1. #1
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    Jan 2002
    Great Plains

    Default Fire Depts. with Less Than 30 Firefighters


    I'm a union firefighter in a city of over 100,000 people with a fire staff of about 200 firefighters and I am considering applying for a job in a city of 20,000 people with only 18 firefighters (4 to 6 per shift with no volunteers or POC). They run one engine and one BLS ambulance.

    Can anyone out there who is on a smaller fire department give me some advantages and/or disadvantages of working on a small fire department? For instance, do you feel safe at calls? Do you feel over worked? Are you concerned with your opportunity for promotion? Anything else would be helpful as well.

    Thanks in advance (PS, I'm going to post this on the general FF forum as well).

  2. #2
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    ullrichk's Avatar
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    Jan 2002
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    I've worked in two small departments in the last ten plus years. Here's my take:

    In one department I didn't feel safe due to understaffing. Mutual aid was 15+ minutes away.

    My present dept. is somewhat larger (45 paid) so it's not as big an issue. We are quick to call in off-duty people at the first sign of a working fire. Which might also be a drawback if you don't like going in on your days off. We don't have that many fires (300 or so a year) so it's not a burden to me. I make as many calls as I can.

    My pay is a little low compared to big-city departments, but so is my cost of living. Plus we have a great school system here.

    I don't feel overworked at all. I'm usually looking for things to do during evening downtime - right now I'm updating our County disaster plan for the EM director.

    On the other side of the coin, there can't be much specialization in a small department, so everyone gets to participate in apparatus maintenance, hydrant testing, inspections, fire prevention,etc. For me, the variety is a big plus.

    As for promotion opportunities, my department has, uh, political issues that muddy the promotion process somewhat. I happen to be a bit of an overachiever in some regards, so I feel like my long-term prospects are good. I've had to wade through some disappointments though.

    I can appreciate the advantages of a big department and there are times I wish I had gone that route, but I'm too far along in my career to start over as a probie.

    Still,there's a lot to be said for the size department where you can get to know and work with everyone.

    I hope this helps some. If you have other questions, just ask.

    Sorry if I rambled.

    a ship in a harbor is safe. . . but that's not what ships are for

  3. #3
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    fieldseng2's Avatar
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    May 2002
    St. Louis, MO



    I'll probably have one of the worst case situations posted, but no matter what I still believe in my heart it's the BEST job on earth.

    We have a residential population of around 30,000. We have 60 uniformed personnel with 4 houses. We run 2 (thats right 2) man engines with ALS (@ 3 houses) ambulances that are crossed trained as firefighters. They are supposedly the 'backwards riding' crew for the engine, but they are so busy that hardly works.

    There are times when our main house is so understaffed, 2 guys have to bounce between the quint and the ambulance depending on the type of run. We do have a batallion chief on each shift, but most of the time he has to ride the rig and act as a company officer.

    Training and education is discouraged, but you are ridiculed for life if you mess something up. Most guys consider their tour of duty a day off from the rest of their life (the have 'real jobs').

    Emergency scenes are chaotic with a lot of freelancing. One of the BCs is so afraid to make a decision 3 guys almost were killed in a house fire when the roof collapsed. Luckily they got out barely in time. This is just 1 of many expamples of his fire scenes.

    The pay is pretty low. Our health insurance plan is horrible. No dental or vision. Pension is half of what a private makes so there is no real incentive to move up.

    There is no collective bargaining in Indiana, so forget about a contract. They (city hall) changes our benefits and working conditions everytime they have an itch.

    I could go on and on for hours about things that would make your head spin. I am fortunate to have a strong background and education before taking the job here. I truly believe its kept me alive.

    I am invloved as much as I can be to help keep this boat afloat. Right now I'm president of my local. The mayor does meet with me, but most of the time she is just being 'friendly'. It took 3 years for us to get trade time.

    There have been 4 guys in 3 years that have left here for bigger departments. They all say the grass IS greener there. I my self happen to be testing for a big city fire department (about 800 FFs). And Ive been here almost 10 years.

    No offense, I honestly wouldn't know why someone would want to move from a big FD to a small one unless they retired to become a chief somewhere. I'm sure there are small progressive FDs out there, but most of the ones I know are struggling.

    I'm not too naive to think there are no problems in a big city FD. The one I'm testing for has had some major controversey in recent years.But I know what I'm looking to get out of the job is there.

    Some problems are just challenges to be conquered. Other problems just make the job a total disappointment and discourages you from even wanting to be there, no matter how hard you try to make the best of it.

    I guess thats what it really boils down to. Ask yourself what you want out of this job. Do very thourough research on the FD you are applying for. Make sure you know what you are getting yourself into. Take the time to visit with the on duty guys and what they have to say about the working environment.

    Remember what I said in the beginning, this is still THE BEST job in the world.



  4. #4
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    Robertsc's Avatar
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    Oct 2002


    Try Maine We have pretty good departments, we have our slow days, but alot of departments are well trained and are led by good leaders. We have good departments in my area, they are paid full time all the way to volly to POC firefighters, and a wide variety of departments. Check out some of them, and yes diversity in skills and training are good, training is important in the departments here. As with any other place there are politics, but if you got family the schools are great, the towns are relatively safe, and it is overall nice and clean place. Buttttttttt it is cold as hell here most of the time in the winter. Ahhhhhh frozen turnout gear.
    "Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear" - Ambrose Redmoon
    “It’s like Lego’s for firefighters.” Robert James III talking about hose appliances.
    "Police, Firefighters and EMS are the most collectively dysfunctional group of people in existence and only we understand each other!"

  5. #5
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    FiremedicMike's Avatar
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    Apr 2001
    Central Ohio, USA


    edit to remove personal info.
    Last edited by FiremedicMike; 03-25-2012 at 08:39 PM.

  6. #6
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    May 1999
    Engine 74


    GreatPlains, what will make all the difference in your new, smaller department is how they train. With that small a community and that small a department you're not going to be as busy as a larger city department. This makes training all the more important. If they have good, relevant, intelligent training, you ought to be fine. If "training is a waste of time." is their attitude, that'll show on the fireground, so watch your backside.
    IAFF 1176

  7. #7
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    Nov 2002


    When going to a small dept there is always going to be the Goo, the Bad and of course the Ugly. The good is that things are usually a tad more relaxed. There is no way that the stuff that probies must do in FDNY, LAFD and other big depts. like those would never fly here. of course we have to make due with very low staffing usually 8-10 people running 4 first due apparatus out of 3 stations. Works out to about 2 guys on a truck most of the time. Thats a bit on the dangerous side if you ask me. There is very limited chance for a promotion and the good ole boy system is surely in effect. So in that case the best may not and for the most part usually do not get the promotion. The budgets are usually smaller so you pay may be lower, benifits are less, and the training budget is also lower. If you want to be a jack of all trades a small dept could be a very good place for you. If you want to specialize in something you might want to rethink your idea.
    After I'm dead I'd rather have people ask why I have no monument than why I have one

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