Blurring the lines for a realistic fire service

CarolinaFireJournal - By John Scott Loftis
By John Scott Loftis
10/22/2013 -

What are ways in which you as a leader in your department can maximize your most limited resource, your membership? Today’s fire service is at a critical point. Limited budgets, shrinking volunteer numbers, increased demands for service, increased training requirements, and limited availability of members has taken quite a toll on our chosen field of service. This has led us as leaders to try to consider all avenues to keep providing the quality services that our public depends on.


I am blessed to be a part of not only a local fire service, but also a state fire service, which neither is afraid to take these tough questions head-on.

How can we do it? How can we implement the growth requirements while not forcing those out who have paved the way for us? How can we entice new members to join our ranks? How can we bring our members up to the locally and nationally recognized training standards? How can we put in place a true career development program that is conducive to our volunteer members? How can we bridge the gap between learning through science and learning through experience?

I am blessed to be a part of not only a local fire service, but also a state fire service, which neither is afraid to take these tough questions head-on. The fire service of South Carolina, along with some proactive national organizations, is taking the lead in conducting research to make our fire service not only more effective at what we do, but also providing quality data so that our members can make educated decisions.

In my local fire service, we have taken a number of steps to ensure that we can utilize each member to his or her maximum potential. We have divided our membership into four categories that are based on physical ability. Based on those four levels, we have developed training requirements, as well as a physical fitness requirement. This was no easy task in itself, but the end result is a membership participation program that meets all of the statutory requirements. This has also allowed us to enact an active accountability system that works in real time to ensure that each member is operating within his or her parameters.

Here is a brief overview of our system and a brief example of each level. The first thing we did was to look at our mission statement and evaluate each service that we currently provide. We took those services and created a job tasks matrix. We evaluated the level of training and physical fitness that each task required. We looked at what support was required to make each task have a successful outcome. We then identified that for our services there were four distinct levels of service required from our members. We identified those levels as:

Administrative (Level 4)

Administrative members do not respond to scenes. These members assist with things around the department such as open house events, fire safety presentations, clerical duties, inspections, public relations, secretarial work and data entry. These positions are perfect for honorary, lifetime and retired members. These tasks keep them involved with the day-to-day functions of the department, and also allow us to keep living references around our departments for the wealth of information and experience that they each possess.

Support (Level 3)

Support members can perform all of the tasks mentioned for the administrative member, but may also drive to and operate fire apparatus on emergency scenes. These members provide many support functions such as: changing/filling SCBA cylinders, set up and operate scene lighting, direct traffic, provide water supply support, manage staging operations, serve as a safety officer, as well as assist with firefighter rehabilitation. These members perform numerous low-impact operations that are critical on an emergency scene.

Exterior (Level 2)

Exterior members can do any of the tasks mentioned for administrative, and support members, but can also take a more active role on a scene. These members can man master stream devices, operate at brush fires, conduct vehicle extrication, and any other task on an emergency scene that does not constitute an IDLH atmosphere as defined by OSHA.

Interior (Level 1)

Interior members can do any of the tasks described in the preceding, but may also actively participate in tasks that require entry into an IDLH atmosphere, such as confined space, automobile fires, dumpster fires and interior fire attack.

By utilizing this system, we were able to divide basically any emergency scene into three operational zones. Our administrative members do not respond, so the three operational zones fit nicely into this system. Our zones are identified, according to risks, as cold, warm and hot. The cold zone is typically from the water supply point, or traffic control point, up to the attack pumper. Members who have been identified as support members (level 3) are allowed to operate in this zone only, and do not go past the attack pumper on scene. These members have been issued a red reflective sticker that is affixed to the right rear quadrant of his or her helmet. This red sticker identifies that they are required to stay within this cold zone of the emergency scene.

Our exterior members (level 2) may operate in both the cold and warm zones of the scene. The warm zone is identified as the area of the scene from the attack pumper up to the threshold of the structure, or other safe areas identified by the Incident Commander. These members have been issued a yellow reflective sticker that is affixed to the right rear quadrant of his or her helmet. This yellow sticker identifies that they are required to stay within the identified warm zone of the emergency scene.

Our interior members (level 1) may operate in all zones, but are specifically permitted to enter and operate in the hot zone of the incident. This is identified as the area forward of the identified safe zone, or the threshold of the structure. These members have been issued a green reflective sticker that is affixed to the right rear quadrant of his or her helmet. This green sticker identifies that they are allowed to operate within any zone of the emergency scene.

We have also put together specific training programs for each level as well. These training programs are based on potential job tasks assignments, and reflect the physical fitness required of each level as well. By utilizing this training program we have been able to allow each member to focus on the areas of the job that he or she best fits into. This program has not met any resistance due to the fact that everything is clearly identified by level. This allows everyone to contribute to both the organization, and our citizens to the best of each individual’s capabilities. This has allowed our departments to fully utilize each member, and has led to a deeper satisfaction of our members due to the fact that each one is allowed to contribute. This system is fully flexible to accommodate for people who may fluctuate between levels due to illness or injury.

Since the inception of this program, participation in training has increased due to the fact that training has now been tailored to fit individual needs. This allows each member to truly continue to improve at the level that he or she operates at within the organization. I have been able to share this program with numerous departments, and do have a much more detailed informational presentation available if you feel that it may help your department.

Scott Loftis is a third generation firefighter from Upstate South Carolina. He began his formal journey in the Fire Service over 20 years ago. He is very active in the areas of training and leadership development. Loftis currently serves as the Vice Chairman of the S.C. Fire Academy Advisory Committee, the Training and Education Committee of the SC State Firefighters’ Association, The Planning Committee of the South Carolina State Firefighter’s Association, and the Technical Training Committee of the South Carolina State Firefighter’s Association and serves as the Chief of Training for Oconee County Emergency Services. He can be contacted at [email protected] or 864-844-6001.
Comments & Ratings

  10/30/2013 2:58:16 AM
Judy Zitzka 

My volunteer fire department, Newstead Fire Company, in New York has had similar classifications for about 10 years now. We currently have 8 "administrative" members. We also have a classification for "EMS Only" and we have 3 of them. This was a great idea back then and continues to show our community that there are many ways they can serve and give back.
  10/25/2013 6:55:07 PM

New Comment 
Excellent example of thinking outside the box in applying everyone in a community the delivery of essential services. Great job!

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