Planning for Your Career in the Fire Service: Choosing Your Fire Department

By: Anthony Kastros

The Triangle of Preparation (TOP) is a helpful tool for fire science students who are planning their career in the fire service industry. The TOP is comprised of three components: the fire department that you are aspiring to work with, the job you are seeking and – the most important part – you. This article focuses on choosing the fire department that best aligns with your career goals.

Learn more about Online Fire Science Degrees, certifications, and CEUsEvery fire department is different, each unique with its own culture, demographics, values and more. Before choosing (or deciding to stay with) the fire department that best fits you, be sure to take into account these important aspects. Not only are these factors important for choosing the appropriate department for you, but they will continue to evolve as you advance in your career as a firefighter.

Entry-Level Firefighters

  • Size and demographics: What is the population served, square mile area and number of stations?
  • Operations: How many engines, trucks and transporting medic units are deployed daily and what is the staffing level? Is advanced life support part of the delivery model and how?
  • Culture: What are the department core values? How long is the academy and probation?

More experienced firefighters who are more interested in a promotion to company officer or chief have different items to consider.

Company Officers

  • Core values: What are the core values of the department and why are these particular issues of relevance? How long have these core values been in existence? Is there supporting documentation of these values including examples or a cultural document?
  • Policies: While all policies are important, which ones are recited on a daily basis? What is the harassment policy? What is the grooming and uniform policy? What is the policy regarding cell phones and electronic media?
  • Standard operating guidelines (SOG’s): What are the SOG’s for structure fires, MCI, hazmat, active shooter and vegetation fires? What is the SOG for rapid intervention and mayday? What is the SOG for command and control?
  • Disciplinary issues: Is there a trend toward a certain behavior or issue with performance including customer complaints, backing of apparatus with a spotter, vehicle accidents, etc.
  • Fire chief’s message, ethos, or style: What is the chief’s philosophy on labor, management, leadership, customer service, operations, etc.?

Chief Officers

  • Budget challenges and opportunities: What is the budget and percentage spent in wages and benefits? What alternative funding streams are available and how would you assist in accessing them? What is the cost to keep a company in service for a year?
  • Internal and external political challenges and opportunities: Are there any political groups or outside organizations that pose a threat to the fire department? What political or business association relationships should be fortified? Is there legislation that would benefit or harm the department?
  • Succession planning, leadership development and tactical execution on the scene: How would you continuously build leaders on your battalion? How would you ensure operational excellence in your battalion?

All fire departments are unique. To excel, you must be able to identify the specific characteristics of the department where you work or where you want to work.

anthony kastrosBio: Anthony Kasatros is a 29-year veteran of the fire service. He is author of the Fire Engineering/Pennwell book and video series "Mastering the Fire Service Assessment Center" and video series "Mastering Fireground Command - Calming the Chaos!" Chief Kastros was the Keynote Speaker for FDIC International 2013.

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