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 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.
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