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Fire & Life Safety: Do You Plan for Competence?

"Who, John? Yeah, he's a competent fire officer."

What comes to mind when you hear someone described as competent? What would you mean when describing someone as competent?

In many circles, this has taken on a negative connotation. While the reasoning or cause of this shift is not identifiable, it's another word victimized by our evolving version of the King's English.

By definition, it means:

  • Having the necessary ability, knowledge or skill to do something successfully
  • When describing a person, efficient and capable
  • Acceptable and satisfactory, though not outstanding

By definition, except for the "not outstanding" part, this seems like a baseline measurement that every position, skill set, job description and profession should aim for in every team member: successful, efficient, capable.

That said, the definition requires the construct of "ability, knowledge and skill."

How do we construct a competent command officer? Prescreen, qualify and test; then it's off to the academy.

While a formal, generally accepted fire officer academy may be lacking, each of us have a script of core-required coursework or certification that attempts to fill that gap. The area sometimes overlooked is the deliberate action of assigning them to a mentor, in this case, a chief officer.

With a little intention and planning, we can likely shorten timeframes and improve results. This mentor will help them cut their teeth on high-risk/low-frequency things like controlling public utilities, ordering an area evacuation, handling a grossly over-occupied assembly occupancy, etc.

A close and intentional training and planning relationship with the folks in Inspection and Prevention can make the difference here. While I&P may not be a specific division or separate group, the responsibilities and opportunities are there for all of us to better prepare and support command officers in the hazard zone before the incident occurs.

Our people performing I&P functions (or maybe you and I) have the information, relationships and many times the juice to make these things happen. Ideally, these relationships would include the command officer reciprocating with operations crews learning the role of Company Inspections, with a heavy component in preplanning—an outstanding benefit to everyone.

When command officers, in advance, have their crews perform preplan activities that provide knowledge and familiarity with buildings, everybody wins. Subsequently, the command officers review those preplans and follow up with I&P folks on tactical details to keep them up to date, such as:

  • HVAC/process/equipment/energy control procedures
  • Construction/renovation/demolition of buildings and their fire protection systems
  • Changes in occupancy type and/or hazards (products, storage, processes)
  • Owner/manager/maintenance/alarm company contact info, including after-hours

Much like the unrivaled strength of the geometric triangle, with a strong relationship between inspection/prevention, command staff and company officers, we can construct systems and plans that efficiently identify, communicate, correct and prepare all levels of our organizations to perform at and above the levels of competence expected.

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