Taking the Lead

An Advanced Firefighter is not a Crew Leader, but there will be times when you will be expected to take a leading role within the team or crew. For example, consider the following scenario.

You might be asked to set up a portable pump or to operate a hoseline to protect exposures at the rear of a building. In such cases you will not simply be carrying out the orders of the Crew Leader as an individual, but also leading the firefighters allocated to assist you.

Normally such activities are well practiced tasks and are a part of a much larger range of operations at the scene. The Crew Leader will probably only give a basic briefing and expect the detail of what is to be done to be worked out by the firefighters themselves. 

For example, the Crew Leader, when establishing water supply, might say something like:

‘We need to get water supply into the tanker. Get Fred and Peter to help you set up a portable pump at the creek and pump water into the tanker. Stay in touch with me on fireground channel 3’.

Note that the Crew Leader has not specified exactly where to set up the pump, what size hose to use, how many lengths are needed, where to connect it into the tanker, etc. These should be well practiced tasks and firefighters should be able to figure them out, leaving the Crew Leader to focus on other tasks.

As the ‘task leader’ of the portable pump team in this example, however, you might need to spell out the task to a greater degree to the less experienced firefighters assisting you. You may need to clarify and coordinate what needs to be done. For example, you might say:

‘Fred, you give me a hand with carrying the pump and suction hose. Peter, you run out a line of two lengths of 38 mm hose from the pump and connect it into the tanker fill inlet.’

Essentially, what you are doing is coordinating the task being carried out under the general orders given by the Crew Leader. During that activity, however, the other firefighters are reporting through you rather than directly to the Crew Leader. This means that they will expect you to be looking out for their safety while it is being carried out. For example, you might need to remind them that carrying the pump is a ‘two-person’ task and ensure it is located where it safe from falling into the creek.

If the assisting firefighters are quite experienced and well drilled in the task, you might find that you do not need to say anything. You might all be quite capable of doing the job without prompting and can anticipate what each other is doing on the basis of your experience of working together. However, even in these circumstances, if the Crew Leader has nominated you to lead the task, you should still be the one to monitor the overall activity and correct any problems that occur.

When carrying out such tasks you need to keep in mind the limits of your authority. For instance, in the example given above, you would certainly be within your authority to determine the number of hose lengths to be used, but you would not be within your authority to decide to use the hoseline to do something other than supply water to the tanker. That would clearly contradict the orders given to you by the Crew Leader.

Leading the Team

You should treat the other firefighters in the same manner as you would want to be treated by your Crew Leader. You should not allocate tasks beyond their capabilities. You should listen to their concerns and deal with those concerns fairly and assertively. You should note down any points that may be relevant for the debriefing after the incident. You should honestly evaluate how you performed and how that performance can be improved.

Take the opportunity to lead team members in specific tasks whenever it arises. It forms good experience for moving on to become a Crew Leader and gives you a sound basis for taking a lead in the event of your Crew Leader becoming incapacitated. In such cases you should report the problem immediately but, until help arrives, it could be up to you to take the lead to keep the team out of danger.

Be Prepared

Often in the NSW RFS we spend a lot of time waiting and not doing. Encourage your team members to think about the bigger picture and the integral part your team will play once the time comes to launch into action. Take this time to think of contingency plans and check on your team’s preparedness to take on the task. Get to know your team and take the opportunity to find out their strengths, weaknesses, ambitions and fears now rather than when you are in the middle of a stressful situation.