The Forgotten Position

By Michael Gurr

Driver/engineer, chauffeur, and pump operator are just a few of the different names for the person who drives the fire truck. This is the forgotten position, because anything written about it in any trade journal usually concerns pump pressures and friction loss. But this job is much more than just calculating numbers, turning knobs, and pulling levers. The driver is the company officer’s right-hand man, and should be your go-to guy for everything. He sits up front and he sees everything you see and some things you don’t. He has watched you perform as a company officer and knows your routines and tactics. If you put the time in and mentor him, he will be an invaluable resource.

In many fire departments, the driver is usually second in command right behind the company officer, has served as a firefighter, and is one of your more senior members. He has usually taken additional courses and classes to become a certified driver engineer; for most fire departments, this is a tested and ranked position. For many drivers, this is their first promotion through the fire service ranks, which usually means that you have a mature and responsible veteran member sitting next to you driving. Great news for the company officer: You now have another member of your crew who understands the roles and responsibilities you must fulfill as company officer; you also have another set of eyes and ears that can help you keep your crew safe and in line.

Some of the driver’s responsibilities include knowing the truck inside and out. The driver should be a mechanic of sorts, know all the truck’s little nuances, where everything goes and, most of all, how it operates. When I was a driver, I was always the last one to come inside to have coffee and take a break. The driver must put the time in every shift to thoroughly check out all the tools and equipment carried on the rig, where they are located, and how they start and work. This is not a cake job or some cushy position. As a driver, you must be on top of your game, and cannot take your duties lightly. Nothing is more embarrassing than not knowing where a piece of equipment is or whether there is gas in the saw or water in the tank. The driver must be on his “A” game every day. Expect and tolerate nothing less.

In the same way as you have mentored your driver, your driver will mentor newer crew members and future drivers. Nothing is more rewarding than watching someone you have mentored turn around and do the same for others. When a rookie comes to your station, you should have total confidence that your driver will take the time to show and teach this new firefighter everything he needs to know to ride your fire truck. Your driver will set up the rookie on the rig so he is ready to respond to alarms. Then together they will go over all the equipment on the rig.

The driver should also show the probie what is expected inside of the firehouse, from station chores to helping the cook with the meal. Most junior members look up to the driver and respect his position. The driver is the buffer and liaison between the crew and the company officer. A good driver knows when to kick-start a crew that needs a little prodding or how to calm and defuse a worked-up company officer.

Your driver is often the voice of reason in the crew bunk rooms. Most company officers have a separate office and sleeping quarters away from the rest of the crew. It is very comforting knowing that your right-hand man is back there and will serve as your voice. The company officer is responsible for the station and crew even when he is not in the same room. You need to empower your driver so he can act on your behalf when you’re not around. Once you do this, remember that you must always back up your driver and make sure that the rest of the crew knows that the driver is second in command.

Drivers have many more responsibilities than what is discussed here, but your driver should have these qualities. Company officers should remember that you have to put time into your driver to mentor that member so that one day he can do the same for others. If every one of us would pass on the knowledge and skills that others have taught us to junior members, we would make our fire departments much better. It all starts with the company officer, the leader. What type of company officer will you be?

Michael Gurr is a lieutenant with Pompano Beach (FL) Fire Rescue. He is also the Florida South East Regional Director of The Fellowship of Christian Firefighters. He has been an Instructor I for three years at the Coral Springs (FL) Fire Academy, and has been in the fire service for 17 years.

Subjects: Driver/engineer, chauffeur, pump operator position, company officer, officer development.

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