Bruce H. Varner: First-Due Area

By Bruce H. Varner

Your company (engine, truck, squad, ambulance) and your first-due area should be a matter of pride and ownership as well as of concern. You are responsible for your members and for all of the folks who live, work, play, and travel through your first-due area.  

What are your expectations for your crew? What expectations do Mr. and Mrs. Smith have of you when they are having a really bad day? Are these expectations going to match, or are they going to meet like intersecting lines? Do they reflect reality? There needs to be an ongoing discussion at the company officer level of the day-to-day management and leadership of your first-due area.

The company officer is the most important supervisory position in a department. These officers are the link to our customers and our firefighter workers. They provide the realistic expectations and set the standards that the workforce adheres to when working in the street. Company officers must hold themselves and the firefighter workers accountable for expectations, performance, rules of engagement, and the mission of the organization. How does all this become a part of the daily activities within the first-due area? How do we use it to relate to our customers, to train, and to better prepare ourselves to serve those customers when things go wrong? 

As a company officer, are you well aligned with the department goals and objectives? Are you accountable for meeting goals set forth by management? Is there an accountability and reporting process with which you must comply? If not, do you have your own? 

What are your company’s training needs based on the hazards and frequent occurrences in your first-due area? Do you frequently respond to a freeway or an expressway for extrication work? Do you have multiple responses for “smells & bells” at an independent living facility? (What is the fire protection system profile of the facility?) What are your low-frequency, high-risk potentials? Are you well trained for them?

It really doesn’t matter what the makeup of your first-due area is. There are challenges and opportunities you should be aware of and prepared for. How do you as a company officer prepare your crew for those challenges? How do you take advantage of those opportunities?  Are you taking advantage of all of the resources available in today’s electronic information mecca? Are there opportunities within your first-due area to learn from experts about processes and hazards that you will be called to when things go horribly wrong? 

What about community education opportunities? When was the last time you were in the grade school, middle school, high school to spend time speaking with the principal or teachers? Do you attend events at the schools? How about other community events? Have you ever had lunch or dinner at the Senior Independent Living facility and spent time with staff and the seniors who live there? There are some amazing individuals living in these facilities with life experiences that many of us can’t even imagine.

It is your first-due area. Get out there and learn about it. Know it. Experience it. Meet the people. Be thoroughly prepared to assist them when things go wrong. Be a part of the community. Combine the principles of “combat ready” and “NICE,” and you will have a well-prepared company the extends high-quality customer service and is valued by the community you serve.


BRUCE H. VARNER served 25 years with the Phoenix (AZ) Fire Department. He served as chief in Carrollton, Texas, and Santa Rosa, California, and retired in 2010. He has been a member of the National Fire Protection Association Protective Clothing and Equipment project since 1985. He is a member of several fire service organizations and was the chair of the NFPA Technical Committee on Electronic Safety Equipment from 2002 to 2012; he continues as a committee member.