Stepping Up


Be a leader, not a boss


When one decides to go for a departmental promotion, whether they be career, paid on call or volunteer, they are in effect stepping forward to take on a position of leadership, and with that comes great responsibility; responsibility for making sure that their personnel are trained and ready for combat, responsibility that at the end of the call or duty tour that the same people who answered the call or came to work go home at the end of the call and/or tour. There are times where this is not possible, as the very nature of the job puts us at a higher risk for injury or worse.

If you took the exam and went for promotion just for the money, the prestige or being able to boss people around, then you did it for all the wrong reasons.  Don’t get me wrong, the pay is nice and the pension gets bumped up with each promotion, but you are getting paid to lead, not be one of the “guys”. You have a job to do; you accepted that with the promotion. There will be those people you work with who will try to use friendship as a way of getting out of doing things. Friendship is friendship, business is business, and one has to be able to discern between the two.

If your department elects its officers and one decides to run for a position as company officer or chief, one has to better damn well be able to back it up with dedication, experience and training. They need to do so not because one is popular because he or she buys the beer for the annual FD cookout and or is one of the “good old gang”. As I stated previously, you have a job to do; you accepted that responsibility with the promotion. There is a difference between being a leader and just being a boss; my philosophy is as follows:

  • Be firm, be fair and don’t play favorites.
  • Expect criticism; it comes with the territory.
  • Praise in public, scold in private.
  • Give credit to the troops, they do all the hard work while you just coordinate things.
  • If the troops come up with an idea on the fireground, listen to them.
  • Not all of the brightest minds in the fire service wear trumpets on their collars.
  • Don’t ask someone to do something that you would not do yourself.
  • Take care of your personnel and they will take care of you.
  • Friendship and business can mix, but there are times the line must be drawn and be prepared to defend the line.
  • Your job as a company officer or chief is to make sure that you end the call or duty tour with the same people you started with. Their job is to make you look good. If you do your job, they will do theirs and everyone wins; the firefighters, the department and the community we swore to serve and protect.

Photo courtesy of Cliff Shockley/

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Ron Ayotte Ron Ayotte is one of four Deputy Fire Chiefs with the Marlborough Fire Department, Marlborough, Massachusetts. Ron began his career with the MFD in November of 1981, was promoted to Lieutenant in November of 1988, Promoted to Captain in August of 2000 and was promoted to Deputy Chief in 2006. Ron’s responsibilities at the MFD include incident command, communications, plans review, inspections and training. Ron also works per diem in the Support Services division at the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services/Massachusetts Firefighting Academy, working support for various Academy programs, including Recruit training, Call/Volunteer training, Certification and LNG-LPG firefighting training. Ron’s writings and musings can be seen at Chief Concerns.

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