By Joe Pronesti
If you are an “older” firefighter who is also a football fan, you may recall an NFL quarterback by the name of Don Strock. Although Strock started only a handful of games, his legacy was his ability to fill in and perform at an exceptional level. If you’re a younger firefighter and football fan, you will hear the overused term “next man up” when sports reporters and coaches speak of injuries and team depth. To segue into our profession, the point of this article, and this month’s attached line-of-duty death (LODD) review, are we as a fire service doing enough to prepare our firefighters to perform in an acting or fill-in capacity? And by perform, I mean, “Do they have the training and same level of education as the officers they temporarily replace?”
This month’s Fire Engineering LODD review takes a look at a fire in Cincinnati, Ohio, that occurred on March 26, 2015, that took the life of Firefighter Daryl Gordon. Gordon died when he fell down an open elevator shaft located on the fifth floor of a five-story apartment building. All information contained in the review and that was created for members to immediately apply to a respective training day is taken directly from the internal Cincinnati Fire report and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health. Many issues and recommendations are underscored and developed on, but the one that really caught my eye and has had a tremendous effect on me is the issue of fill-in or acting officers. The internal fire department report references 44 recommendations to the exam, and #31 is acting officers.
As a chief officer, I realize the importance of acting or fill-in bosses, their performances, and how it relates to the successful conclusion of a fire, but I never really put much effort or thought into HOW PREPARED my officers are or those of the mutual-aid departments that frequent my fire scenes. The main reason for this is that the role of acting officer is chosen for us by collective bargaining agreements, promotional lists, or simple seniority; this really takes quite a bit of control away from the shift commander and chiefs who try to put our personnel into the right positions or apparatus assignments.
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The fire department internal report on page 134 states the following:
“Currently, there is no Procedure in place to re-evaluate the ability of a fire fighter to function as an Acting Officer. A fire fighter could pass a promotional test or be cleared 20 years prior and still be able to function as an Acting Officer (or an Acting FAO) without any additional training or fitness to supervise evaluation. Fire fighters working in an out of classification assignment, riding above grade as an Acting Officer (or an Acting FAO), without adequate refresher training or recertification is ineffective and unsafe.”
I conducted an unofficial survey to more than 200 members throughout the nation in regards to how other departments handle their fill-in or acting officer ranks. Below are a few of the graphs for you to consider. I personally believe that seniority is the proper way to have members move up. That said, I encourage you to honor the legacy of Firefighter Daryl Gordon by reviewing and reflecting on how your department handles training acting officers. Please take the time to review and share this review.
The bottom line is this: Does your department have a bunch of Don Strocks ready to come in and save the day? Or is your next man/woman up just keeping the seat warm and hoping just to get to the end of shift without issue?
JOSEPH PRONESTI is a 26-year veteran of the Elyria (OH) Fire Department, where he is an assistant chief and shift commander. He is a graduate of the Ohio Fire Chiefs’ Executive Officer program and a lead instructor at the Cuyahoga (OH) County Community College Fire Academy. He is a contributor to fire service publications and sites, including Fire Engineering. He will be presenting a four-hour preconference classroom at FDIC International 2016 titled “Main Street Tactics and Strategies: Are You Ready?” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org