Welcome to the Truck!

Part 3

“Many are called, few are chosen” In my humble opinion there is no more pivotal role in the fire service today than that of the company officer, it’s truly where the rubber meets the road.

This is the third in a series of four from the Fire Mentor on preparing today’s firefighters for their career goals, in this article we will concentrate on the role of company officer. The company officer is considered middle management in the fire service, the real difference with this position and all of the others is that this role is where we start to concentrate on a leader of a unit/crew, and you are the “boss”!!  Unlike Firefighter and Engineer, the Company Officer has a massive impact on those around them and the product that person delivers will have lasting effects on other people’s careers for years to come, as well as the potential to make life and death decisions on the fire ground.

It should also be noted in this article, that we will concentrate more on the Company Officer that will go through a formal process for a position in a structured fire department that has promotion process, while there are some volunteer organizations that have these most are an elected/voted position, so this article will not address that process but hopefully everyone can take something away from this for preparation for the next position.

 

The Process

The process for Company Officer is similar to that of Firefighter and Engineer. There will be a written exam, there will be an oral interview, after the oral interview is where some departments vary on what comes next?  The vast majority of departments will have a tactical scenario that the Company Officer must navigate through.  Other agencies might have the tactical scenario or substitute it with what is called role play.  Role play scenarios can range from an in basket to a conflict resolution task; we’ll get more into this later.

For the sake of argument we will get started with the written exam, all department’s like to know what your knowledge base is as you are getting ready to put some brass on your collar and start leading troops! The Fire Chief and staff want to ensure that you not only know how to fight fire, but manage budgets, know department procedures, and can at the very basic level interact with personnel while not on an emergency call.

 

It will be a safe assumption that the written exam will be lengthy and all encompassing. The material that could possibly be on the exam might include building construction, incident command, human resources, fire investigation, training; the list goes on and on.  The best thing to do is ask what will be on the test if there is not a pre-determined resource list already published.  I would also recommend that you study on your department’s SOP/SOG’s, as they will want to make sure that you are aware of how your department operates with various incidents/situations.

Now that you are testing for Company Officer, you are still responsible for the ranks that got you to this step, in other words you will still need to brush up on Firefighter and Engineer material as you are supposed to be able to train and mentor those under your charge.

Tips for success: Study, study, and study some more! You can never start too early, keep up on trends in the fire service that the test could hit on; always remember that there will be human resource type questions on a written exam.

Oral Interview

The oral interview for Company Officer will be challenging to say the least! This is truly where the department you are applying for a Company Officer position will want to see what you are made of.  The oral interview will probably have at least one member of the rank for which you are applying on the board, no doubt that it will be one of the department’s best officers, and there will also probably be battalion chiefs and or division chiefs and maybe the Fire Chief on this interview panel.  The moral of the story is don’t get rattled, be prepared for the fact that this board is going to look rigid and polished and getting down to business, because they are.

The questions will vary, but there are a few areas that will almost always be discussed; personnel issues-conflict resolution amongst department employees, tactical questions-review SOP/SOG’s, budgeting issues, your personal philosophy on the Fire Chief’s management, apparatus issues, and training.

Tips for success: Expect them to throw the kitchen sink at you! At this point in your career you are expected to be able to handle everything at the station level as well as running an incident from beginning to end while being the Officer in Charge the entire time. Be polished in your appearance and answers, if you need to take a second before you answer then do so, it’s better to let there be silence for a moment (they think you are searching your massive years of experience and knowledge!) vs. saying the “um’s and uh’s” while searching for answer, don’t try to fool people who have been in the game a long time.

 

 

Tactical Scenario or In Basket

The tactical scenario usually will follow the oral interview or will be right before the oral interview, and usually it will be the same board/graders that will evaluate you. The tactical scenario is the one chance the board will get to see you work under pressure and see what kind of decision making skills and incident command presence you have before they put you out on the street.

The scenario that you could face could be anything from a water rescue, traffic accident, or working fire with entrapment, again be prepared and you won’t be caught off guard, expect the worst and hope for the best.

