, whatever you do or have done on scene does not produce the desired results you want, the board wants to see that you still can make sound decisions when a loss is inevitable-be it the structure or life, and that is the reality of the position you are applying for.
The other scenario that you could face could be the In Basket. This drill is of course less scary than fighting a house fire with multiple entrapments, however the board will still want to see if you are going to break down and cry in front of them, hopefully not!
The exam goes something like this, you are given a few moments to read a script about a personnel issue or citizen complaint, then an actor will come into the room and you both play out the scenario. Don’t be fooled, this person is not there to help you through this event, they are there to put you under pressure and see if you will get jacked up crazy and lose your cool. Your job during this scenario is to be calm, cool, and collected and try to resolve the situation using conflict resolution techniques as best as possible, I say this because usually these are also no win situations, meaning whatever you say or do the results are usually not everyone goes home happy and you look like a rock star, no usually the employee gets upset or the civilian who is lodging the complaint gets irate and it has to be referred to higher management.
Tips for success: Keep your cool, keep your cool, keep your cool! It doesn’t matter what scenario you are given, if you can think clearly when everyone else isn’t you will look great to the board. Practice makes perfect! If you can practice both of these scenarios with friends or co-workers beforehand you will perform better during the actual testing.
Know your department’s procedures for both scenarios, it is imperative that you don’t make up standards on how to address these issues, it will show very quickly whether you prepared or you are flying blind on your decision making skills.
Time to Shine
As with any tested position, but Company Officer especially, you have got to be ready for this process, take some time before you put in the application and soul search and ask yourself are you really ready to do this career step or not? People are depending on you and you will be responsible for much.
Take extra time to prepare, make sure you have studied for the written exam, it’s one thing to not be promoted because you were beat by a top notch of peers, it’s another thing to be passed over because you didn’t pass the written exam, and we all know the fire service talks amongst our peer groups, you want to finish this process with pride and feeling of accomplishment as well as sending a message to those in the front office that you are serious about your career, not just that you woke up that morning and decided to try for Company Officer and if you make it you make it-and if you don’t you don’t!
Also, ask questions of those who are already sitting in the seat, most will be very willing to share their experiences and knowledge with you, deep down we all want to see you succeed.
Just remember, no one cares about your career like you do, so prepare for it accordingly!
Stay safe and we’ll see you at the next one, the fourth and final installment of the “Welcome to the truck!” series; the Chief level process.
Should you have any questions or comments, please go to www.thefirementor.net or message me/email me from Facebook: The Fire Mentor