The different ranks of firefighters range from probationary to fire chief, and there are several ranks in between. Not all departments use all firefighter ranks, however most use some type of variation of a common rank system, with the rookie position being the first step towards senior position within the department. Some of the larger fire departments use various classifications to identify the basic ranks of firefighters, such as a class or number system. The top echelon usually consists of captains and deputy chiefs and is crowned with a fire chief.
Acting as a quasi-military organization, most local paid and volunteer firefighters use fire ranks to identify the professional order of the crew. In most circumstances, promotion from one rank to another requires some completion of steps. Once the steps for promotion have been met, time on the job, job performance, and special assignments are typically scrutinized and factored into the promotion equation. The purpose of the fire ranks is to create a division of power and a structure of responsibility. With each rank understanding what is expected of him or her, the benefit and privilege of reaching the next rank is used as a driving force to improve oneself.
Along with the typical components of a promotion, firefighters are also subject to review or a promotion board, panel, or committee. This board reviews the candidate’s file and asks questions to assess the merits and qualifications of candidates who might demand a rise in the firefighter ranks. With every promotion, from rookie to numerous firefighter classes, from fourth to first, comes added responsibility. The next step in the rank of firefighter first class is commonly the rank of captain. This is also the first step in the rank that does not require actual firefighting as a firefighter. The captain is usually behind the scenes, directing the fight and making decisions on how the crew should best proceed.
In large forces, the rank of captain is commonly followed by the rank of district chief or assistant deputy chief. The top positions in the firefighter ranks are commonly Deputy Chief and Fire Chief. These are the positions that many firefighters aspire to achieve through diligence and hard work. While most positions are achieved through performance and peer recognition, the position of Fire Chief is often an elected position that must be earned through a stellar work history and record of outstanding performance.