A Stop Worth Making for Aspiring Line Officers

By Jim Nagle

Many firefighters bemoan fire prevention assignments. I believe this resistance generally revolves around three things: adrenaline, working hours, and attitudes. But this can be time well spent, especially if you have aspirations of one day becoming a line officer.

Though it’s true adrenaline addicts may need to take up skydiving on the weekends, fire prevention experience can help you stay alive should you ever lead a fire company into battle. Performing fire-code inspections is just one example. Inspectors go inside hundreds of buildings a year. Often they are the only members to venture deep into the recesses of their jurisdictions’ most dangerous buildings.

Inspectors also can gain valuable insight into building construction by participating in plan review, inspecting the installations of fire detection and suppression systems, and simply by getting a closer look at buildings during their construction. Granted, inspections are no substitute for a good pre-fire survey, but few would argue that there is value in having previously been inside a building that you are about to advance a hose-line into.

In some departments, inspectors are also trained to participate in origin and cause investigations. This training and experience in fire behavior will make the future line officer better prepared to anticipate a fire’s next move, which will improve decision-making skills.

There are many other benefits to working in fire prevention besides those involving the fireground. Inspectors usually interact with the public daily by conducting public education classes or handling citizen complaints. The problem for some members is that these functions are best performed when the public is awake, so the fire preventionist generally works days. However, consider the experience to be gained in communication and administration alone. These skills are vital to being an effective line officer, and are worth a temporary change in working hours.

Finally, the biggest reason for a reluctance toward fire prevention work is attitude. Some may feel that they are somehow less of a firefighter when armed with a fire code book and flashlight, versus a handline, or chain saw. But if you consider our mission to save lives, property, and the environment, fire prevention efforts have elevated our success to levels once unimaginable.

Fire code enforcement, smoke detectors, sprinklers, and public education all save countless lives. If those who work toward ensuring their effective existence and implementation go on to become fire department leaders, they can well serve their department and their community by working to create a more positive fire prevention attitude among the rank and file.

Company officers, as with any type of leader, need to be well-rounded and knowledgeable in their field. If your career path takes you, willingly or otherwise, through fire prevention, rest assured that you can come out a better firefighter and a better leader.

Jim Nagle is a Captain with the Everett (WA) Fire Department, presently assigned to the training division. Nagle has 10 years on the job, with two and a half years spent in the Fire Prevention Bureau as an inspector, public educator, and origin/cause investigator.

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