Welcome to Fire Service Middle Management
It was May 2017, and I had just promoted to an officer’s position. I stepped out back behind Station 2 to enjoy the late-spring weather when a city police officer pulled up to chat.
“Congrats on the promotion!” He said. “Welcome to fire-service middle management!”
The officer departed as quickly as he had arrived and left me standing there, wondering if he was trying to be a dick, or not. Turns out he wasn’t, it was more like an honest heads up, but it was going to take me about a year to figure that out.
Just like middle management in other career fields, it can feel like you’re on an island. You are held to a standard by two groups of people; your boss, and the men and women you work with. It can be like walking a tightrope when the two side’s interests don’t align, and often times, they do not. You have to facilitate growth and good morale on your shift and still turn in a solid body of work to your superiors. You owe this to both of them because I am of the opinion that you are accountable to both your chief and your crew. This can be overwhelming when you aren’t ready to fully let go.
I promoted reasonably young, perhaps too young. I was 29 years old when I accepted the position; good at my job, but still finding my way. Like many people that promote young, I had spent the previous few years being told I was special. As luck would have it, I was not special, and I struggled initially. There was a life lesson buried beneath the senior guys regularly busting my balls since 2010 after all, I had just failed to recognize and fully appreciate it.
Having been told I was special, I still felt the need to try to be the guy. I micro-managed, I took skills and tasks from people under my command, I didn’t delegate, and I alienated good employees. It took some time for me to reach the understanding that I was hurting my shift by trying to be an All-Star, and that it was now my prime objective to identify the All-Stars around me and direct them to the tasks best suited to their talents.
I suppose the moral of this article might be exercise patience with your younger officers; they are trying to figure out rules to a new game before they had a chance to master the old one.
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