15 Terms Every Fire Officer Should Know

May 3, 2016
Steve Prziborowski shares key terms that all company officers need to know.

As a fire officer (from lieutenant all the way up to fire chief), it is critical that you stay on top of what is going on in today’s fire service, which includes knowing various terms or abbreviations that might impact you and your personnel.

In no specific order, below are 15 terms every fire officer should know:

1. Personnel expectations: One of the most important things a supervisor can do is establish personnel expectations and provide them to their personnel. Some call expectations micromanaging, I call them providing direction. I remember when I was a new firefighter and I had my captain providing expectations, one being “if we get a car fire, I expect you to pull the front bumper hoseline if it is in front of the engine, and the rear pre-connected hoseline if it is behind the engine.” I thought he was micromanaging me! He shouldn’t have to tell me what line to pull, let me decide; I’ve had the training and it’s just a hoseline, right? Well, now as a chief officer, I realize he wasn’t trying to handcuff or micromanage me, he was trying to offer expectations for various types of situations, to ensure we managed the situation smoothly and efficiently. Besides sharing your expectations with your personnel, make sure you find out their expectations of you; it’s a two-way street. 

2. Accountability: One form of accountability is holding your personnel accountable for their actions after you have established expectations and have shared those expectations. If you provide expectations but don’t hold them accountable, your expectations aren’t worth the paper they are printed on. Another form of accountability is personnel accountability on the emergency scene. Sorry to say, the days of freelancing are over. One of the contributing factors to firefighter line-of-duty-deaths and injuries is the lack of personnel accountability/freelancing on the emergency scene. It’s not just the fire officer’s job to know where their personnel are; every member of a crew, regardless of rank, should know where their other crew members are at any given time.

3. Progressive discipline: One of the worst parts of being a supervisor and a boss is having to, on occasion, discipline your personnel. Discipline is meant to change behavior; what it takes to change one person’s behavior will be different from another person. The key is finding that sweet spot that is not too tough, but not too easy on an individual. There are many levels of progressive discipline, and it is critical that the fire officer know:

  • Those levels within their department
  • Which of those levels they can impose at their rank
  • Which of those levels they cannot impose, and have to rely on a higher-ranking officer to impose
  • The pros and cons of each level
  • When to impose and/or recommend each level

I like to look at it this way: we first establish and share our expectations then we reinforce our expectations and hold our personnel accountable for their actions or non-actions. If that does not change their behavior, then we need to start working up the chain: teachable moment, verbal discipline, etc.

4. Total response time: As long as I have been in the fire service, I have always been reminded that time saves lives. When someone calls 9-1-1, they typically expect us to be there as soon as possible, regardless of their emergency. There are a few terms that come into play from the time someone calls 9-1-1 until the point we arrive, some of which we have control over, some of which we do not. Total response time takes into account three key elements:

  1. Call processing time—the time it takes for the dispatcher to pick up the 9-1-1 call, to obtain a location and type of emergency, and the time to actually ring down the fire station
  2. Turnout time—the time it takes to get to the apparatus, to get appropriately dressed, and to get the apparatus wheels rolling
  3. Travel time—the time measured from when the wheels are rolling until the point the wheels stop at the location where the incident is known to be

5. Turnout time: Of the three times mentioned above in #4 related to total response time, the only time the fire officer has control over is the turnout time. The fire officer is at the mercy of the communications center for the call processing portion of the response. Contrary to what some may believe, the fire officer is at the mercy of the traffic, the weather, the pedestrians, and the distance among other things, for the travel time portion of the response. Now some may say that we can make up time en route to the call by driving fast, going in the opposite direction against traffic, running red lights, or running stop signs, but I will respectfully disagree. Depending on where you live, those things may be against the law (even for public safety personnel who are asking for the right of way, but not guaranteed the right of way), and even if they are not against the law, they are high-risk situations that can lead to an accident and/or injuries or deaths to civilians or responders. Some may use the argument or justification that it is OK to run red lights or stop signs, or drive fast/ go against traffic because the “baby is not breathing,” or because “there are lives to be saved.”

