RED OAK – Firefighters from around the Metroplex attended the Five Alarm Leadership Conference hosted by the Red Oak Fire Department earlier this month.
Leading the leadership conference were John Salka, former battalion chief for the New York City Fire Department, and Lewisville Fire Chief Rick Lasky.
“Leadership is a personal set of skills and abilities. Each person has a different mixture that is made up of different levels of training, education and personal experience. You can learn something from everyone that you work with, good or bad,” Lasky said. “As a company officer you need to promote values such as hard work and honesty. Those positive qualities are contagious.”
Lasky said company officers have to explain to younger firefighters in a department what is expected, which can be done by providing guidance and leading by example. Other steps to improve leadership at the fire station can be done through taking pride in one’s appearance, showing a positive attitude and treating people with respect while showing others what standard is acceptable.
To have good leadership at a station a company officer must be good in the roles of a supervisor, manager and leader, Salka said, saying supervision is the first step in taking care of firefighters working on a shift.
While acting in a supervisory capacity there is a fine line between ensuring work is completed but not micromanaging. Salka was quick to point out that compliments are important to give out and those can be worth more to someone than any trophy or award.
“When you take a greater leadership role in the department you have got to let certain things go as you step into the supervisory role. You have to delegate responsibility and let your people do what they are trained to do,” Salka said.
Both men said leadership has nothing to do with the rank a person holds or the uniform he or she wears. Leadership is the responsibility of everyone, from the veterans to the newest firefighter, they said, saying it means taking pride in the department as a firefighter by watching over others and taking care of the equipment and station.
“Anybody can go into a burning building but leaders get things done. They take the lead, they make things happen, they support their team and they remember where they came from,” Lasky said. “There is a lot more to being a leader than tooting a horn. People come first.”
Training is another resource that will help a leader be effective in the fire department, Salka said, saying that isn’t always a large company drill where hose is taken off the truck. It can be simple as going over material for an hour over a meal or using resources that are free and available on the Internet, he said.
“If you’re not training your people you’re not doing your job,” Salka said. “You can find an hour in a day to train. Training is the most important thing because it affects your level of service and professionalism.”
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