As I think back at the major incidents in my fire service career, both paid and volunteer, there are one or two positions on the scene that changed the role of the emergency. There is the obvious, Incident Commander – we have all had both the unknowing and the overwhelming. And then there is the Apparatus Operator – whose composure, knowledge, and pro-activeness can dictate both the command consciousness and the line personnel fluidity of scene control. Yes, the nozzle man controls the pace of the fire, but if the D/O cannot give him water, his efforts are futile.
So what makes a good D/O? Is it years behind the wheel, certifications, age, or any other factor? I believe it comes from being a good firefighter before assuming the role of D/O. In most departments, the D/O has to have some time riding backwards to understand the needs on scene and the requirements of the crews working the scenes. You have to establish the proactive mindset early in your experience in the fire service. Are you the firefighter that comes in, puts his gear by the truck, and then finds the most comfortable recliner? Or are you the kind that sets his gear, checks his equipment, checks the drivers log, and has the truck in service as soon as possible? This article will discuss a few options to make you the best driver you can be.
The Proactive Driver:
Proactive is an action word. Understand that, in taking the step up to driver, you take the lives of your crew, the public, and your future into your own hands. This is not the time to “begin” to be a good firefighter. Having the ability to know the next steps on the fire and emergency scene is key to the basic requirements of the driver. Again, this is coming from your experience as a firefighter riding backwards. Knowing the time it takes to deploy and charge a hose line; being able to hit a hydrant in a quick, efficient manner; ability to deploy a ground ladder unassisted (24’ and 28’); having the ability to pull the backup line after the first line is charged and flow checked. These are skills that, as you can tell, are not learned AFTER the promotion or step up. They are basic firefighting skills learned and PERFECTED as a backseat firefighter.
The Knowledgeable Driver:
Congratulations on being able to apply 10th-grade algebra in a classroom setting to find a theoretical figure that is supposed to work. Sarcasm? Just as in any training, DOING work is exponentially greater than YouTube, magazines, or opinions.
The assigned apparatus you have is not the same as others in the fleet. Why? Because it is YOUR truck. You are ultimately responsible for the pump, engine, and equipment on the apparatus. Understanding that the only way to prove (or disprove) the flow-ability of your pump is to flow meter or pitot gauge each line fully stretched and flowing. A suggestion I have done on my rig is placing label maker stickers on the pump by each remote gauge on the panel. This serves as a reminder at 02:00 A.M, while many more things are running through your mind. Knowing simple things can also equate to making your company and you perform better. Know the percentage-loss formula as a reference to supplying more hose lines for the IC. Know the next step in an extrication of having the tools hooked up and ready. Know the reach of your aerial and scrub range for the front and sides of the building. This is where the training and repetition become natural habits.
The Skilled Driver:
Driving is more than just sitting behind the wheel and pulling levers. NASA sent a monkey into space, how hard can driving a fire truck be? There are a few similarities. The monkey was taught procedures on a timeline, and so are we (parking brake, transfer switch, tank-to-pump lever, etc). The monkey wore his seatbelt and so should we. The monkey took orders for rewards. So do we. What sets us apart? The drive to be better and to know the “what-ifs.”
Again, this article goes a little in circles when it comes to, “you have got to have one to have another.” Training and self-preparation sets the best drivers above the good drivers. Do you know how to override your aerial hydraulics? Can you troubleshoot your pump if it fails? Do you know how long the tank will last for any line selected? These are sometimes learned-traits, but more often, it comes with experience. Put yourself in these situations to bring up your skill level. You don’t need the entire company out to crawl under the pump and see the size of the pipes. You have the ability to get the company to out and train. You have the drive to make the company better with your motivation.
The Safe Driver:
When you put all three driver levels together (proactive, knowledgeable, and skilled), it produces a safe driver. Recently in the news, another firefighter was arrested for blocking a roadway at the scene of a wreck for “impeding traffic.” I would like to say that I would have the testicular fortitude to stand up for the safety of my crew members and keeping the working area locked down for their safety. Would you? Do you have the willingness to not roll the wheels of the truck until ALL seatbelts are fastened? Making a decision to not place your belt, almost takes longer than actually locking it. Why? Are you in that much of a hurry to have your kids grow up without a parent? It only takes one wreck to change many other peoples’ lives.
Together, you can make a well-rounded driver. Think back over your time in the fire service. Who is the driver you wanted in the seat, and who is the guy you didn’t? What made them the one you wanted or didn’t want? Are those characteristics what you resemble or is there work to be done? Even as a company officer, I look to my driver to make my job easier. He who knows what needs to be done, and is the pivotal role on the emergency scene. Be proactive. Be knowledgeable. Be skilled. Be safe.
– Joel Richardson