Well, I like this analogy: what happens if you get into an accident en route to the “baby not breathing?” You can’t just leave the scene. You have to check on your crew and anyone else you may have made contact with. If there are injuries you have to treat them, and request additional resources to assist with medical care. You have to request law enforcement for a report. You have to request your supervisor for their report. If your apparatus has any hint of damage, then you may have to move into a reserve unit until your apparatus has been evaluated by your mechanics or repaired by the appropriate person. Wait, but the baby was not breathing or there were multiple rescues to be made! Well, guess what, the baby is no longer alive and the victims needing to be rescued have perished because they are no longer getting the first- or second-due apparatus. They are getting the fourth or higher-due apparatus (coming from a much farther distance), all because the fire officer allowed the engineer to run that red light or drive like a NASCAR driver heading for the finish line.

So what can the fire officer due to reduce turnout times? Ensure the station radio is on during the daytime so that you can get a jump on calls. I love it when I hear fire officers (that keep the radio off during the day) justify it by saying “they’ll call us when they need us.” Seconds can save lives, and I don’t know about you, but I think it is critical for a fire station to know what their neighboring fire stations are doing so that they are not blindsided. For example, if I was anticipating being second-due to a structure fire (because that is how we are normally dispatched, but I had chosen not to listen to the radio and missed that the first-due engine was already tied up at another call), but then showed up on scene or found out en route, and realized I was now first-due (or vice versa), that could have an impact on my strategy and tactics. Besides ensuring the radio is on during the day, the fire officer can also time their personnel for how long it takes them to don their PPE and board the apparatus and work to improve those times.  

6. Training: I realize you’re probably thinking “why did he have to list training,” isn’t that assumed? Not necessarily. Take a look at every firefighter injury or line-of-duty-death and I bet there is something training-related that could have been done differently, or an area of emergency scene operations that those involved could have spent more time on. I don’t say that to be disrespectful or to take away from the tragedy or near-miss that involved fire service personnel. I say that because if we truly want to learn from history, we need to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself, and learn from the good and the not-so-good of what is happening in the present, and has happened in the past, so that we can reduce our chances for it happening in the future. Great fire officers know how to make training fun, relevant, timely and appropriate. Great fire officers don’t let days that end in “y” get in the way of training. They find ways to ensure every day is a training day. Start out by learning the strengths and weaknesses of your personnel, and then work on strengthening those weaknesses, and capitalizing on those strengths to ensure they continue to be strengths!

7. Mentoring: Simply put, mentoring is preparing others for the future, so that they are not just great at their current rank, but at future ranks they may aspire to. Mentoring is happening every day around the world, and your department doesn’t need a formal mentoring program to ensure its personnel are set up for success in the present and the future. Great fire officers take the time to take their personnel under their wing, show them the ropes, and also show them tips and suggestions for being the best they can be, regardless of the position they may find themselves in the future. Great fire officers also have mentors of their own, typically at the same or higher rank. Even if you have no desire to promote, you still have an obligation to be the best you can be, and to train, educate and mentor your personnel until the cows come home. And when the cows come home, do it again, and again, and again!

8. Succession planning: Succession planning to some is hand selecting others to succeed those in key leadership positions within an organization. I don’t believe in specifically hand selecting certain individuals just because they want to be selected or because you or someone else believes they should be selected to be the next chosen one. Instead, I believe that succession planning is casting a wide net, looking for those who may be interested, qualified, and potentially a good fit for those key leadership positions within your organization. Key leadership positions can be any rank from firefighter up to fire chief. As for firefighter, key leadership positions may be those coveted or hard to fill positions at certain firehouses, on certain apparatus or with certain crews. If you only rely on one person being the golden child for the next vacancy, and you put all of your eggs into that one basket, you run the risk of alienating many who may feel slighted for not being selected to be the chosen one. You also may send a bad message and even effectively kill the career development desire in some of your personnel should they not be selected. Plus, what happens if that one person changes their mind on stepping into a future position you may feel they are the best to fill? Or what happens if something tragic happens to them? You’re then left with no back-up plan. Instead, I’m a believer in encouraging, assisting, and preparing as many of your personnel as you can to fill key leadership positions. Not all may end up choosing to step up when they are eventually asked, but at least this way you may inspire many to be the best they can be, and you end up having more personnel to pick from when the time comes to select people for those key leadership positions.

