Fitting People to Positions
Joe Bachtler’s Volunteers Corner
In any profession, management is faced with the difficulty of matching the abilities of individual workers with the requirements of particular positions. Getting the square pegs into the square holes isn’t easy. The fire service is no exception. As a matter of fact, the volunteer fire service presents some particularly difficult problems.
There is no “average” volunteer fire fighter. Within any department, volunteer personnel can vary widely in training, experience, mental ability, physical agility and age. Paid fire fighters also differ across these same categories, but the range of variation is usually much more narrow because of civil service personnel parameters. Regardless of individual differences, we must make sure that the fire fighter who steps off the arriving rig at any emergency is “the right person in the right place at the right time with the right stuff.”
Assuring that this does in fact happen is not an easy task in a paid department. For the volunteer chief, who never knows the total composition of his crew until the siren blows, it is incredibly difficult. Apparatus position assignments, based on training and experience, provide one method of attempting to match people with jobs.
We will look at the engine company as an example. The principles suggested, of course, can be extended to any type of unit.
Driver/pump operator position: The driver is responsible for delivering the apparatus and crew safely to the emergency scene and for operating the pump. The driver must have been trained and examined for minimum proficiency in at least three areas: (1) driving properly under all traffic, weather and road conditions that may be encountered; (2) efficiently and correctly operating the pump with any combination of supply and attack lines used in that department and (3) complete knowledge of facility and property names, streets, addresses and all water supply locations.
Apparatus operators should be added to the departmental drivers list only after thorough evaluation. The job is absolutely critical to safe arrival and effective operations.
Officer position: The officer is responsible for effectively deploying the equipment and personnel. The success or failure of any fireground operation rests on the ability of the officer to make correct judgments and implement appropriate action. The degree of difficulty this presents, of course, varies with the complexity of the emergency situation, the size and composition of the responding force and the position of the officer in the chain of command.
The proficiency level which should be required of any volunteer officer is difficult to state in positive terms. Training and evaluation should include, at least, a thorough grounding in firemanship, departmental SOP, strategy, tactics, fire behavior and knowledge of the problems and resources that exist in the community. Volunteer officers must be selected or elected on a basis of knowledge and skill, not popularity. Each officer, from the chief on down, should be the best person available to fill that slot. They should be replaced for one reason only: to put a better qualified person in the position.
Attack crew: The attack crew is responsible for advancing the appropriate attack linefs) into the fire building. They should be the most experienced fire fighters available and must have demonstrated proficiency in all the necessary fireground skills.
Hydrant/tanker layout position: This person is responsible for making the necessary connection to the hydrant and turning on the water according to SOP. This crew member will also assist the driver to complete the hookup at the pumper and then report to the officer for instruction or carry out any designated SOP. In tanker supply areas, the layout position may be responsible for stretching a supply line from the pumper to the supply tanker or assisting the driver to set up the pumper for draft from a portable tank. This position can be assigned to a less experienced fire fighter provided that person is well drilled in the tasks required.
Officer aide: Where sufficient personnel are available, a fire fighter equipped with breathing apparatus, forcible entry tool and hand light should be assigned to accompany the officer. This person performs forcible entry, serves as a messenger, assists in advancing hose lines or performs any other tasks the officer requires. The position provides opportunity for a trained but novice fire fighter to gain valuable experience under the direct supervision of the company officer.
Implementing the system: The driver/operator and officer riding positions need no discussion. Assigning the other tasks outlined above to specific riding positions has been used successfully by many departments. Personnel are assigned or “turned over” to ride in and fill any particular position on the basis of training, experience and proficiency examination.
For example, tailboard positions can be designated for specific tasks: right side for aide, left side for attack crew, center for layout, or whatever combination is compatible with the hose bed arrangement. Bucket seats work well as attack crew slots, particularly where breathing apparatus is located in the bucket seats and cross-bed preconnects are carried at the front of the hose bed.
Making the system work takes a lot of common sense and a will on the part of all concerned to make it work. In any volunteer department a situation will sooner or later arise in which no one responds who is qualified to fill one or more of the designated roles. “Move up” rules must be clearly established to cover these times. Paid departments routinely move fire fighters and junior officers up into acting roles to cover for personnel who are on leave for varying reasons. Obviously, the person moved up must know at least the basics of the next position. To put an unqualified persons behind the wheel, for example, will serve no useful purpose and is an invitation to disaster.
It is the responsibility of the department to use each volunteer to the fullest of his or her capacity in the most meaningful role he or she can achieve. The needs of the individual and the needs of the community are both important. Both can be served in a well-planned and well-managed volunteer system.