October Roundtable: Engine Operator Qualification

By John “Skip” Coleman

When I joined the Toledo (OH) Fire Department in 1975, anyone could drive an engine. In drill school, we all were required to demonstrate that we were capable of not only driving the apparatus by operating the pumps as well. I was hired in a very strange time in the history of my department. 

The tradition was that firefighters worked 24 hours on and had 48 hours off. Toledo was a three-platoon system. Sometime about 1973 or so, the city decided to put the fire department on eight-hour days. A very complicated schedule was implemented with over 20 “groups.” Because of the scheduling problems, recruits were ordered to drive not only engines but trucks. There generally were no “first drivers.”

In 1976, the department went back to a 24/48 schedule and things got back to what we considered normal.
Throughout my career, the officer, after consultation with his or her battalion chief, chose his first and second drivers. Many firefighters wanted to be first drivers. First drivers never went relieving to other stations. Some, such as myself, didn’t want anything to do with driving. I didn’t feel confident and also liked going inside (if you know what I mean). 

We had no “qualifications” or requirements for becoming a first driver. The trust of the officer alone was sufficient.

I know that there are departments that have specific qualifications that are required for a member to become a driver. Maneuverability tests and times pump evolutions as well as hydraulic questions needed to be completed successfully. 

Some departments made this a promoted position. I am not familiar with the specifics of this, not working for such a department, and am ignorant as to what was required to get “promoted.” Was the process “driving” based or more of a generic test?

It would be interesting to conduct a comparison between departments like mine that chose pump drivers with no specific technical “qualifications” and those that do require “qualifications” to compare accident rates, maintenance costs, and timed pump evolutions. 

That brings me to this month’s question: Do your engine drivers have to participate in a “qualification” program to become certified to operate the engine? Please post your responses in the comments section below.

John “Skip” Coleman retired as assistant chief from the Toledo (OH) Department of Fire and Rescue. He is a technical editor of Fire Engineering; a member of the FDIC Educational Advisory Board; and author of Incident Management for the Street-Smart Fire Officer (Fire Engineering, 1997), Managing Major Fires (Fire Engineering, 2000), and Incident Management for the Street-Smart Fire Officer, Second Edition (Fire Engineering, 2008).

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