Becoming a Company Officer is not an easy task. There are many things to learn and many things to do. For this reason departments often require new officers to have a probationary period during which time they are evaluated by superiors. If this period describes your department, below I offer four ways a Company Officer can excel during their probationary period.
1) Get A Copy Of The Evaluation Form
Prior to your first evaluation, get a copy of your department’s evaluation form. The evaluation form is your road map to success so you need to familiarize yourself with what’s being expected and required of you. It has all of the categories that you will be evaluated. You should examine it closely and look for areas in which you can “excel”. You should also look for areas in which you might be “deficient” or “need improvement.” For these areas, seek additional training or consultation with a veteran Company Officer, supervisor or a mentor to develop those skills. To identify your professional development needs, consider conducting a personal SWOT analysis. A SWOT analysis, often used in the business world, stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Reviewing your fire service skills and knowledge using a SWOT analysis can clarify and help identify targeted areas for your growth.
2) Invest Time And Money In Yourself
Several FirefighterToolbox.com podcasts (Alan Brunacini in podcast #25, Frank Viscoso in podcast episode #2 and episode #44) address the topic of investing in yourself. As a new Company Officer, it is imperative that you continue to learn about your new role even if that means taking money out of your own pocket to do so. Read fire service and leadership books, magazines and journals. Take advantage of professional development opportunities by enrolling in classes, attending seminars and participating in training sessions that will build your skills. Some of this investment does not cost money but it does take your time. Visiting websites and creating a presence on social media networks such a Facebook, Twitter and others can help you establish online relationships with fire service leaders or read about new trends and techniques.
3) Find A Mentor
Finding a mentor is an important step to gain success during your probationary period. At some point as a new Company Officer you will have questions or even doubts about your abilities or capabilities. Having a mentor means having someone to turn to and discuss your questions or concerns. A good mentor will give you sound advice, help you think through concerns, and even challenge you to do better. You could share your SWOT analysis with a mentor to get their input on how to improve your fire service skills and knowledge. A mentor will keep you focused on the goal of being successful during your probationary period.
4) Do More Than What’s Required
Lastly, do more than the minimum that is required. Show your supervisor that is evaluating you that you are willing to go “above and beyond” just the job requirements for Company Officer. Perhaps you (and the crew you supervise) take on a special project for the department such as a public relations or community education event. Of course do training but put a spin on it such as bringing a couple of other fire companies together or conduct a specialized training such Rapid Intervention Team or HazMat. If you are not knowledgeable in special teams invite an instructor who is. Regardless of the idea of doing more than what is required, your supervisor will take this into account when conducting your evaluation.
Your probationary period as a Company Officer is an important part of your fire service career. During this period you will probably receive the most positive and negative feedback to learn from during your fire service career. You will also be held the most accountable by your superiors. The stress you will feel during this period is normal. You will want to give the maximum effort and show your supervisor that you can do the job. The most important thing is to keep working hard and learning during your probationary period.
I wish you success!