Apparatus Seating Assignments

Oct. 16, 2006
Spread the division of labor over the one thing in your department that is a constant...the seats on your apparatus.

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.

For years the FDNY has had a procedure that addresses both task assignment and personnel accountability. At the beginning of every tour the company officer looks over his roster and assigns the "riding positions." He prints the roster on two sheets of paper, one of which he places in his shirt right pocket and the other is placed on the dashboard of the apparatus. Additionally, it is a fire department tradition that the riding positions are also printed on a chalkboard on the apparatus floor. This board shows the members who is doing what.

We work in Northwest Florida and this chalkboard procedure was relatively "unknown" in our part and possibly most parts of the country. After the attacks on the World Trade Center, numerous picture books and videos showed these boards, many with the names of the brothers who never returned. Every career fire company and many volunteer companies in Escambia County picked up on the practice and it's safe to say that it is now a "tradition" on our job.

Companies worked hard at trying to outdo the others with the creativity and artwork on their boards. The board is used by every career company at the beginning of every shift and it's used by many of the volunteers whenever three or more members are at the firehouse. It serves to eliminate the "Chinese Fire Drill" routine when the tone sounds and 20 members are tripping over each other trying to grab a choice seat for the run.

Battalion Chief Curt Isakson brings his company officers together, while on duty, once every two months and conducts officer training. They meet at a centrally located firehouse and the entire company from that firehouse is detailed to cover the vacated officer's normal assignments. Chief Isakson developed a bulleted form that clearly details the objectives and assignments for fires in private dwellings, vehicle fires, gas leaks, motor vehicle accidents with extrications, water rescues, fire alarm activations, rapid intervention teams, medical calls and truck company operations at structural fires.

He presented these riding position assignments to his company officers and opened the floor to further suggestions about how the concept would work best for them as the guys responsible for getting the job done. The idea was met with a warm reception and the officers appreciated being part of the decision making process in setting the policy.

Since establishing the policy with his officers, Chief Isakson's group has been consistently busy catching an abundance of structural fire activity. The positive results have been clearly evident. Thanks to an accurate size-up and a quick response, the companies get off the rig with the tools they will need. There's no doubt as to who is doing what. Doors are quickly forced, the proper lines are stretched, windows and roofs are vented and water is on the fire in a safe, orderly minimal amount of time. Companies that are the first to arrive on the scene, but don't operate with pre-determined riding positions are sometimes left on the front lawn as the better prepared companies subsequently arrive and leave the first-in company standing on the front lawn trying to figure out who is doing what.

Like most operating guidelines, these seat assignments must be flexible and dynamic. The charts that are shown below are gauged for a four-person company. If you respond with fewer than four people, obviously everyone must pick up additional tasks to make the chart work. Conversely, if you are fortunate enough to respond with more than four, some of these tasks can be spread out to the other seats. You will run into situations where everything that's black and white, won't be so easy to apply. Things like working short handed, engine companies operating as a truck companies, water supply considerations and any number of factors will require a company officer and his firefighters to be creative with how they deal with their situation.

Training and preparation are the benchmarks of great fire companies. When the firefighter who is assigned the seat behind the officer knows at the beginning of his shift he is the nozzle position for the tour, he can and should go to the rig and check all of the nozzles. He can determine that the nozzle is set for a straight stream, free off any trash and lying in the bed where it can quickly be deployed. The same goes for the person assigned to the irons or hydrant positions. If you're assigned to operate the extrication tools, either the tools themselves, or the pump, you can start the tool and make sure that it's operating the way it should. Companies that train using the seat assignments will find that their fire ground tasks flow. Everything is much more organized and runs much more smoothly when the assignments are pre-determined and not left to chance.

Seat Assignments Charts:

Pat Grace has been a member of the fire service since 1976 and is currently a Battalion Chief with the Escambia County Fire Rescue in Pensacola, FL. He started with the Port Dickinson, NY, Fire Department where he held all ranks, including four years as chief of department. He then served with the Milton, FL, Fire Department as firefighter, lieutenant and captain and with the Gulf Breeze, FL, Volunteer Fire Department. Pat holds an A.S. in Fire Science from Pensacola Junior College and is a Florida Fire Instructor, Fire Inspector and EMT.

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