Many fire departments offer promotional or lateral assignments to personnel of all, if not most ranks, to serve on a 40-hour schedule working at their administrative offices.
That may involve serving in one of the many bureaus such as training, support services, fire prevention, fire investigation, or public education just to name a few. Some departments even make such assignments mandatory for promotion.
You may be thinking, "Why would I want to leave my cozy firehouse where I get to fight fire, save lives and work a shift schedule with the opportunity to work overtime and have lots of time off?"
I get it. However, if you ever have the desire to promote to company officer, or especially chief officer, I highly encourage you to put in for a 40-hour assignment to learn how the other side of the fire department operates.
I realize that is counterintuitive to why most get into the fire service, but if you desire higher rank, working out of the administrative offices will pay off dividends for years to come. Why? Here are five ways you can benefit from working a 40-hour assignment.
Learn the other side
The average firefighter, driver, company officer or even battalion chief working at the firehouse may not have routine contact with personnel working at the administrative offices, even those who are of their own rank.
The world doesn't revolve around the firehouse. Yes, the personnel and apparatus at the firehouse will respond when someone calls 911. And although every department is different, it is usually the personnel working at the administrative offices who ensure the firehouse personnel are properly trained, have properly functioning apparatus, receive the necessary logistical items to survive at the firehouse (toilet paper, furniture, etc.), and most importantly, get paid and receive the appropriate benefits.
Getting to know what each person does to support the firehouse personnel and how you can best assist them will pay off tremendously in the form of building and maintaining relationships that can last a career. And, it will make you appreciate more of what they do and how they can assist you.
See the bigger picture
I have served as a chief officer for about eight years and have been involved as a promotional process rater and proctor for even longer. One of the biggest reasons I see people fail or do poorly at promotional exams is because they act like they're testing for their current position as opposed to the one they aspire to.
What that means is they can't think big picture, which is critical for all ranks, especially the higher you promote. Working at the administrative offices forces you to think big picture in virtually everything you do, primarily because many of your decisions will affect much more than you could ever imagine.
Know more staff
This ties into the first item, but takes it a step further. Everyone at your administrative offices has a job to do. Each of these jobs is to ensure firefighters have what they need to do their job and serve the customers to the best of their ability.
At some point you will probably need to interact with each person working at the administrative offices for some reason or another. Your paycheck is not correct. You have questions about your medical benefits, training, or fire prevention issues at some buildings being constructed in your first-due area. The list goes on.
It's embarrassing when someone from a firehouse calls the administrative offices and doesn't know who to talk to to solve his problem of the day.
It's also embarrassing when a firefighter asks the company officer who to contact at the administrative offices and the company officer has no clue. One of the many duties of a company officer is to be a living resource guide for their personnel and the public they serve.
For some personnel, the senior staffers at headquarters are the "bad guys or gals;" the ones they want to stay away from.
I'll let you in on a secret; most of us aren't that way. Most of us all came from the firehouses and remember where we came from.
Work with those who can help
When it comes time to promote personnel on a hiring list, it is common to have names on that list who many of the senior staff could not pick out of a police line-up to save their lives.
While that can be a good thing if it may mean you never been in trouble, it can be a bad thing because they may not know of your career potential. Realize this can go against you if they get to know the real you, and they don't like the real you.
If you have the desire to ever promote, it is critical to get out of your comfort zone — going to a 40-hour week will definitely do that, and in a good way.