Why do some firefighters become negative? According to Chief Steve Kraft, who gave the keynote presentation at the Opening Session of FDIC 2012 today, it’s because negative officers are ruining them.
“I’ve never seen a new recruit go through the academy with a bad attitude,” Kraft said. Yet once they’re assigned to a company, some recruits flourish, while others sink.” Kraft believes recruits fail largely because they have poor officers serving as their mentors.
“I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to let these negative officers destroy the best profession in the world,” Kraft stated defiantly.
Who Are They?
FDIC brings together firefighters from across the country, Canada and even the world, volunteer and career, of all ranks and positions—yet Kraft noted that the negative people that threaten the fire service from within share common characteristics. They are:
- Firefighters who speak badly the department or individual firefighters.
- Firefighters who have been on the job for 18 months but act like they have 20 years on the job.
- Firefighters who have 20 years on, but what amounts to one year of experience.
- Firefighters who start and spread rumors.
“We’re all experiencing similar people issues,” Kraft said. He believes these problems crop up because “a few officers and chiefs don’t understand their influence over firefighters.” Kraft challenged the audience not to assume that he was talking about someone else, but to look within themselves to determine how they can become better officers. “It’s easy to listen to what I say and think about your chief, your captain, etc.,” he said. “I need you to ask yourself, what can I change? Great leaders take personal responsibility, because they understand that small changes can make a big difference in the behaviors and attitudes of the firefighters in their department.”
5 Keys to Being a Better Officer
Kraft, the FDIC’s first Canadian keynoter and chief of Richmond Hill Fire & Emergency Service in Ontario, noted that to be a great officer, you first must want to become one. He then laid out five keys to becoming a better officer.
- Be a great coach. “Encourage and motivate firefighters, show them what good performance looks like,” Kraft urged. “If you don’t correct people when they do something wrong, don’t be surprised when they do it again.”
- Show your people you care. Kraft shared a humble lesson he’d learned when one of his firefighters returned from two years of medical leave. Kraft was eager to welcome him back, but the firefighter challenged him, asking “Why didn’t you ever call me at home to see how I was doing?” Great leaders care for their people, beyond the job.
- Learn from your mistakes. “We should be making mistakes every day,” Kraft said. “Leadership requires the willingness to fail.”
- Lead by example. We hear this expression a lot, but what does it really mean? Kraft pointed out that just as it’s possible to lead by good example, it’s possible to lead by bad example. “Negative leaders can be louder and more forceful” than positive leaders, he noted. “We need to stand up and tell them to stop.”
- Have a positive attitude. Kraft shared a rule he tries to live by—never complain to anyone lower in the ranks than you. “Negative comments go up the chain, positive comments down,” he said. He reminded the audience of a quote from Chief Rich Lasky: “Show me a positive company, and I’ll show you a positive company officer.”
Kraft’s final message to the attendees: “When you leave today, start working on things. Don’t wait for anyone else. Just try.”