In this edition of “KTW” three rated members address their role as it relates to operational competence and engine-house leadership. These topics and experienced-based opinions should be points of discussion for all of us.
As an experienced rated member, can you define your success on the fireground, and what advice might you have for a newly promoted A/O or engineer?
Engineer Steve Canchola, FS 87-A: My advice to a new engineer is to be hands-on and proactive, especially on the fireground. In order to do this you must be a good firefighter. Initiative, decisiveness and situational awareness are all skills that translate well into both ranks. Remaining calm, communicating well and supporting company SOG’s are also traits of a good engineer.
New engineers must recognize their potential impact during the early stages of a ¬-fire. My first tactical opportunity for example takes place prior to arrival in the form of laying-a-line. Correctly placing apparatus, troubleshooting and communicating tactical considerations are all keys to becoming a good engineer.
Mistakes are excellent teaching points, but only if you learn from them. Be accountable for your actions that didn’t go well and always remain alert to the needs of the incident. Never allow yourself to become a mannequin in a brush jacket standing by your panel. After each incident, ask, “Was my team prepared and did I give them the best chance to succeed?”
A/O Steve Hall, FS 87-A: To me success on the fireground is a safe and efficient operation. In order to achieve this you need to be part of a good team, and to do this you need to teach and train. Utilizing the unique strengths and talents of the crew will raise the overall performance of the team.
I believe much of my success on the fireground stems from my love of the A/O’s position. I love driving, ladders, roofs, cutting roofs and cars. Throughout my career I’ve been blessed to have worked with excellent examples. People who have lead and taught, not just by their words, but more importantly by their actions.
I like the “KISS” standard for SOG’s – keeping your operation basic makes it easier to teach and apply. My experience with “trick” operations is that they lead to confusion and mistakes. Remaining calm in front of the crew and captain helps keep the anxiety level down, giving a sense of comfort which in turn makes the incident go smoother.
Oscar Gutierrez, FS 114-C: I believe my success on the fireground is a direct result of my confidence and attitude. Knowing I can complete any task presented to me (securing water, adding handlines, problem solving) while anticipating what will be needed as the incident progresses is crucial. Operating on scene is like playing chess – you should always be thinking two moves ahead.
Confidence will be your best accessory. The key is preparation and training. Ensuring my equipment has been checked and I’m ready before the bell rings is how I prepare. Challenging myself to lay lines, break and fill lines in the least amount of steps is how I train. “How quick can you put the wet stuff on the red stuff – safely.”
Keep a cool head – it’s not the situation that presents itself, it’s how you react to it. I never want to be complacent. My advice to new engineers is remember to challenge yourself, take pride in what you do, expect the unexpected and be prepared for anything. An old engineer once told me, “It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s in the way you carry it.”
How do you view your role when a young officer is assigned to your shift who lacks operational experience?
Hall: I believe my role in this situation would be to act as the middleman between the crew and captain. It is important to build a strong relationship between the A/O and the new captain. Things rarely go well if the captain and A/O are not on the same page. This relationship is probably not going to happen overnight.
If and when I establish this relationship with my new captain I can share the level of experience and knowledge his/her crew possesses. In the mean time I would encourage the crew to be patient and continue doing their normal SOG’s. Through daily training and critiques my hope would be that we as a crew would soon increase the operational background of our new captain. Don’t try and change things in one day, give it time.
Gutierrez: My role is to be supportive of any officer my crew feels is lacking the experience we’re accustomed to. With any change, there’s always a learning curve. I believe in the team concept. We’ve all heard the saying, “You’re only as strong as your weakest link.” We have an obligation to make our team as strong as possible, and we do this by passing on our experiences and knowledge to one another.
In the case of a young captain one can do this by passing on information about our first-in, target hazards, etc. While working overtime at other stations I don’t have the time to assess the experience level of every member, but I do have expectations regarding their abilities, which they should also have of me.
As an engineer who doesn’t know the experience level of the captain, I make it a point to slow down a block before the incident to allow him time to formulate a plan so the crew gets off on the right foot. I never expect the captain to know everything, but everyone should strive to learn at least one new thing every day, myself included.
Canchola: I view my role as being supportive of the entire team, including our captain. In the situation described I have a responsibility to ensure the standards placed upon all of us are met. Equally important, I feel the expectations placed on a new captain should NOT be based on the experience level of the officer he replaced.
I am not a vocal “Locker-room Leader,” as I prefer to lead by example. I place high standards on my crew and comparable standards on myself. I would attempt to establish trust between the new captain and crew, and develop a strong team from which to build from. I would identify the new officers skill set and recommend training exercises in which they could identify ours.
Quality training in the basics is paramount, as failure to consistently perform these at a high level exposes our members to undue risk. The bottom line is that we are a team and as such it’s our collective effort that counts. If any member of our team falters it’s up to each of us to be supportive, even if that member is the captain.
In next months article Captains Jeff Hass, Bob Rosario and Jody Garfield will discuss (1) Mezzanine fire considerations, and (2) Engine Co ventilation concerns.
Facilitated by Jerry Bedoya, Capt II, FS 10