A day in the life of a truck captain

Training is king at Houston Station 7


A day in the life of a truck captain is much like the day in the life of your typical firefighter in that the captain is always involved with their crew and the public they serve.

Let’s focus on a typical day, which is a 24-hour shift in Houston.

4:45 a.m.: The alarms go off, but typically it is my wife who wakes me up. She avoids conversation, but she is very persistent in ensuring that I am awake before leaving the room to make my coffee. She says I am not a morning person, and it is best to avoid conversation until I have had some coffee.

Capt. Chris DelBello's day starts at 4:45 a.m. before he arrives at Houston Fire Department's Station 7 for his 24-hour shift.
Capt. Chris DelBello's day starts at 4:45 a.m. before he arrives at Houston Fire Department's Station 7 for his 24-hour shift. (Photo/Chris DelBello)

Before I leave for work, I add the final touches to my coffee, and my wife and the dogs walk me to the door. The wife gives me a kiss and the dogs look at me like they understand what I am saying when I tell them to be good while I am gone. If your wife and dogs have made this part of their routine, never take it away from them or yourself. Do not leave for your shift without that kiss, hug or acknowledgment of love.

5:30 a.m.: I am in my truck making the 30-40 drive to Station 7. I listen to a local news radio station to stay informed on current events affecting our country, state and city.

6 a.m.: I arrive at the station. Our parking lot is not big enough to provide parking for two shifts at shift change. We park in the streets, on the sidewalk, in a church parking lot across the street that has graciously provided us with several marked parking spots for our station members. With bad weather, it can be a real cluster at shift change. Once I find a parking spot, I walk through a side door where the off-going captain is typically sitting at a picnic table waiting for me.

While the outgoing captain removes his gear from the truck, we discuss the events that occurred on his shift, any apparatus or station issues, and any rumors that could be floating around the department.

6:20 a.m.: Once the outgoing captain’s gear is removed, I meticulously arrange my personal gear in the officer’s seat, dashboard and engine cowling. I am very particular, as every item of personal gear goes on in a particular order, and I do not want to fumble around while trying to get geared up while en route. This also helps with the speed in which I can get dressed out.

Once the prior shift has removed their belongings, Capt. Chris DelBello arranges his gear in the officer's seat. 
Once the prior shift has removed their belongings, Capt. Chris DelBello arranges his gear in the officer's seat.  (Photos/Chris DelBello)

6:30 a.m.: After putting everything in its proper place and checking off my air pack, radio and TIC, I report to the picnic table located on the apparatus floor. There is typically a very lively conversation going on about the previous shift, activities that occurred while off duty and department rumors.

While at the picnic table, my engine captain will handle the daily staffing. This can include sending any extra firefighters to other stations to fill in or requesting an additional firefighter if we are short. I am very fortunate and grateful to have my engine captain. Because of him and the training we provide to our station members, it is very rare that I have to act like a station officer. I typically get to listen to all the ongoing discussions and jokes and finish my coffee.

I will typically remain at the picnic table while the firefighters do a thorough check-off of the truck. I am very particular about which nozzle we run on the ladder pipe, so every morning, I observe as they change the nozzle to a smoothbore, as the previous shift prefers to run with a fog nozzle. I’ll avoid any nozzle debate and simply change it to what we prefer. I am also very particular with certain saw blades and hand tools. The firefighters know this and will shift the equipment around as necessary. I am still simply an observer at this point in the morning and very appreciative of their acknowledgement of my preferences and expectations.

7 a.m.: By this time, I am finished with my coffee. The crews are now running all the saws and washing the apparatus. We have to wait until 7 a.m. to run the saws due to noise issues. Once filled with abandoned building and homes, our district now includes many three-, four- and five-story residential townhomes, and those occupants do not like to be woken up by the sound of two stroke chainsaws screaming at peak rpms.

Once the saws start running, I will typically head upstairs to my office to check emails, sign up for any potential overtime shifts, and hope I don’t get called to the district house to ride the chief’s car. This assignment could come at any moment up to 9 a.m., and I cringe any time the phone rings before that. I prefer being at my station, on my truck and with my firefighters. They are, I feel, the best the department has to offer.

It's also around this time that breakfast preparations are underway. The truck chauffeur typically does most of the cooking alone because the firefighters are still checking the apparatus. We all try to eat together.

8 a.m.: While we allow our stomachs to settle from breakfast, we complete any staffing issues, payroll, continuing education or really any other tedious non-firefighting activity one can imagine.

10 a.m.: After completing the clerical duties, it’s time to train. The B-shift at Station 7 trains almost every shift. I’m not talking about online training or chalkboard training. I am referring to real hands-on training.

Engine ops, ladder ops, stairwell ops and search ops are always on the training menu. We are blessed with a five-story vacant hospital at our disposal, and we have made many modifications to fit our training needs. We visit this hospital and train just about every tour.

Following clerical duties, the crew participates in hands-on training – a ritual for B-shift at Station 7. 
Following clerical duties, the crew participates in hands-on training – a ritual for B-shift at Station 7.  (Photo/Chris DelBello)

When we’re not making runs, training takes up the bulk of our day. We typically have a rookie/probationary member fresh out of the academy who we are responsible for training and at Station 7. We take that responsibility seriously. Very seriously.

