The rank structure is as follows (in ascending order): Probationary Firefighter, Firefighter, Driver Engineer, Lieutenant, Captain, Battalion Chief, Assistant Chief, and Fire Chief. Promotions to all rank below assistant chief are conducted through state civil service testing process.
Fire Department units are usually divided into a few basic categories.
Company(s) – This is the basic unit. This is made up of a single piece of apparatus and it’s crew. The company can be supervised by an officer. Usually a Lieutenant supervises an Engine Company or Rescue Company and a Captain supervises a Ladder/Truck Company. If the Captain is off duty for some reason, (vacation, illness, working in another capacity, etc.) the Lieutenant will often move up and take his place. He would be referred to as an “Acting Captain” for the day. If the Lieutenant is off duty for some reason, (vacation, illness, working in another capacity, etc.) the Driver Engineer would move up to “Acting Lieutenant.”
Battalion(s) – The city currently has one Battalion. This is usually made up of 4 to 5 stations and the companies that are quartered there. These companies and personnel are supervised by a Battalion Chief. There is a Battalion Chief (BC) assigned to each of the three shifts. Battalion Chiefs also are assigned to staff positions, such as Training & Safety.
You might want to think of it this way.
- Probationary Firefighter (PFF) – is an “at will” entry level position that is currently being trained and evaluated during their first 12 months of employment.
- Firefighter (FF) – is a basic worker that is responsible for hose line placement, fire suppression, operating rescue tools, search and rescue, etc. There is usually 1 – 2 in most companies. In the absence of the Driver Engineer, works as the “Acting DE” (Note: “Firefighter” is the generic term for all members of a fire department, but it is also a rank within the organization.)
- Driver Engineer (DE) – Also known as “Chauffeur”, “Apparatus Operator (AO)”, “Fire Equipment Operator” (FEO) and other terms. This is the person who drives the apparatus and operates the fire pump or aerial ladder. They are specialist who knows everything about that piece of apparatus. In the absence of the Lieutenant, the DE works as “Acting LT”.
- Lieutenant (LT) – This officer supervises daily operations, training, and emergency response of an Engine Company or Rescue Company and the personnel assigned to it. In the absence of the Captain, works as “Acting Capt”
- Captain (CAPT) – This officer supervises daily operations, training, and emergency response of a Ladder/Truck Company and the personnel assigned to it and the Fire Station. They may have one or more Lieutenants working at the station on an Engine Company or Rescue Company. This officer is often the initial commander at emergencies and can be called upon to fill in for the Battalion Chief during his or her absence. A Captain may also be over a special section or function. Examples are: Dispatch, Training, EMS etc.
- Battalion Chief (BC) – The Battalion Chief is really the person who insures that day to day operations are possible. Consider this: there are 168 hours in a week and the Fire Chief and Assistant Chief work 40 hours a week. For most of the time, the Battalion Chief is the highest ranking officer on duty. Before the oncoming shift starts and outgoing shift leaves, the Battalion Chief must make sure that there are enough people on duty. Does this sound easy? Imagine having 50 people who work for you. Each person has a very specific role and every role must be covered. You might have one or two extra people on some days, but what if too many people call in sick at the last minute? What do you do? Perhaps you can hire an overtime firefighter, who is not a paramedic, but you need a paramedic. Do you get on the phone and hope you can find a paramedic who can quickly come in? Do you move four people around so you can finally put that firefighter where you don’t need a paramedic and move the paramedic from his station to another station? This is just one job that a BC may face every day, and the shift hasn’t even started yet. Schedules have to be planned in advance. Vacations need to be scheduled and assignments need to be considered. If a firefighter gets injured or a vehicle has an accident, it is the Battalion Chief who makes the initial investigation report. The list of jobs and responsibilities can go on and on. Every detail of the battalion is handled, in some way, by the BC. Sometimes a decision is made to take an issue to a higher level, but that is rare. Besides the day to day logistical paperwork and time spent on the phone that takes up much of the chief’s time, there is the chaos of an emergency scene which requires a great deal of communication and information coordination.
- Assistant Chief – Manage, control, and direct activities of personnel assigned to the Operations Division. Manage the administrative and operational functions of the Department. Develop, implement, and administer programs and projects to ensure the continued quality of fire services and facilities through the effective use of resources. Provide professional and technical assistance to the Fire Chief and other department staff. Assist in preparing the Operating and Capital Improvement Budgets and oversees the planning and construction of future fire stations.
- Fire Chief – The executive head of the Fire Department and is directly responsible for proper and efficient operations. Supervise, regulate and manage the department and have control of all its personnel and activities, including fire safety education, fire protection, fire extinguishment, emergency medical service, administration, and to provide highly responsible and technical assistance to the City Manager.