Fire Leadership Principles: The 10 Commandments of a Great Company Officer

During Firehouse World 2018, Deputy Chief of Operations for the Santa Clara County (CA) Fire Department, Steve Prziborowski, discussed fire leadership principles in his session: 10 Commandments of a Great Company Officer.

*Blog Written by Hayley Aguilar of TargetSolutions

In a room full of fire service leaders, Steve Prziborowski, Deputy Chief of Operations for the Santa Clara County (CA) Fire Department, openly admitted he could have been a much, much better company officer - especially when it came to being a supervisor and a leader. He didn’t want to be “that guy”; meaning the designated adult that is supposed to at times say no, stop it, or knock it off. Instead, he wanted to be liked, wanted to avoid conflict and did not want to rock the boat.

During Firehouse World 2018, Steve Prziborowski shared his insights into fire service leadership with his 10 Commandments of a Great Company Officer. After admitting that he was, at one point, a bad fire officer (not for operational purposes, but for leadership purposes), Prziborowski found that leadership can, and should be at times, lonely if you’re doing what is expected of you as a leader.

He elaborated that as a fire officer, you hold many other roles. You are also an HR professional, a risk manager, a health and safety officer, a training officer, and most importantly, the designated adult. Balancing these responsibilities means priorities need to shift from being liked by the brotherhood/sisterhood, to doing what’s right.

Prziborowski broke these ideals down into 10 Commandments to live by as a company officer:

10 Commandments of a Great Company Officer

1. Do Your Job

As a fire officer, you must lead by example. You must abide by the rules and ensure that your firefighters do as well. Be the decision-maker. The communicator. Do your job as a leader.

2. Establish and Maintain Relationships

Relationships make the difference when it comes to fire officers. Don’t be a thorn in the side of senior staff and choose your mentors/associates wisely.

3. Be the Training Officer of Your Crew

Make every moment a training moment and close the gap in known deficiencies. Rather than simply telling a firefighter the answer, make them discover it and remember it.

4. Establish Personnel Expectations

Hold your team to a standard of excellence and don’t accept mediocrity just to avoid conflict. If personnel are falling short, see to it that drills and tasks are done right.

5. Be Passionate and Have Compassion

Care for your personnel on and off-duty. As the fire officer, their health and safety (both mental and physical) are your priorities.

6. Never Forget Your Two Priorities

Provide a safe and harassment/discrimination free environment. As a leader, it is crucial to ensure personnel feel respected and competent to do their jobs – saving lives.

7. Instead of Being Liked, Go for Credibility and Respect

Not wanting to be “that guy” can lead to trouble if it means allowing firefighters to get away with damaging or outright dangerous behavior. Do not allow yourself to be taken advantage of to be well liked.

8. Know the Difference Between Management and Leadership

You lead people, and you manage things. As a fire officer, you need to have excellent planning, time management and organizational skills. Take a moment to understand your leadership styles and work to benefit the greater good. Remember, you must put your community and crew before yourself.

9. Take Ownership

Take pride in maintaining your rigs and station. Presentation is important for setting the tone for your department and again, setting standards and expectations.

10. Be the Designated Adult

When something goes wrong, no matter whose fault it is, the blame falls on who was in charge. As a leader, you need to be able to stand up to your crew and speak up when something isn’t right. While it can be hard to discipline your brothers, it’s necessary to keep order and protect your company.

Prziborowski emphasized how difficult it can be to be a leader in the fire service. You will, without a doubt, make tough decisions that you will be resented for. However, remembering your mission and keeping faith will guide you to making the right choices.

About the Speaker

Steve Prziborowski has more than 25 years of fire service experience, currently serving as the Deputy Chief of Operations for the Santa Clara County Fire Department (Los Gatos, Calif.), where he has served since 1995. Steve is also an instructor for the Chabot College Fire Technology Program (Hayward, Calif.), where he has been instructing fire technology and EMS classes since 1993.

He is a current Executive Board Member for the California Fire Chiefs Association, serving as the Northern Division Director, a Former President of the Northern California Training Officers Association, and he received the 2008 California Fire Instructor of the year award. He is a state-certified Chief Officer and Master Instructor, and has received Chief Fire Officer Designation and Chief Training Officer Designation through the Commission on Professional Credentialing.

He has a master’s degree in emergency services administration, and has completed the Executive Fire Officer Program at the National Fire Academy. He is a member of the IAFC FRI Conference Program Planning Committee, is a regular presenter at fire service events across the country, and has authored numerous articles in all of the major fire service publications. He is also the author of three books: “How to Excel At Fire Department Promotional Exams,” “The Future Firefighter’s Preparation Guide,” and “Reach For The Badge – How To Master The Fire Department Entry-Level Testing Process.”

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