A word about my perspective on training and leadership: I have served the city for over 24 years. I have promoted through the ranks to reach the position I desired most. With those promotions came the benefit of rank. Rank has its privileges, but respect is earned and more important, and I hope the firefighters who work under me feel that I have earned both from them. Through training, participating in that training, acting like a true leader and developing good firefighters into great firefighters all on the same page and with the same level of aggression on the fireground, I can only hope that the respect is earned.

Through the training and full understanding of that training, the firefighters have made my job at times seem very simple and almost unnecessary. Ninety-nine percent of the time, I do not have to act like an officer, with the exception of calls for service. On the fireground, because of our extensive and ongoing training, I am typically an observer or safety officer for my firefighters, only truly using my rank and formally leading when necessary while supporting their assigned fireground tasks as they perform them as we have trained.

My daily responsibilities may seem simple and very limited to some, but it took a lot of effort and luck to achieve this position, plus a lot of effort in the training and a lot of luck with the firefighters that chose to serve at Station 7. I’ve had crews where I had to put the rank to use daily and it was not enjoyable. I am fortunate to have the crew I have now. Most firefighters shy away from our station and even more, our shift, because we train so much. My firefighters wouldn’t have it any other way, and for that, they have my utmost respect and appreciation.

1 p.m.: After training, we typically go to the grocery store for dinner needs and the next day’s breakfast. Our grocery store is a bit of a travel, taking us into the next district’s territory. This is a good opportunity for us to see any new construction on the way.

The crew travels to the grocery store located in the next fire district for food and supplies. 
The crew travels to the grocery store located in the next fire district for food and supplies.  (Photo/Chris DelBello)

Once back at the station, with the exception of making the calls for assistance, the rest of the day belongs to the firefighters. I do not believe in micromanaging our firefighters and assigning tedious busy work. We focus on training first so the rest of the day feels like it is theirs.

Station 7 is one of the busiest stations in the city, so let’s be clear that I don’t mean “the entire day belongs to the firefighters.” The engine has had days where they’ve run 32 calls for service, the ambulance usually runs 20 plus calls a day, and the ladder to which I am assigned averages four to six calls a day, we’ve seen a few days that approached 20 calls.

Fires? Yes, we make fires, more than most companies. We make enough fires that we expect a fire every day. It doesn’t happen that way, not for any station, but we maintain our state of readiness at all times.

5 p.m.: Dinner time prep starts about now. Typically several firefighters assist in preparing the meal. It’s usually pretty entertaining, listening to them talk-trash each other about their cooking abilities.

Much more discussion occurs during dinner, typically about the day’s events, types of runs and anything that we got out of our daily training.

We also have many discussions on world events and how we could fix everything.

7 p.m.: Things start to slow down within the station, but not the call volume. The firefighters try to settle into their nightly routine and prepare their beds or find a movie on TV. Even at this time of the day, however, the firefighters remain ready and eager to serve the citizens and taxpayers of the city.

The crew relaxes with a meal together following a day of training and runs. 
The crew relaxes with a meal together following a day of training and runs.  (Photo/Chris DelBello)

9 p.m.: We all typically find our beds. It’s not often that our firefighters stay up late watching TV. The day’s training has usually wiped any extra energy from them, and they find their sleep is essential.

At Station 7, however, a full-night’s sleep is out of the question. We serve a diverse area in the city. Midtown is full of bars and night clubs, so we’re good for several calls to those establishments. Downtown is full of high-rise buildings, and we are typically good for two elevator rescues per shift. 3rd Ward is our single-family residential area that is jam-packed with everything from a 75-year-old 500-sq.-ft. house to a brand new 5,000-sq.-ft. five-story townhouse … and no zoning or restrictions regarding property lines.

6:30 a.m.: Shift change. I put my bedding away and tidy up the office a bit before heading downstairs to give the oncoming captain a face-to-face report of our daily activities. A typical report includes how many runs we made, the type of runs, any damaged or missing equipment, and any rumors we may have heard through the grapevine.

7 a.m.: I am in my truck headed home. I am once again listening to the news and often complaining about the traffic, as when I started my career in Houston, I never had to deal with traffic on the way home, but now the traffic problems can stretch through two counties this time of day.

7:45 a.m.: I arrive at the house. The garage door is open, so I know she is expecting me. I open the door and the dogs are yelping, barking and jumping up and down as I enter the door. They won’t leave me alone until I acknowledge them each for a few minutes. My wife is typically standing in the living room or kitchen watching the interaction between the dogs and me, and then she approaches me for a quick greeting kiss and kindly asks, “Coffee?”

Take care of your crew

That’s a day in the life of a truck company officer. It may not seem like much, but it’s the things you don’t see that make my daily life either easy or complicated. Ninety-nine days out of the year are spent at the fire station with my firefighters. It’s up to me and my engine captain to decide how it’s going to be, and we choose training to full comprehension to make our jobs and fireground assignments easier and safer and our firefighters great.

I’ll wrap this up now because my guys are watching some really stupid but entertaining TV show, and I’m interested in seeing what has them laughing so much.

Take care – and take care of your firefighters.

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