The board in most departments are going to grade you on several factors, most of which are similar to the oral interview phase: how did you compose yourself, did you have a commanding presence/spoke clearly and calmly, did you know what to do according to the department’s SOP/SOG’s and standard practices, did you get flustered when multiple things started to occur on scene, and lastly can you handle the no win situation? The no win situation is simple, whatever you do or have done on scene does not produce the desired results you want, the board wants to see that you still can make sound decisions when a loss is inevitable-be it the structure or life, and that is the reality of the position you are applying for.

The other scenario that you could face could be the In Basket. This drill is of course less scary than fighting a house fire with multiple entrapments, however the board will still want to see if you are going to break down and cry in front of them, hopefully not!

The exam goes something like this, you are given a few moments to read a script about a personnel issue or citizen complaint, then an actor will come into the room and you both play out the scenario. Don’t be fooled, this person is not there to help you through this event, they are there to put you under pressure and see if you will get jacked up crazy and lose your cool.  Your job during this scenario is to be calm, cool, and collected and try to resolve the situation using conflict resolution techniques as best as possible, I say this because usually these are also no win situations, meaning whatever you say or do the results are usually not everyone goes home happy and you look like a rock star, no usually the employee gets upset or the civilian who is lodging the complaint gets irate and it has to be referred to higher management.

Tips for success: Keep your cool, keep your cool, keep your cool! It doesn’t matter what scenario you are given, if you can think clearly when everyone else isn’t you will look great to the board. Practice makes perfect! If you can practice both of these scenarios with friends or co-workers beforehand you will perform better during the actual testing.

 

Know your department’s procedures for both scenarios, it is imperative that you don’t make up standards on how to address these issues, it will show very quickly whether you prepared or you are flying blind on your decision making skills.

Time to Shine

As with any tested position, but Company Officer especially, you have got to be ready for this process, take some time before you put in the application and soul search and ask yourself are you really ready to do this career step or not? People are depending on you and you will be responsible for much.

Take extra time to prepare, make sure you have studied for the written exam, it’s one thing to not be promoted because you were beat by a top notch of peers, it’s another thing to be passed over because you didn’t pass the written exam, and we all know the fire service talks amongst our peer groups, you want to finish this process with pride and feeling of accomplishment as well as sending a message to those in the front office that you are serious about your career, not just that you woke up that morning and decided to try for Company Officer and if you make it you make it-and if you don’t you don’t!

Also, ask questions of those who are already sitting in the seat, most will be very willing to share their experiences and knowledge with you, deep down we all want to see you succeed.

Just remember, no one cares about your career like you do, so prepare for it accordingly!

Stay safe and we’ll see you at the next one, the fourth and final installment of the “Welcome to the truck!” series; the Chief level process.

Should you have any questions or comments, please go to www.thefirementor.net or message me/email me from Facebook: The Fire Mentor

 

 

Welcome to the Truck Part 2

You stroll into the kitchen and grab a cup of coffee. Most of the crew you know from working as a fill-in on various shifts.  The Captain asks if you are totally checked off as a back-up driver and have all the required certifications to fill-in for the Engineer position today?  You confidently tell him yes, as he then tells you “good, because you’re driving today!”  As you put your turn out gear on the rig you think to yourself, I should put in for the next Engineer exam, I’m ready!

This is the second in a series of four from the Fire Mentor on preparation for the position of Engineer/Driver Operator (lower management). For the sake of argument in this article we are going to refer to this position as an Engineer.  Typically in most departments across the county, the Engineer is the primary driver/operator of the apparatus, and this position usually has some level of authority in the chain of command.  In larger departments the Engineer answers to the company officer and can have some guidance over the back step firefighters and be called upon to fill in when the company officer is gone, in a smaller department or volunteer organization this could be the designated adult on the truck, as operating a several ton, multi-thousand dollar vehicle is a large responsibility!

The Process

The process for Engineer is not all that different than that of recruit firefighter. The similarities are a written exam for sure, possibly an oral interview, but the main difference should be a practical exam to include a scenario for the Engineer utilizing the apparatus.

