Canadian Firefighter Magazine

Between Alarms: October 2009

By Jesse Challoner   

Features Hot Topics Opinion

Various roles and responsibilities throughout the fire hall fall on different members depending on the task at hand. For officers, organization and allocation of resources at the hall and on calls is paramount.

Various roles and responsibilities throughout the fire hall fall on different members depending on the task at hand. For officers, organization and allocation of resources at the hall and on calls is paramount. For probationary members, learning the job and becoming proficient at skills is forefront. But what about the firefighters in between on the seniority totem pole? Where do they fit into the mix? Life after probation is transitional and can be challenging as members try to fill a role of increased responsibility while maintaining a learning mindset.

Think back to when you first entered the hall. Was there a core group of members on your shift who took it upon themselves to ensure that your skill set was up to snuff? Those same members were also undoubtedly the ones who showed you the ropes of probationary life and what it entailed. After being on the floor for a few years, those members have most likely adopted new roles and responsibilities, perhaps entering into officer pools or focusing on specialized training and teams. With the inevitable addition of recruits to the department, who fills the shoes that those members once wore?

As members move from the position of being on probation into the unfamiliar territory of middle-of-the-road seniority, our roles change. Where one day we focused on familiarizing ourselves with our craft and practising skills, not to mention making sure coffee was made and being the first to answer the phone, we are now transitioning into expanding our knowledge base and leading training evolutions with the new members in our midst. We have shifted from the position of following the pack to occasionally leading it. This is not to say that we are running the show but more that our jobs now include the shaping and moulding of members who are new to our environment.

For the middle-seniority members, one aspect of our new position is to take probies under our wing and teach them how things work at the firehouse and on calls. This may involve preparing training evolutions such as practising the rescuing of a downed firefighter, or overseeing a technical skill by practising deploying hose lines. Even simply making new members aware of the expectations on them can work wonders on a probie’s confidence. Above all, if we expect any member to perform any task (menial or prominent) we must be willing to pave the way and light the path, meaning that we should have an in-depth understanding of how to execute any task that we are asking someone else to do and be able to explain the hows, whys and whens of that skill. After all, how is someone supposed to become proficient at anything if it can’t be explained by the instructor?


Being in the middle of the seniority hierarchy carries with it some other unique responsibilities, specifically in reference to personal characteristics. The face of the fire department is held in high regard by its members and the public alike. In order to maintain this reputation and positive perception we must exemplify traits such as professionalism, integrity, honour, respect and community involvement. The adage lead by example is a valuable set of words in our service. As we move forward in our careers it may be easy to become complacent and lose the perspective pertaining to our highly regarded position.

Because we now have some experience under our belts, it may seem redundant to pull out and review a piece of equipment since we have done it so many times. However, leading by example means that we must live and breathe the demeanour that we expect others (particularly probationary members) to follow. If the expectation is that probies understand their role inside and out, without question we must be that much better if others are to follow us.

By knowing our roles and acting accordingly we will set the tone for new members. Simply because we are off probation does not mean that we don’t need to be involved with community service or that it’s acceptable to walk past the mess on the floor and expect someone else to clean it up. Quite the opposite, we should be the ones who are working the hardest, thereby setting the example for others to follow.

This lays the groundwork to show new members that working to be the best at what we do in all regards does not end after probation; it is a career long commitment. Not letting our egos get the better of us and maintaining an attitude of humility shows what the fire department is all about, service, not stature.

In my department we are lucky to have many senior members who believe in the ideology of continued learning through teaching and setting the standard of service by living by that standard. As I move forward in my career I realize that the new members coming into our service are watching, listening and searching for a way to fit in and do their jobs correctly. If I want the positive trend that has been established to continue I must follow in the footsteps of those who came before me. Middle-seniority members can choose to lead from the front and harness the opportunity to show probies that this job is the best one in the world because we are prepared to work and play hard on every shift, and we thrive on serving our communities to the best of our abilities. It is these core values that make us what we are, and keep us coming back for more.

Jesse Challoner has been involved with fire/EMS since 2002 and has been with Strathcona County Emergency Services in Alberta since 2005. He is a second-year paramedic student with the Northern
Alberta Institute of Technology and is an instructor at the Emergency Services Academy in Sherwood Park, Alta.

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