My human resources director likes to use the phrase “it depends” when we address difficult issues; the issues might be similar in nature, but the solutions aren’t always the same.
When we talk about our leadership role in fire-based EMS as well as within the community, there's a variety of issues that need to be considered. We know all of our systems are different, and what works in Colorado might not work in Pennsylvania, so it's easy to see how “it depends” is an appropriate answer in trying to explain our role.
Generally speaking, we know our basic role in the fire department. Regardless of whether you're volunteer or career, your role depends on your rank or position within your department. As a chief officer, you may serve in a variety of roles, such as mentor, coach, confidant, teacher, leader, listener and follower.
The size and type of your department, the services your department provides and the expectations of your personnel as well as your superiors all affect what role you serve in at any one time. And, in fact, you may be serving in multiple roles at the same time; it depends on the issue at hand at that particular moment in time.
When we add the EMS component to the mix, the role you play can rapidly change to one of caretaker, social worker, educator, report reviewer, quality-control manager, financial analyst, etc. While EMS may add some additional challenges and roles for you, in reality, it probably isn’t anything that you weren’t doing already. We’ve heard that we sometimes have to be a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none, and as the mission of the fire service continues to change, we have to change with it.
Now that we're everything to everybody in our organizations, what are our roles in the community? Again, it depends. Since no two communities are alike, the expectations of each community vary based on a number of factors. From geographic location to socioeconomic issues to simple population, our leadership role in the community can vary greatly.
While a battalion or division chief may serve on community boards, in civic organizations or an HOA, higher-ranking chiefs may be serving in an advisory capacity to school boards, public-safety commissions or their local hospital. If your department is proactive, you may have chiefs of all ranks involved in local, state and national groups and organizations. Regardless, your role in the community can positively impact your department.
Finally, the one role that you must always fill is that of a professional. It's easy to allow emotions to affect your role in your department and community, and we know that emotions can lead to poor decision-making. Don’t allow things to become personal; remain the consummate professional.
You can always be all of those other things when needed, but being a professional is a necessity all the time. For this role, there is no latitude for you to answer, "It depends."