Many fire departments have what is known as a "route," or "relief," company officer (a captain or lieutenant); the person who does not have a regular shift or station assignment and fills in as needed for company officers on vacation, out sick or just away from their normal assignment. Usually, this person is the one who has the least seniority and has just been promoted to the position.
The route company officer has one of the most challenging positions in the fire service. Some will argue that being on the route may be easier than having your own station and crew because you are just "passing through," and by not being regularly assigned to that crew, you don't have to take ownership or hold personnel accountable because you are only the guest for the time you are there. However, I will offer that the position of route company officer is more challenging than being regularly assigned because you always have to adapt to different situations and personnel, none of which are the same or sometimes even close.
Every fire department should put together a binder or informational packet for each of its route company officers (for that matter, give it to any officer that may be working a trade or overtime day at a different station as they may find themselves having the same questions a route company officer would) containing the following items:
- Who are that station's normally assigned personnel?
- What are the specialties of each person assigned to that station?
- What are the regular duties of each person assigned to that station, if any?
- Where should I park? Are there "reserved" parking spots I should know about?
- Where is my locker for my uniforms?
- Where is my locker for my personal protective equipment?
- Where do I sit at the kitchen table?
- Which recliner is mine?
- On what day does the station's garbage get collected?
- On what day does the recycling go out?
- On what day does the generator get maintained?
- Where are the station utility shutoffs?
- What are the most commonly referenced department policy numbers specific to this station?
- Who are the frequent station visitors and what should I know about them?
- Where do we obtain fuel for the apparatus? If we have fuel on site, is there a specific maintenance schedule to keep?
- What, if any, are the special projects the station personnel are responsible for? If there are projects, is there a schedule that needs to be kept? Is there something I can do to assist?
- What is the password to access the station computer?
- Where are the spare office supplies? Where are the spare station supplies?
- What is unique (specifications, capabilities, etc.) about the apparatus at this station?
- What are the most commonly used radio frequencies?
- Are there odd transmission areas where I may need to use different radio frequencies or specialized techniques to communicate?
- Are there special apparatus maintenance duties on certain days of the week?
- What does each of the keys on the key ring open up?
- Is there anything specific the personnel expect of you in the way of assistance with operating the apparatus?
- Who handles the siren - the driver or the officer?
- Where is the apparatus remote door opener, and who usually operates it?
- Are there any specialized map books for that first-due area or unique to that station? If so, where are they and is there any special way to interpret them?
- Does the station have run cards to find each street and address in their first-due area? If so, where do you find them?
- Is there a pre-fire plan book with drawings or pictures of the major target hazards?
- If there are any parks, trails, etc., where are the parking lots, gates, access roads, most commonly dispatched locations, challenges, etc.?
- Where do the "frequent flyers" live? What are some important things to know about these individuals?
- Which locations do we most commonly respond to? What are some important things to know about each of these locations (access points, special hazards, response history, etc.)?
- Are there any pre-designated locations to land a medical helicopter?
- Where are our closest hospitals, including trauma centers, burn centers and emergency rooms?
- Are there convalescent or assisted-living facilities? If so, where are they, what types of patients do we typically respond to, what typical challenges do we face at that facility, etc.
- Where are the locations of all of the schools? Where are the fire department connections for the sprinkler and/or standpipe systems located?
- Are there any other target hazards I need to know about?
- Which fire departments (if any) do we most frequently run with on mutual aid? What are their radio frequencies? What are the most commonly run with apparatus designators for those other fire departments?
While no two fire departments are the same, the same typically holds true that no two fire stations, even in the same fire department, operate in the same manner. This makes it more important for route company officers to have pre-planned what they are getting into, prior to even getting to work at that fire station they are not normally assigned to.
Instead of setting yourself up for disaster, set yourself up for success and life as a route company officer will not be as bad as some make it to be.
Special thanks to my good friend Captain Don Carlson of the Santa Clara County Fire Department for his assistance and inspiration with this column. His thoughts were the foundation for it.
STEVE PRZIBOROWSKI, CFO, is a 16-year veteran of the fire service and is currently serving as a battalion chief for the Santa Clara County, CA, Fire Department. He is an instructor in the Chabot College (Hayward, CA) Fire Technology Program, where he has been instructing fire technology and EMS classes since 1993. Prziborowski is an Executive Board member and past president of the Northern California Training Officers Association. He has a master's degree in emergency services administration, is a student in the Executive Fire Officer Program at the National Fire Academy, is a state-certified chief officer and master instructor, and has earned the Chief Fire Officer (CFO) designation. He may be contacted via www.chabotfire.com.