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Why seniority should play a major in fire department promotions

I would rather go into a fire with a poor test-taker who has more time on the job than me, than the guy who aced the test but hasn’t seen diddly



By Scott Ziegler

There was a recent article about a fire department in Ohio that is switching from testing-based promotions to promotions based on a combination of seniority and training.

This obviously prompted all of the world’s greatest firefighters on social media to weigh in with their opinion. Surprisingly to me (maybe not so surprising) there were a number of guys who thought this was wrong.

Some argued that seniority and experience doesn’t make you a good officer. Maybe not. Lucky for me, I get to write for UniformStories and everyone wants to know what I think, right? Haha. Well here’s what I think anyways.

So you just finished your Fire Officer 1, 2 and 3, you have your RIT certification, firefighter survival class cert, and a handful of other certifications from classes you took to make you a better firefighter. Awesome. You are a credit to the fire service. We should all strive to gain as much knowledge as we can for this job.

Now you have about five to 10 years of experience on your fire department and you plan to take the test for an officer’s position. Because, well, you have Fire Officer 1-3. Obviously that means you would make a great boss, right?

Wrong. But the problem is, there are people on this job who think that their certifications qualify them to lead. They think that if they can test better than the guy who has 20 years of experience, then they are the better candidate for the position. Again, they are wrong.

I took the fire officer classes, up to FO 3. It was offered for free through the last fire department I worked for. I could probably do pretty damn good on a written officer’s exam as well.

But, by no means does this make me think I am ready to be a boss. How are these classes and tests an equivalent to years of on the job experience? How can a written exam be the deciding factor in who gets to lead your team at the next fire?

Time on the job doesn’t always mean competency. I get that there are bad apples, and guys who have hidden their entire career. But, even those guys have been to more fires, and experienced more situations than you have.

To me there is nothing more valuable than experience. And with seniority — time on the job — comes experience. You can train all day long, and you can be the best test taker in the world, but if you don’t have experience, you don’t have squat.

That being said, my opinion is that promotions should be based on a combination of training and seniority. No testing. And no interview. Interviews leave it open to cronyism.

If you are next in line to make boss, and you have taken all the required officer classes, then you should be the next to get promoted. I would rather go into a fire with a poor test-taker who has more time on the job than me, than the guy who aced the test but hasn’t seen diddly. Experience makes you a better firefighter.

So, continue to train and when your time comes to make boss, hopefully you are ready because you have seen and handled enough real life stuff to be a good leader.

Uniform Stories features a variety of contributors. These sources are experts and educators within their profession. Uniform Stories covers an array of subjects like field stories, entertaining anecdotes, and expert opinions.