How Do You Prepare Yourself for Duty?

Photo by Tony Greco.

By Thomas N. Warren

Every firefighter must be prepared both mentally and physically when he reports for duty. The lives of your fellow firefighters and the public depend on your ability to carry out your duties under extreme conditions each and every day. Firefighters rely on their training, instincts, skills, equipment, and fellow firefighters in a much more profound way than any other profession.

The stakes are always high for every firefighter when they report for duty, and this is something that every firefighter should take very seriously.

When I was fresh out of the fire academy in the late 1970s, most of the fire officers in my department were former military men. These fire officers still conducted themselves as military officers. They reported for duty in a clean uniform with their collar rank insignia proudly displayed. They took their role in the fire department seriously and demanded the same from the firefighters in their command. They wanted their fire company to function smoothly and efficiently. These fire officers were great role models for us young, eager firefighters. We knew that we would learn the business of firefighting, we knew we would be pushed hard every day, we knew that we would be watched out for, and we knew that all this would lead to becoming a respected member of our department. What we may not have realized at the time was that these sound foundations would serve us well for our entire careers.

The fire officers expected us to be ready to work immediately on relieving the on-duty shift. This meant we arrived rested, clear-headed, and in a clean uniform. My captain (a former naval officer) would always say that he didn’t care how filthy I got at fires during our tour of duty, but I had to arrive there in a clean uniform and shined shoes. It wasn’t that long before my appointment that the firefighters actually stood at roll call in front of the apparatus at the beginning of every shift for inspection.

Part of relieving the on duty firefighters was to remove their personal protective equipment (PPE) from the truck, place it in the “boot room,” and then place all the PPE on the truck. A quick check of our PPE included ensuring that your gloves were in your pockets along with a hose strap and a sprinkler wedge. Next, check your helmet to be sure your door chock was in the rubber band, and then check your boots for embers or debris from previous fires that may be inside or resting in the folds.

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Once you inspected your PPE and rested at your riding position, you checked the self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) to be sure it was full of air, and you then turned on to be sure the air flowed to the mask. You then took a quick look at the face mask to be sure there were no embers or debris inside the mask; any debris in the mask would end up in your eyes when the air started flowing.

Today’s firefighters no longer share the same face mask with every firefighter, but rather have a personal face mask for their individual use (a positive step forward). This allows for a better fitting mask as well as one that is more sanitary. Individual hand lights and portable radios were also something that did not exist for every firefighter, but they are now considered an essential part of a firefighter’s PPE. Always do a quick check of the hand light to ensure it is functioning and the portable radio to ensure it has a full charge.

Check your face mask for cracks in the rubber face seal or in the lens. Also check the head mesh and draw straps for wear. Finally, take a quick walk around the truck, opening every compartment to be sure all equipment is there and ready for use.

Now that you have confirmed that the truck and your equipment are ready, you need to personally notify the firefighter whose PPE you just placed in the boot room that you have relieved them. However, before that firefighter leaves for home, converse with him. Find out if there have been any structure fires that have left a building compromised in any way as well as if there any street closings, any  hydrants that are out of service, any fire protection systems out of service, or any

unusual/dangerous conditions in your district. Find out if the crew you are relieving has experienced any problems with the truck and its equipment.

Check in with your officer and let him know that you are on duty and ready for the day. Your officer will want to discuss the same things you discussed with the firefighter you relieved, but in more depth. The officer will also want to discuss any new department general orders, training bulletins, memorandums, policies, or standard operating procedures (SOPs). The officer will also want to advise you of any scheduled training or other activities occurring during your shift.

If you are the apparatus driver, you will be required to spend a little more time with the details of the truck and its operation. Usually, the driver will check the apparatus while the other firefighters are involved in regular housekeeping activities. The driver is also responsible for inspecting the truck and its equipment and reporting any deficiencies that he finds. A basic check of engine fluids is a good place to start with this task, followed by starting the engine and engaging the pump or aerial device. Make sure to operate the pump or aerial device using all the controls; this ensures the functionality of all aspects of the pump or aerial device. Controls that are not operated frequently tend to become stiff or, worse, inoperable all together. Check all the warning lights, the water level in the tank, emergency medical response supplies, radio equipment, and all power and hand tools.

Finally, make sure that the truck is clean. When you arrive on the scene of an emergency, people will judge you and your department based solely on the apparatus and your appearance. These judgments, as shallow as they may be, will be the basis of determining whether you are trustworthy and professional. The public has expectations of firefighters and it is important that we, as firefighters, meet those expectations on every response. This judgment will begin as soon as you arrive, long before you begin your work.

While the driver is checking the truck, the rest of the crew is usually occupied with routine housework. This may seem like menial work, but it is an opportunity to demonstrate to your officer and crew that you are part of the team—their team. Cleaning the firehouse is not difficult and, in most cases, does not take very long.

Your company officer will, at some point, gather the crew together and discuss the day’s activities. Company training and food preparation are two staples of every firefighter’s day and will be part of this shift. The officer will update the crew on any new general orders and training bulletins or SOPs that were issued while you were off duty. Take in every new communication and look for ways to incorporate them into your work immediately. If you haven’t done so already, establish a book of all training bulletins and SOPs for future study.

It will only be a matter of time before the alarm sounds and the real work begins. Be the first one on the truck, dress appropriately for the response, know to where you are responding, and get off the truck ready to work. Take the lead when you should, and work as part of the team under the supervision and direction of your officer. When the emergency call is over, assess your actions and prepare for the next call.

Preparation for your shift should start well before the shift begins in mind, body, and spirit. It may not be apparent to you at the time, but proper preparation for your coming shift is actually preparation for a successful career.


Thomas N. Warren has more than 40 years of experience in the fire service in both career and volunteer departments. He retired as assistant chief of department of the Providence (RI) Fire Department after 33 years of service. Presently he is a faculty member at Bristol Community College in the Fire Science Technology Program teaching a variety of subjects in the fire science discipline. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in fire science from Providence College, an Associate’s Degree in business administration from the Community College of Rhode Island and a Certificate in Occupational Safety and Health from Roger Williams University.


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