Ranks and Roles of Firefighters in the United States

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Across the globe fire-fighting differs little from the military in terms of leadership titles, ranks and orders. There are several countries around the world that recognize similar titles of leadership within the fire administration but also ones who differ. This article will take a quick and uncomplicated look at the ranks and responsibilities of fire-fighters throughout the United States. This list and summarization will proceed from the lowest ranks to the highest points of authority in the administration. On a simple note, different fire houses have their own symbols, badges and insignias which we will not be including here.

For the purpose of clarification, Fire-fighters in America work under different charges that can be known as, Fire Rescue, Fire Companies, Fire Bureaus, Fire Divisions and Fire Protection Districts. There are also several company types called, Rescue Company, Truck Company, Engine Company,  Medic Company, Squad and a recently added one called Squint.

The lowest rank in fire-fighting is simply called a Fire-Fighter or occasionally a Private. Commonly based upon the seniority of the fire-fighter, the titles of 1st Class, Senior, and Master Fire-Fighter can also be given to those under this rank. The responsibilities of Fire-Fighters are to check equipment, ride in the trucks in response to calls, battle fires, clean the firehouse, safety inspect buildings and fire hydrants as well as other tasks of a similar nature.

The next rank can be known as Driver, Engineer, or Fire Equipment Operator. Their responsibilities include driving the fire apparatus, raising the ladders, laying hoses, battling fires, operating radios and communication equipment, presenting fire programs to the general public and several other duties.

Lieutenants are normally used as the lowest rank among Fire Officers. They are responsible for supervising the Fire-Fighters beneath them. Day-to-day tasks must also be under their organization and supervision. Safety procedures and fire equipment are used by Lieutenants in training the engineers and fire-fighters under their rank.  Several other duties fall under their responsibilities such as providing emergency medical treatment to victims in need, educational lecturing, employee training and evaluation of those under them.

Moving up to higher management now, the Captains are next in rank. This great responsibility is to be a senior supervisor over an individual company or station. With a higher rank comes more important responsibilities and a Fire Captain is no exception. The responsibilities here constitute directing, assigning and supervising the fire-fighting, property protection, medical emergencies, directing the routes of emergency calls, making decisions upon fire-fighting methods, community relations and public education to name a few of the many other great obligations. Being a leader of this nature will also demand that they commence training, evaluating, supervising and scheduling. A rank that is uncommonly used today is that of a Senior Captain which holds similar responsibilities except that they may also assume the duties of a Division Chief/Fire Marshal if they absent from duty.

Battalion Chiefs, Division or District Chiefs are all trained as (EMTs) or Emergency Medical Technicians and often more than not have fire science degrees. They are the highest ranking shift officers in the department who are always on duty at any given time and will often counsel those beneath them through difficult situations and when necessary will take disciplinary measures. They will often maintain the buildings and the grounds of the fire department. Battalion Chiefs are often out in the community doing public speaking, educating and representing their departments. They also run practice and other drills.

Finalizing now and looking upon the highest authority in a fire department are the Chiefs. The Chiefs have the responsibilities of attending town/city council meetings, seminars and other types of fire-related gatherings. They must provide the direction and leadership for the entire department and their operations, functions and personnel. They must plan for the future in regards to implementing and developing the policies and procedures of the department. Chiefs are appointed by the City Council and are required to have a Bachelor’s Degree in a Fire Science, Public Administration, management, business or another related field from an accredited college or university. It is also required that they have excellent public speaking and communication skills.

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