300 Plus Abbreviations & Acronyms Every Firefighter Should Know

We are expected to use clear text when talking, to ensure the sender understands our message. Have you ever heard someone talk and you only comprehended a fraction of what they said?

In the fire service, we enjoy using abbreviations and acronyms for things. Some fire service personnel tend to go a bit overboard when talking, by using too much "alphabet soup." I'm not providing this information to encourage you to use more abbreviations in your everyday life. I'm providing this information to educate you and better prepare you for talking with fire service personnel or reading fire service (yes, like it or not, EMS is also fire related) textbooks or publications. Knowledge is power and the more you know, the better off you are.

Communications are a problem everywhere, and in the fire service, we have our share of communication problems. In the fire service, we try not to pattern ourselves after our law enforcement counterparts and use "9 or 10-codes" when talking. We are expected to use clear text when talking, to ensure the sender understands our message. Have you ever heard someone talk and you only comprehended a fraction of what they said? For example, have you ever heard a fire service official (such as a Public Information Officer) say something to the effect of "the first rig got on scene and found they had a TC with a couple of DOA's and a suspect that was GOA. They were UTL any live patients?" I bet you have. You may (or may not) know what they are saying, and the public probably has less of a clue as to what they were saying.

Before we go any further, remember that abbreviations should be used sparingly, if not at all. A rule of thumb I try and follow is to only use abbreviations that the average person would understand. There are only two of the abbreviations listed below that fall into that category - CPR and EMT. Those two terms are widely used and understood by the general public. The rest of the terms are foreign to the public and even to some fire personnel. If you do use abbreviations when documenting information on a patient care report (if you are an EMS provider), make sure the abbreviations are approved by the county. Some abbreviations such as PE may have many meanings, all meaning something slightly different (pulmonary embolus, pulmonary edema, physical exam - see what I mean?). Abbreviations can get you in trouble if you're not careful. As a company or chief officer documenting their actions after the incident in a formal, legal report, I encourage people to not use any abbreviations because of the possibility of more than one meaning.

The last thing you want to do is have to clarify to a judge, jury and questioning attorney all of the abbreviations within your report, especially ones that have multiple meanings. I can hear the attorney now "so, Captain Prziborowski - you listed that the patient had suffered a PE. What exactly is that abbreviation? Is it possible there are multiple meanings for that abbreviation? If so, how can we be sure that is what you meant to document? We cannot." Had I just wrote out Pulmonary Embolus, I would have been ok and we would not have dwelled on that subject and I wouldn't have looked like someone less than professional trying to justify why I did what I did.

If you ever find yourself answering questions to an oral board (for entry-level or promotional examinations), please shy away from using abbreviations. While you may think that the fire personnel rating you understand the abbreviations, you can't be too sure. Also, many oral panels have a citizen from the community someone outside of the fire service on the panel as a rater (someone from personnel/human resources, etc.). Using abbreviations may actually hurt you, especially if they do not understand what you are trying to say. The same goes for resumes and job applications; keep the abbreviations to a minimum. About the only other abbreviations I can think of that may be ok (besides CPR or EMT) would be a two-digit state abbreviation (CA, AZ, etc.) or maybe the suffix to an address (Ave., Blvd., St., etc.).

Below are 300+ abbreviations that every firefighter should know, in order to be a successful firefighter with a high understanding of the fire service:

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