One way to get a profound understanding of your career is to work in different interdepartmental areas. This can include: fire prevention, code enforcement, communications, public education, EMS, training, emergency response division (ERD), urban search and rescue (FEMA), or any other areas not listed here or titled differently.
Working as a fire inspector or in code enforcement can be beneficial. I recall doing residential and commercial inspections/tactical surveys/target hazards when in the ERD.
Knowing building codes related to fire safety can help answer questions that arise while on site. This can clarify issues for you, your crew or building owners/managers. Pre-emptive alerts of fire violations can assist the building owner to make corrections based on your suggestions. You can also report an immediate life-threatening situation.
Another example is the communications division. There were times where an officer would need to fill in as the fire central information officer (FCIO). This position was an intermediate person for the emergency response personnel and outside resources.
For example, if the gas company, power company, Coast Guard, animal control, police, on-call mechanics, etc., needed to be contacted for any reason, the FCIO would be notified on the radio and would call those outside sources. He/she also alerted the fire administration or support services when a major event occurred.
These people were located right next to the 911 call receivers/dispatchers. Working for a duty day at the communications division can be beneficial when you see how dispatches are handled via the 911 operators. Hearing the dispatchers on the other end of the radio will give you a different perspective once you see and understand the process.
Public education, believe it or not, is invaluable. This is the point of contact with the public. It is used more often than you think. Gaining knowledge and experience here is worth every penny. When you do school demonstrations, career days, are on stand-by for formal or sporting events or even for visiting family members, this is the first impression people will get about the department and your professionalism.
EMS is an ever-changing field. As we all know, innovations, techniques, procedures and medical breakthroughs are constantly occurring. Whether working in the ERD or involved with training, it is of the utmost importance to stay up to date and proficient in your skills.
Many firefighters have gone on to also become registered nurses and nurse practitioners, and some end up working for outside educational facilities as instructors. Regardless of what path is taken, it all becomes an asset for higher education or improving skills and knowledge.
The training division is no doubt one of the interdepartmental areas everyone should experience for a short time, if not permanently in their careers. Gaining invaluable knowledge as an instructor can only enhance your knowledge skills and abilities as an emergency response person. One gets an in-depth understanding of any subject or skill when they teach it.
If an instructor returns to the ERD, he will be more proficient when seconds and lives count. Plus, he can pass on these valuable techniques to others since he knows how to deliver the subject material. He also has the added benefit of spending countless hours drilling and observing others, learning from mistakes seen, or identifying better ways to perform different tasks.
Every new firefighter starts out in the ERD. Most make a career of staying in this division. Regardless of whether she stays or transfers, a firefighter should become better educated by taking courses and getting certifications. Pursuing paramedic, instructor, fire safety inspector certifications, associate/bachelor's/master's degrees, and officer development courses can only enhance one's career.
There may come a time, unfortunately, when a firefighter may no longer be able to perform the functions of an emergency responder. Having the education and certification(s) can assure anyone of the ability to move into a different department or wherever life's journey takes him/her.
One of best resources for anyone to gain invaluable knowledge, experience and relationships is to become a member of an urban search and rescue team, either for local, state or federal (FEMA) authorities. As a member, you will gain valuable knowledge about governmental procedures when natural disasters or large-scale events occur.
More importantly, you will be surrounded by highly motivated people. These motivated people will also have a higher skill set, some across multiple disciplines. In addition, you will have the opportunity to get excellent training about myriad subjects, both for team education or for your particular position/discipline.
In conclusion, the experience gained interdepartmentally can only be an asset. Education never hurt anyone! It is good to see in detail how other areas function. You will get a profound understanding for how each area operates and clear up any rumors or misconceptions.
Knowing each department's method can help get things accomplished. Highly motivated people get noticed by the administration. This can open doors and opportunities in your career, either inside or outside your department. It can also keep you occupied for when the day comes that you retire and may want to pursue other endeavors or just keep busy.
Originally Published in MultiBriefs, 09-2016
About the Author
Frank R. Myers is a retired lieutenant with the City of Miami (Florida) Fire Rescue, where he served for 32 years. He works as a consultant for PSTrax.com, a technology service that helps fire departments across the country automate their apparatus, equipment and inventory checks.