Did you know that there are eight fire department ranks? In the beginning, you start as a recruit, green behind your ears. Fast-forward a few years, and you can become the Fire Chief, whom everyone looks up to as a role model to follow.
The fire department organizational structure allows one to know precisely who is above you and what are their roles and responsibilities.
Several factors involve promotion to an upper rank. These factors include how well you score your tests, the number of years in experience, a good attitude, and other criteria.
You’ll notice that it follows a paramilitary-style organization. But, of course, that doesn’t mean they are part of the armed forces. Sometimes, life as a firefighter can seem like an endless boot camp!
List of Fire Department Ranks
The eight fire department ranks in order are:
- Probationary firefighter
- Driver Engineer
- Fire Lieutenant
- Fire Captain
- Battalion Chief
- Assistant Chief
- Fire Chief
We will briefly review each role in the fire department ranks to understand their duties and responsibilities.
Start as a Recruit (with no rank)
Everyone needs to start somewhere, and there are no exceptions in firefighting.
At the very beginning, you are a recruit who must study hard to learn the firefighting basics. There are several academies where you can enroll to start your fireman journey.
Once you finish your training, you can apply to become a firefighter. First, however, you will have to pass an interview before you can move forward.
1 – Probationary firefighter
A Probationary Firefighter is a recruit that passed his interview. However, as its name suggests, he must undergo a testing period. During this time, the idea is to see if he fits well within the fire service and its organizational structure.
The probation period varies depending on the State, the Company, and the individual. However, the most common timeframe is between 6 and 12 months.
During this time, he’ll get acquainted with everyone at the Station and help with the day-to-day tasks required by the role.
However, it’s usual for many to drop out at this stage. Once you get past the initial glamour, many understand that firefighting is not an easy life. Firefighters must train, study hard, and do many house chores constantly. These chores may include washing dishes, bathrooms, fire trucks, firefighting equipment, and other activities.
Not that volunteer firefighters are not exempt from this period, nor its duties.
2 – Firefighter
Once the probationary period is over, you officially become a firefighter!
In this role, you perform many tasks that become your daily routine. For example, you go out to actual emergencies, conduct search and rescue, handle hoses, operate equipment, and perform other tasks.
However, you’ll continue doing some of the chores from your previous position. Also, training and studying become a constant in your life.
You’ll probably spend most of your career at this rank. First, you’ll learn to adapt your body to having 24-hour shifts. Afterward, you’ll keep yourself occupied in between emergencies. Finally, you take a nap now and then at the Station.
Also, not every firefighter thinks about promotions. Some prefer working on the front lines instead of taking an administrative desk job. Sometimes, it becomes a matter of preference.
The career path from here onwards becomes quite steep for those who want a promotion. It requires academic, managerial, and soft skills to succeed. In addition, there are several expectations and a strict chain of command that you need to follow to progress up the fire department ranks.
Further reading: Learn about how a day is in the life of a firefighter.
3 – Driver Engineer
This role has additional responsibilities than a firefighter.
On the motor side, they ensure all vehicles work efficiently and are clean. If the fire truck requires maintenance, they perform it. Finally, they are responsible for driving it to the emergency scenes.
On the engineering side, they must know the location of every fire hydrant and alarm in their jurisdiction. In addition, the driver engineer must perform regular checking and any maintenance these devices might require.
4 – Fire Lieutenant
A fire lieutenant oversees the fire station’s daily operations, and each staff member completes their obligations responsibly.
They are responsible for the candidates’ training, reviewing their duties, and tweaking their performance. Think of the lieutenant as your direct supervisor.
They are the ones that make the stations run smoothly.
In case a captain is absent, they can become temporary acting captains.
5 – Fire Captain
The fire captain, or firefighter captain, is the highest-ranking officer in the firefighting company that responds to emergencies. He directs and coordinates all actions at the fire scene, ensuring everyone handles their duties responsibly and with as much safety as possible.
A fire captain oversees station duties. He must guarantee that his Station can provide the fire services to manage any cases in his jurisdiction.
In addition, he handles the training and supervision of recruits and the administration of the training exercises. These exercises include fire management & suppression, hazard material (hazmat) response, and rescue operations.
To become a fire captain is to become the leader of the fire company. Everyone looks up to him for guidance; as such, he must gain lots of experience at the lower ranks before becoming one.
6 – Battalion Chief
A battalion fire chief, or battalion chief for short, is the leader in charge of a battalion.
A battalion chief tends to have a more administrative line of work. For example, the battalion chief ensures that all firehouses in a jurisdiction have adequate employee scheduling and staffing. In addition, he’s responsible for the battalions’ 24/7 operational readiness.
His duties include processing lots of paperwork that each crisis requires.
Some extensive fires occasionally require calling several companies or an entire battalion. In that case, the battalion chief will appear on the scene to coordinate the different teams. When this happens, the battalion chief’s authority supersedes the captains already at the location.
7 – Assistant Chief
The Assistant Chief is the officer that supports the Firefighting Chief in his duties to guarantee a high-quality operational service.
Under his responsibilities fall the management of budgets and community relations. In addition, he’ll look to create content for community campaigns to reinforce the roles of firefighters within their communities.
Finally, he oversees the different companies programming and training plans.
Some of the role’s responsibilities include improving the overall response times and success rates for all battalions in the city.
8 – Fire Chief
The Fire Chief, or Firefighter Chief, is the highest fire department position.
On the political side, he works with city officials, fostering good community relations, and ensuring the community remains safe.
On the administrative side, he oversees all operations and roles in their district. In addition, he communicates with all layers of the firefighting ranks to transmit his vision for the fire service.
This role deals with legal agreements, strategic partnerships, and networking. The Firefighter Chief is a trusted figure with years of experience. Furthermore, he aims to transmit his knowledge and confidence to newer generations.
Further reading: What to learn more about firefighters? We have a great selection of firefighting articles that may interest you.
The fire service is a wonderful organization that aims to help people. It has clear roles and responsibilities that each firefighter rank should have.
However, it’s also an organization constantly learning and looking for improvement.
A transparent chain of command allows the fire service to work better in the field and save lives. In addition, a clear structure allows for greater efficiency.
But, perhaps the most crucial aspect is making the fire service a place for those who want to get involved. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best!