What Are the Different Firefighter Ranks?

Lori Kilchermann

The different firefighter ranks range from probationary to fire chief, and there are several ranks in between. Not all departments use all of the firefighter ranks, however, most use some sort of variation of a common ranking system, with the rookie position being the first step toward the top position within the department. Some of the larger fire departments use several classifications to identify the basic firefighter ranks, such as a class or number system. The upper echelon typically consists of captains and deputy chiefs and is topped with a fire chief.

The rank of captain is the first firefighting rank that does not require the actual fighting of fires.
The rank of captain is the first firefighting rank that does not require the actual fighting of fires.

Acting as a quasi-military organization, most local volunteer and paid firefighters use firefighter ranks to identify the professional order of the crew. In most circumstances, promotion from one rank to another requires a certain completion of steps. Once the steps for promotion have been fulfilled, time on the job, job performance and special duties are typically examined and factored into the promotion equation. The purpose of firefighter ranks is to create a division of power and structure of responsibility. With each rank understanding what is expected of him or her, the benefit and privilege of reaching the next rank are used as a driving force for bettering oneself.

Different fire departments might use different firefighting ranks.
Different fire departments might use different firefighting ranks.

Along with the typical components of a promotion, firefighters are also subjected to a review or a promotion board, panel or committee. This board reviews the file of the candidate and asks questions to test the candidates' merits and qualifications that could mandate a rise in the firefighter ranks. With each promotion, from the rookie position through the many classes of firefighter, fourth through first, comes added responsibility. The next step in rank from firefighter first class is commonly the rank of captain. This is also the first step in rank that does not require the actual fighting of fires as a fireman. The captain is usually behind the scenes, directing the fight and making decisions on how the crew should best proceed.

A fire chief must be able to communicate effectively with a community.
A fire chief must be able to communicate effectively with a community.

In large forces, the rank of captain is commonly followed by the rank of district chief or assistant deputy chief. The top positions in the firefighter ranks are commonly the deputy chief and the fire chief. These are the positions that many firefighters aspire to attain through diligence and hard work. While most of the positions are achieved by performance and recognition by peers, the position of fire chief is often an elected position that must be obtained through a stellar work history and an outstanding performance record.

Fire crews typically have several tiers of leadership.
Fire crews typically have several tiers of leadership.

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