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Company Officer Leadership: Saving Firefighters from Themselves

Several weeks ago, I attended the RESCUES stakeholder meeting at IAFC headquarters with fellow practitioners and academic professionals who are actively engaged in research directly relevant to the needs of today's firefighters. During the roundtable discussion, several researchers highlighted important bodies of work they had recently completed—work that undeniably has changed the trajectory of how we should perform and behave during hazard-zone operations.

During the latter part of the roundtable discussion, the question was raised, "How do we get company officers to actively engage in reading scholarly research and then take those findings and operationalize them into practical concepts we can use as managers, leaders and incident commanders?"

As I further listened to the discussions on science-based research and the fire service, I reflected on the current state of company officers and how influential we've been over the past several decades in reshaping the fire service. We have and continue to do innovative things to make this profession safer and more efficient for our personnel!

As fate would have it, shortly after my return trip home to the West Coast from Virginia, I received my September journal edition from the Academy of Management. Evidence-based management was the central theme of the special issue.

The evidence-based movement first began in the field of medicine as a method for teaching. Its aim is to move toward evidence-based practices and away from the reliance on tradition and unchallenged authority.

Several researchers have gone on to describe the movement as the practice of making decisions through conscientious, explicit and judicious use of the best available evidence from multiple sources to help managers choose effective ways to manage people and structure organizations.

A popular and practical example of the theory is the great work that UL and NIST have and continue to produce concerning modern fire behavior and suggested best strategies and tactics.

Their work represents an excellent example of the push-and-pull method commonly used in teaching evidence-based practices. The push side refers to educational material that provides content knowledge based on empirical research. The pull side involves interpreting the research material and putting it into the context of our world as practitioners.

In today's fire service, many of our practices and traditions are under intense scrutiny—rightfully so. We can't continue to operate in a world where anecdotal evidence is used to validate the what and why of many aspects of our profession.

From a perspective of formal education, our current collection of company officers are more credentialed and trained than officers of past generations. That doesn't make us better than previous generations of great company officers, many who took the fire service to great heights professionally; it simply means we have a continued responsibility to strive for higher prominence in our profession.

How do we get there?

Among other things, we as practitioners must continue to work with academic researchers to explore areas and topics that need explanation through a rigorous science-based process. Equally important, we as company officers shall continue to expand our reading to include those sources that promote best practices that enhance firefighter safety and leadership at the company-officer level.

On your nightstand at home or work, place Academy of Management and International Fire Service Journal of Leadership & Management next to your copies of Fire Engineering and Firehouse. Let's continue to make academics and scientific based research and principles hot in our profession!

I leave you with the following: "The greatest discoveries of science have always been those that forced us to rethink our beliefs about the universe and our place in it." —Robert L. Park

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