Seat assignments or pre-determined tasks for each riding position on fire apparatus is nothing new. Seat Assignments have been part of the New York City Fire Department's Standard Operating Procedures for years. Firehouse Magazine Editor-In-Chief Harvey Eisner has written two articles on the topic in previous editions.
I can recall the first such article that I ever read was in the early 1980's. It was written by Lieutenant Frank Miale. Lt. Miale has since retired, as a battalion chief, with FDNY. In the article Miale described how to successfully use seat assignments not only in career fire departments, but also in the volunteer sector.
Miale was a member of a volunteer fire department in upstate New York and he described how the concept was employed in the Lake Carmel Fire Department. I was a volunteer chief in a small department, also in upstate New York and I figured that if it could work in Lake Carmel, it could work in my department too. It was especially useful in my department because we didn't go to very many fires so experience and repetition weren't factors on which we could rely.
This concept of course, is not rocket science. Most of the types of incidents that we as firefighters respond to, have predetermined goals and objectives that must be accomplished in order to successfully mitigate the situation. Pre-determined seat assignments makes the division of labor at an incident much easier and in most cases, it makes the basic emergency scene functions "automatic." An incident commander or the individual company officers no longer have to decide and direct each member as to what their respective task at hand will be.
Career departments know at the beginning of each shift or tour who will be responding on what apparatus. Assigning the career firefighter's duties is relatively simple, but how as a volunteer department, do you accomplish this pre-designation of assignments when you have no idea who or how many members will respond to any particular alarm? The answer is quite simple; spread the division of labor over the one thing in your department that is a constant...the seats on your apparatus.
The thing that was unique about Miale's article was that he encouraged the use of signs or placards to be placed at each seat to jog the member's memory about what was expected out of the person in that seat. Career fire department members must be trained and certified to a minimum standard of proficiency. If you can't demonstrate your proficiency in the minimum standards, you aren't on the job.
One of the beauties of the volunteer fire service is that almost anyone's services can be utilized, regardless of one's limitations. We've often heard the statement: "We can use everyone we can get; we'll find something for you to do." That open mindedness can be both a blessing and a curse.
As a volunteer company officer, I know it's frustrating when you look back over your shoulder and you see nothing but the faces of probies or worse yet, faces you've never before seen! The best way to avoid this situation is to strongly encourage members that if they aren't trained in the functions that a particular seat requires, find somewhere else to ride.
We all know that the fire service is steeped in tradition. Not only in the fire service, but around the world human beings from all different walks of life are resistant to change. I recall that back in the 80's when I brought the idea of seat assignments to the other officers in the department; it was not embraced with open arms. It took some sales work, demonstrating and training to gain the buy-in of the membership. Even on the career side of our combination department, we have company officers who are somewhat resistant to the change.