To become a company officer, you’ve likely made some serious investments in yourself, not only in your training and education to get to your position, but also various tools, gear and equipment you purchased on your own to bolster your preparation.
You’ve proven yourself physically and mentally capable of the job through extensive training, on-the-job performance, and diving deep into the books for the promotional exam. You may have also invested in outside courses, such as Fire Officer 1 or some type of promotional preparatory program. In any case, the time to invest hasn’t stopped; in fact, it’s time to double-down.
Firefighters buy all sorts of tools and gadgets that line bunker coats or sit in the side pockets of turnout pants. Hopefully you have a tool cache of your own, but if not, now is the time to invest in some simple tools that will come in handy for any company officer, particularly as you work with new members.
My department is not immune to staffing woes created by the fire service’s ongoing retention issues, and I am often found leading new firefighters with little experience. These new, yet dedicated, firefighters often do not have any supplemental gear besides their department-issued PPE. If you find yourself in a similar type of fire department, I encourage you to carry some commonsense tools that you can use as, quite literally, teaching tools to show them how and when to put these tools to use on the incident scene.
1. Wire cutters: A set of wire cutters is an easy tool to carry. This tool can quite literally save your life and the lives of your firefighters if you ever find yourself trapped by wiring from a drop ceiling collapse or HVAC duct work. I modify mine with a small piece of webbing so that it is easier to grab, open and manipulate with gloves on.
2. Screwdriver: A simple and cheap 6-in-1 screwdriver, the same kind that’s sold at checkout aisles at any hardware store, is a great investment. It typically comes with two Phillips and two flathead ends, and their receiving ends are a hex head for machine screws. This tool is extremely handy for taking the panels off of an HVAC unit when investigating a smell of smoke or a burned-up belt in an HVAC motor.
3. Wedges: Feel free to purchase an aluminum wedge for forcing doors. I personally still carry several wood chocks (we have an aluminum wedge in our force kit). The chocks are good for holding open doors when advancing lines, or holding doors open during fire alarm activations so other crews can access the building behind you.
4. Multi-tool/shove knife: I don’t endorse any one product, but I carry a good Leatherman multi-tool and a shove knife for forcible entry, accessing fire alarm panels and defeating locks. It is also a handy tool for quick field repairs of equipment.
5. Good PPE: Invest in a nice pair of work gloves and some eye protection. I use a simple pair of Husky gloves from Home Depot, knowing that if they get trashed I just throw them away and buy a new pair. They hold up well for about a year or two depending on your run volume and work.
My go-to gear
Besides these tools and gear that I use with my crew, I also carry a few other items – items I carried even before I was promoted, but they have more meaning now. Here’s why.
6. Webbing with a non-locking carabineer and 50 feet of bailout rope: I carry a large loop of webbing with a non-locking carabineer in my right turnout pants pocket. I also carry 50 feet of bailout rope in my left turnout pocket, as I can use these items for self-rescue or even for the rescue of my crew should we find ourselves cut off by fire. As a personal note, keep your webbing rolled up so that it is easier to deploy. My webbing isn’t a go-to for victim removal, but it is a plan B, so I keep it ready to go.
7. Flashlight: Keep a good flashlight on your coat. From searching to overhaul, you’re going to need a light to direct and orient your crew. While everyone likely has a light, you can be sure that yours works in the event someone else’s fails due to bad batteries or water damage. I know some officers who carry their own small Streamlight with a seatbelt strap for donning over their coat. I think that’s a great idea if your truck does not have these types of lights.
8. Good footwear: This is a must for the company officer because you are going to be on your feet – a lot. Leather fire boots are a godsend in my opinion, and if you don’t like them or haven’t tried them, I highly encourage you to give them a shot. Many departments supply leather boots now, and the comfort and fit is night and day compared to the rubber alternatives. While it is still a fire boot, when you’re on scene investigating a fire or standing by on a hazmat incident, your feet will thank you.
Similarly, make sure you have good station footwear and gym shoes. As a company officer, you should strive to stay fit and to set a positive example for your firefighters. They should see you exercising and working out. You don’t have to be a lean CrossFit powerlifting machine, but your firefighters should know and expect that you have the strength and cardiovascular endurance to go into and out of structural fires without risk to yourself or them.
Being a fire officer can be a tough job because it is so much different than being a line firefighter. It can be emotionally and physically draining at times with the weight of responsibilities that you have now inherited, up to and including the safety of your crew and the protection of the citizens you’ve sworn to serve. Whether you have many years of experience at a faced-paced house or not as many calls working for a small rural volunteer station making 100 calls a year, you must continuously develop yourself.
9. Outside training: I highly encourage you to invest in some quality training outside of your fire department. Attend conferences to learn more about leadership and company officer development, and to revisit some good firefighter courses. As a company officer, you must maintain your skill level as a firefighter while inheriting more responsibility. Subscribe to some good fire service sites on social media, such as Engine Company Resurrection and Search Culture, for access to so much knowledge and experience.
10. Disconnect time: Being a company officer does not equate to less work or more time to ride a recliner. Quite the opposite. It is much more work to lead fire crews on dynamic scenes, but also to lead, observe and motivate the men and women you’ve been entrusted to oversee. It’s no surprise then that some officers can find themselves burned out or drained. While not a tangible investment, I encourage fire officers to seek and find some personal spiritual development. No matter your religious faith, find some way to disconnect from the stresses of the job. Use meditation, prayer or whatever device you prefer in order to stay both mentally and physically healthy for both your firefighters and the citizens you’ve sworn to protect.
Get out and get after it. Be aggressive and lead your firefighters. And don’t forget to invest in yourself for you, your crew and your community. With some of these investments, I have no doubt you’ll be in a better position to be the best company officer you can be.