9. International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC): The IAFC is not just for fire chiefs, as I once believed. While many IAFC members are indeed fire chiefs, more and more members are personnel who are at the rank of company or chief officer. Think about it, where do future fire chiefs typically come from? The company and chief officer ranks. IAFC membership offers a number of resources for the fire officer. The IAFC also hosts the annual Fire Rescue International (FRI) conference that changes locations every year. One of the best things at FRI is the Officer Development Program (ODP), which has seven total levels, and has classes that will offer certification at the end. There are three levels of Company Officer Leadership Symposium (COLS), two levels of Chief Officer Leadership Symposium (CHIEF) and finally two levels of Executive Chief Officer (ECO). For more information, go to: www.iafc.org.

10. National Fire Academy (NFA): The NFA is one of the best-kept secrets of the fire service. I say secrets because many fire service personnel are not aware of the numerous classes they offer both on and off campus, and that the classes are free! What’s even better is that they pay your airfare and provide lodging, leaving the only cost a nominal meal ticket to cover the three (3) meals a day they offer. Another benefit of the NFA is the fire service history that involves the campus, as well as the history within the area. For example, Gettysburg is about 10 minutes away. They have classes for virtually every rank of fire service personnel, and for virtually every type of fire service discipline. For more information, go to: https://www.usfa.fema.gov/training/nfa/.

11. Professional credentialing (or professional designation): The term professional credentialing or professional designation is being used more and more today, to help increase the level of professionalism within the fire service. Credentialing or designation is not just showing up to attend a class, and expecting to “pay the fee and get the B.” Credentialing or designation means you have met at least one nationally accepted standard, and that you demonstrate a level of education and experience to support your technical competence in the position. Credentialing can be received from a number of organizations and/or associations, as well as educational institutions. It’s a form of continuing education, but with a specific outcome for a specific reason. One such organization that offers up professional credentialing is the Center for Public Safety Excellence (CPSE), who offer credentialing in areas such as Fire Officer, Chief Fire Officer, Chief Training Officer, Chief EMS Officer and Fire Marshal. For more information, go to: www.publicsafetyexcellence.org.

12. Fire Officer (FO) Designation: Fire Officer Designation is one of the credentials offered by CPSE as mentioned in item 11 above, and is open to all company officers, junior officers and above who have supervisory responsibilities or those who have served in an intermittent acting status for a minimum of 12 months. For more information, go to: www.publicsafetyexcellence.org.

13. Chief Fire Officer (CFO) Designation: The CFO designation is one of the credentials offered by CPSE as mentioned in item 11 above, and is open to chief officers serving at the battalion chief level or above. For more information, go to: www.publicsafetyexcellence.org.

14. Managing Officer Program: The Managing Officer Program is a multiyear curriculum offered by the NFA as mentioned in item 10 above, and includes all four elements of professional development: education, training, experience and continuing education. This program is perfect for company officers who want to be the best they can be and are preparing for promoting to the chief officer ranks. For more information, go to: https://www.usfa.fema.gov/training/nfa/programs/mo_program.html.

15. Executive Fire Officer (EFO) Program: The EFO Program is a four-year program offered by the NFA as mentioned in item 10 above, and provides senior fire officers with a broad perspective on various facets of fire and emergency services administration.  For more information, go to: https://www.usfa.fema.gov/training/nfa/programs/efop.html.

While there are obviously many terms each and every fire officer should know, these will hopefully be a good starting point to set you and ultimately those you work with and for, up for success!

Next month, I will look at these 15 terms from the fire chief's perspective. 

STEVE PRZIBOROWSKI, a Firehouse Contributing Editor, has over 20 years of fire service experience, currently serving as a deputy chief for the Santa Clara County Fire Department. He is also an instructor for the Fire Technology Program at Chabot College in Hayward, CA, and is a former president of the Northern California Training Officers Association. Prziborowski was named the 2008 California Fire Instructor of the Year. He has earned a master's degree in Emergency Services Administration, a bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice, and an associate's degree in Fire Technology. Prziborowski has completed the Executive Fire Officer Program at the National Fire Academy, and received Chief Fire Officer Designation through the Commission on Professional Credentialing. He is a regular speaker and presenter at fire service events and conferences across the country and recently published three books: How to Excel at Fire Department Promotional ExamsReach for the Firefighter Badge, and  The Future Firefighter's Preparation Guide, all of which are available on his websites: www.chabotfire.com and www.code3firetraining.com.

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