To be successful, a fire department has to operate like a well-oiled machine. Firefighters train constantly and are always prepared for a call—and a busy fire department may respond to numerous calls, some serious and some minor, throughout the day.
A fire department functions as a team, with each firefighter assigned to a specific duty upon arrival at the station. Firefighters are each assigned a role they will perform if a call comes through—sometimes called a riding position. Most of the riding positions are rotated among firefighters so that each member of the team learns to perform every fire department function. This is true of every riding position except for that of team leader—the officer in charge always serves as leader—and the driver, who needs special training. The riding positions relate to the firefighters’ seats in the fire truck as well as their jobs during an emergency.
During the day, firefighters may relax in the recreation room while they wait for a call to come in. But they may also train. Firefighters perform drills, or exercises that train them in different firefighting methods and the use of new technologies. They also learn how to face specific hazards, from hazardous materials to broken telephone wires and electricity cables. Firefighters train using breathing apparatus sets that allow them to survive in smoke-filled buildings; they may set real fires in buildings slated for demolition to practice firefighting techniques.
Firefighters also check the emergency equipment stored on fire trucks on a regular basis to make sure everything they need to fight fires and handle emergencies is stowed on board. They make sure the fire trucks have oil and fuel, and that the water and foam tanks are full. They ensure the trucks are all in working order and ready to go in case of an emergency.
A big part of a firefighter’s job is reaching out to the community. During the day, firefighters may conduct fire safety programmes in schools and community centres; fit smoke alarms in homes; or give schoolchildren tours of the fire department. When the crew leaves the fire station for community programmes, they go together as a cohesive unit—they never split up, and no member of the team goes out of earshot of the truck. The driver stays with the truck and listens for a call; if necessary, he can alert the other crew members with the truck’s siren if a call comes in. If that happens, the firefighters will leave the programme early to respond to the emergency call.
Firefighters have a demanding job. They must be on call at all hours of the day or night—they work in shifts—to respond to fires, car accidents and other emergencies. But a firefighter’s job is more than just waiting for a call to come in. While they wait, they train, learn how to use new technologies, and travel to keep the community informed on fire safety issues. For firefighters, saving lives is only part of the daily routine.