Local fire departments of any size typically have a range of different ranks and positions. Most of the firefighter ranks outlined below can be achieved with years of experience and civil service exams.
Let’s take a look at the different firefighting ranks in more detail.
Organizational Structure Of A Fire Department
A fire department has a clear structure which is divided according to each function and position.
This structure within the department depends on the size of the fire department and where it is based.
A fire department is called a company, and where there are more than one fire station, they are grouped under a battalion.
Some fire departments may even have a special task unit which is responsible for search and rescue missions or dangerous environments.
Members of these special units typically have their dedicated position, together with additional training.
Here is a full list of all the firefighter ranks.
A step up from a volunteer firefighter, probationary firefighters are recruited when a fire department needs entry-level firefighters.
This is the lowest rank within the fire department. Probationary firefighters go through rigorous training and thorough evaluations for up to twelve months as part of their employment.
This is to ensure that the firefighter’s skills and character meet the highest standards required for the fire department.
When probationary firefighters, also called probies, have completed their probationary period, they are then sworn in as full-time firefighters.
Generally, all members of a fire department are called firefighters. However, this is also a rank and position of its own, and the next step up from the probationary firefighter.
Firefighters are part of the typical firefighting action, including extinguishing fires as well as leading rescue operations.
Most companies have at least one member of the team with the rank of firefighter.
This rank is also responsible for driving any vehicles when the driver engineer is not present.
Driver Engineer / Fire Equipment Operator
The next career progression after a firefighter is the driver engineer. He is responsible for driving vehicles and operating special equipment.
Fire equipment operators also maintain aerial ladders, fire pumps and other equipment which they also operate.
As all firefighters depend on their tools and equipment in cases of emergency, this is a crucial role in the fire department.
Driver engineers need to regularly check all fleet vehicles, and they need to ensure that they are in good working order.
Vehicles, tools and equipment are cleaned and maintained in order to be ready in the event of a call out.
Typically, driver engineers inspect all equipment each morning before the start of the shift.
As these members of a team have the special training and responsibility for ladders and pumps, they can also address any issues that may arise with these tools at the scene of a fire.
The driver engineer acts as a lieutenant in the absence of the lieutenant. This position is the first rank which is an officer’s role.
This means that driver engineers also require leadership and management skills.
As a crucial officer role, the lieutenant takes responsibility for the whole process of the emergency response within a specific fire company.
This includes managing personnel and resources. Lieutenants may not always be at the scene of an emergency, as they also supervise daily operations as well as firefighter training.
As lieutenant is a management role, it requires leadership skills and a significant amount of knowledge in firefighting operations.
The lieutenant also steps up when the captain is absent.
The captain is the highest ranking officer who may be at the scene of a fire. He will provide advice and navigate the operations as required.
The captain is the person who typically speaks to the public and media on behalf of the company.
Together with the lieutenant, the captain supervises the daily operations at the fire station, and he is also responsible to ensure there is sufficient training for all team members.
He may also be in charge of creating and managing special task units.
The position of captain receives reports from the lieutenant, and he needs to make administrative decisions related to the station and the team.
The rank of captain possesses a high level of responsibility which requires exceptional management skills.
The highest-ranking officer on duty is also called the battalion chief. He is responsible for the creation of different work schedules and management of personnel for the fire station.
The battalion chief, also called BC for short, ensures that enough staff are on duty to cover each shift. He manages times for vacation for each staff member and sick days.
Sometimes firefighters move between nearby stations, which needs to be factored into the schedule that the battalion chief creates and manages.
As this role is an essential organizational role, it has to be covered 24 hours per day. This means that there are at least 3 battalion chiefs within each department.
While the battalion chief assigns firefighters and team members to different operations, the assistant chief will manage the activities for all of the assigned personnel for the operations division.
The operations division is commonly responsible for disaster relief and fire suppression.
Assistant chiefs are also responsible for the improvement of the fire station.
They usually work together with the fire chief to prepare budgets and plan any additional services for the department.
The fire chief is the top ranking officer in a fire department. He will be responsible for the overall operations of the fire department.
He also holds control over the personnel and he makes decisions related to the budget.
The fire chief also works closely with the mayor to provide technical assistance related to fire safety.
Although every firefighter has to start as a volunteer or as a probationary firefighter, fire departments provide good career progression.