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Deputy Chief Offers Advice for Those Who Want to Transition From Firefighter to Company Officer

By Leischen Stelter

Deputy Chief Steve Prziborowski with the Santa Clara County, Calif. Fire Department knew early in his career that he wanted to become a chief officer.

But he was also very realistic about what it would take to achieve that dream. Prziborowski knew it would be a life-long journey to get the education and training he would need to work his way up the ranks.

Prziborowski discusses keys to success for firefighters interested in becoming company officers during the podcast, Transitioning from Firefighter to Company Officer, hosted by FireRescue magazine. One of the primary key factors in career development is self-motivation, he said.

“If we want something bad enough, we have to have the willingness to train and educate ourselves. It’s not just about taking a class or getting a certification, it’s a nonstop commitment to training and education and mentoring,” he said. “It’s up to each one of us, when we want to promote to a certain position, to do a lot of the work ourselves.”

Moving up also requires passion.

“You have to have passion for your department and passion for the folks you work with and passion for the customers we serve,” he said.

Being a company officer is a critical link between the fire department and the fire chief and that individual must have a deep-seeded passion for the fire service, Prziborowski emphasized. Passion is contagious – people want to work for people who have passion, he said.  

And thirdly, such motivated and passionate individuals must also seek out mentors and learn as much as they can from those around them. Similar to education and training, seeking out mentors never ends, he said. It’s important to be open-minded and find mentors of all ranks and age groups.

Prziborowski also noted that moving up in the ranks can pose challenges for firefighters. The biggest change involves a shifting of roles.

“As firefighters, we’re so focused on the individual tasks at hand to get the job done,” he said. “Company officers are expected to take it to the next level, the tactical level and at times strategic level.”

In addition to shifting mindset, becoming a company officer also means changes in working relationships at the firehouse.

“It’s a very challenging position because you’re still in the firehouse and you still live with your brother and sister firefighters on a regular basis. Even if you have to discipline them, you still have to live with them. It can be very tough to take yourself out of that role of being a firefighter to one who’s now the supervisor.”

There isn’t a one-size fits all solution to making this transition either, he said. You need to take into account the culture of the department. You’re not expected to always be the hammer, he said, but you have to make sure you’re doing the job you’re getting paid to do.

You can listen to the entire podcast as part of FireRescue magazine’s Company Officer Leadership Podcast series here. Prziborowski will also be presenting an educational session at the upcoming Fire-Rescue International Global Forum for Leadership on August 1-4 in Denver, Colorado.

Leischen Kranick is a Managing Editor at AMU Edge. She has 15 years of experience writing articles and producing podcasts on topics relevant to law enforcement, fire services, emergency management, private security, and national security.

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