Let’s start with the written exam. It should be understood that almost every fire department will administer some type of written exam.  These exams will vary greatly as every fire department puts emphasis on different priorities, usually based on the history of the department, needs of the department, and how successful their Engineer ranks are?  The substance of the exam is what you as an individual need to find out early, then research what publications you will need to study, and hit the books hard.  If this is a general knowledge Engineer exam, which some departments may do, there are many great books and resources to choose from: IFSTA Driver Operator, IAFC Driver Operator, Jones & Bartlett Driver Operator and the list goes on and on.  Other areas of consideration for the written exam should be your fire department’s standard operating procedures (SOP’s), driving laws concerning emergency apparatus for the state in which you live, and of course you should know your apparatus.  Apparatus knowledge is as vast as the apparatus which your department operates. Some things to look at with your rigs should be GVWR (gross vehicle weight rating), overall specifics such as height and width/make & model, fire pump capacity, amount of hose for an engine, aerial specifications for a ladder truck, various tools, and you get the point. You need to know your trucks!!

A few more hints on the written exam; brush up on your hydraulic calculations, in other words math!!! A good Engineer will be able to perform basic math functions in their head; there are many cheater methods for this that can be pulled right out of the manuals that were listed earlier. Get your hands on your rigs and ask questions.  The only way to know how they operate, the quirks, and capabilities is to go out and train on the trucks/pumps/aerials until you can’t get it wrong.  Ask questions of other Engineers, most will be very willing to help out.  You just might be surprised how much a seasoned Engineer will know and share.

Oral Interview

The oral interview for Engineer and every other position you apply/test for from here on out in your career will be a challenge and there is much to anticipate from the interview panel. The reason I say there is much to anticipate is that with a tested position, to include Engineer, you are being tested on your position and potentially the next one above yours.  In the fire service today, it is a reality that you are being prepared to potentially fill in for the next rank.  For example, as a firefighter one of the things you should be trained on is how the rigs operate and starting to drive them in non-emergency type of scenarios.  As an Engineer, you will be introduced to what the company officer does, and as a company officer you will be (should be) prepped for what the battalion chief does.  This is one of the similarities the fire service has to the military, hence why we are a para military organization, the preparation for the next position in chain of command is essential to succession planning and department operations.

The questions from the interview panel will vary, some will be situational based, such as, how do you handle a discrepancy on your rig that does not get fixed but you feel could be a safety violation. Some can be SOP driven, such as, what is the operating pressure on a pre-connect hand line for a car fire.  You could get a question like, “you are first due engine to a two story residence with possible entrapment and your closest hydrant is five hundred feet past the house, what do you do?”

Just a reminder, from this position on you will be in a supervisory role of some sort. The Engineer in some agencies will be the fill in/back up officer, so there is the potential that on the interview panel you could get questions that have to do with personnel issues, command strategies and tactics etc… The best way to be ready for these types of questions is to ask the people that are already there (The Fire Mentor); you could also reference some tactics and management books.

 

Hands on Scenario

Here is the phase of the process where you really earn your money! There are instances where an average test taker and interviewer might fall to the back of the line with everyone else, but if you can outperform all of the other candidates at the pump panel, you will finish well overall!  Start with getting your hands on the rigs, get with the current Engineers and pick their brains.  Figure out every detail about the rigs, every specification, and then get out there on the drill ground or parking lots and hit it hard!  Train until you can’t get anything wrong.  Have Engineers give you the impossible scenario and then beat it.  All this preparation is a great way to get your crews out and do exceptional training, as a mentor this is also a way you can invest in a new firefighter by explaining how all of this works and what you are getting ready to test for.  You also have got to know your fire department’s SOP’s cold, if there is a set pressure (psi) for a hand line, then you need to know that, or if you have to chock your wheels after setting the air brake then you have to know it or you will fail.

Time to Shine

OK, now it’s time to show everyone what you can do! A few last minute reminders, find out what the study materials are up front and study as much as possible, practice your interview skills and possible questions that could be on the oral interview panel, find a senior Engineer that knows what they are doing and pick their brain and tell them to give the impossible scenarios and then knock them out!

Just remember, no one cares about your career like you do, so prepare for it accordingly!

Stay safe and we’ll see you at the next one, the second installment of the “Welcome to the truck!” series; the Engineer/Driver Operator process.

Should you have any questions or comments, please go to www.thefirementor.net or message me/email me from Facebook: The Fire Mentor