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Company Officer Leadership: Building Equity at the Kitchen Table

Most fire service professionals are adept at overcoming challenges encountered on the fireground. Using the knowledge, skills and abilities imparted to us by those who came before, we can rely on our training to readily respond to most, if not all, adverse conditions we encounter in our day-to-day operations.

While training is absolute in its importance and scope, equity within the fire service is of equal importance.

Equity comes in various forms, be it professional, community or political. The fire service leader must start early in his or her career to understand the vital importance of building and maintaining equity.

This equity building often begins at the firehouse kitchen table. When company members talk over coffee or a meal, they’re not just getting to know the other members around them. They’re unknowingly building equity.

Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the men and women around you will help you build equity that generates trust. This trust will do more in encouraging them to follow your orders on the fireground than your collar devices ever can.

The challenge of building equity comes with credibility and the manner in which that equity is fostered and maintained throughout our careers. Emotional intelligence tells us that, as leaders, we need to be not only mindful of our subordinate’s emotional needs but our own as well.

Being empathetic towards the feelings of a subordinate will solidify equity that has already been fostered and further develop the professional relationship that exists between officer and subordinate.

In this instance, empathy is not meant to imply adopting your subordinate’s feelings as your own and trying to please everybody. Rather, it means to thoughtfully regard their feelings as you make decisions.

This emotional intelligence is not easily gleaned and certainly takes practice to perfect, yet is vitally important for company and chief officers to understand.

As one of today's fire service leaders, you must be able to incorporate your understanding of subordinates’ feelings into your equity building in order to mold your team into one that perceives and understands each member’s viewpoint and so to better articulate all of their desires.

By being empathetic, the fire officer will also, albeit unknowingly, you’ll retain team members to stay in the fire service. Leaders who lack empathy often see crew members leave for other departments or other careers altogether. By allowing empathy to be a large part of equity, building a well-developed and well-rounded team will result.

Equally important to building equity with crew members is building community equity. You can begin this also at the kitchen table by explaining the benefits of good community service, developing community-risk profiles and working as a group to reduce those risks.

Getting team buy-in is paramount to any project's success and building professional and community equity isn’t exempt. After your group discusses the benefits of building community equity, you’ll be better prepared to meet with community members and discuss your desire to eliminate a particular community risk.

Building equity in your community will not only let those you protect know you care about more than just your paycheck; it will allow you to become more visible in your community. This visibility builds trust and develops relationships that will grow fruitful over time.

Building equity with your team and within your community allows you to develop the skills you need to eventually develop equity in your community’s political realm. Political equity is not just for your organization’s administrative staff. Company officers must develop professional relationships with community stakeholders in order to explain departmental needs and future expenditures.

Sowing the seed of community equity will make the reaping of political equity easier and foster a feeling of pride in your community.

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