Canadian Firefighter Magazine

Front Seat: moving up the ranks

Jason Clark   


Making the transition from firefighter to a captain role does take some pre-planning and when you reach the red helmet, your training for the job has really only just begun.

As your department gets older, it is inevitable that the ranks change and eventually you see someone promoting into a new captain role.  I always love watching new captains work and watching their style both in the station, at training courses and on the fire ground.  I would have paid to get an outside look to see how I looked when I first started acting as a captain about eight years ago.

Watching a new captain work reignites my passion for the fire service.We were all there at one point or another and had our own way of working through the new process.  Learning the new role and maintaining your leadership responsibilities all while keeping your composure is certainly a challenge to accomplish, but it is doable.

There is a lot of interest in my station of crew members looking for the opportunity to start acting or even taking over a vacancy, and it is refreshing to know that the department has a solid number of great candidates for when a posting becomes available. I often get asked what an applicant should do and what should they focus on in their path to become a leader. I find it’s a tough question to answer because frankly I have only eight years in as a captain and can really only speak to my own experience.  But these are some of the things that I like to share with my newly promoted fire officers or those who are aspiring the become one.

Don’t pretend to know it all. This one they teach in great lengths in the fire instructor courses.  It really doesn’t pay to try the ‘fake it until you make it approach’.  Not only is this extremely dangerous (i.e. live fire or other hazardous training), your crew and other members of the department will see right through you.  Own up to it if you get into a situation where you don’t know the answer or direction on something and find the answer with your crew.  Use your standard operating guidelines as a starting point to reference information.

Communication is a two-way street and important in the fire service.  We are constantly battling radio issues, excessive noise and word jargon.  A new team leader or captain will have to find a way to be clear and concise in various different situations in order to get their objective accomplished with their team.  The first few minutes of any scene always seems to be where things can be in that ‘make or break’ zone.  The success of your ability to communicate can directly co-relate to how your scene plays out.

You can never stop learning.  This might take the award for the most spoken phrase in the fire fighting world, but I can’t stress this enough.  I aim for taking two courses every year. I know others in the service who take even more. The learning that I am talking about here though doesn’t take place in a class room.  As a new leader in the fire service there are going to be a lot of eyes upon you, one of the best ways to hit the ground running is to know your crews’ strengths and know your rigs like the back of your hand.

I strongly think one of the best ways you can strengthen your leadership style is by having your training officer set up a drill.  By participating in the drill as the captain, you can start to see how your role works with your team and what you need to do to help get your objectives done.  Making the transition from firefighter to a captain role does take some pre-planning and when you reach the red helmet, your training for the job has really only just begun.  It’s a heck of journey, embrace the entire path.


Jason Clark has been a volunteer firefighter in southwestern Ontario since 2007. Having made the transition from firefighter to captain, Jason shares perspective on roles in the fire service and riding in the front seat. Contact Jason at or  @jacejclark. 

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