Latest News

What are the Different Ranks of Firefighters?

deputy fire chief

The fire service has a rich history dating back to the 17th century when New Amsterdam established the colonies’ first fire fighting system in 1647. During the early years, fire organizations were social groups within the community that sought to put out fires occurring in nearby metro areas. However, when fires ravaged cities like Chicago and New York, the lives of thousands of people were in danger. The public quickly demanded that fire service institutions be organized in cities and towns to protect life and property.

How the Structure of Fire Departments & Organizations Began  

Prior to the first organized fire units, cities and towns would utilize an early form of fire protection called the bucket brigade.  The bucket brigade acted as first responders when fire would occur. This group consisted of neighbors from all around the fire who would toss their buckets into the street for volunteers to fill with water and pass forward to be dumped on the fire.  

This method was eventually found to be unsustainable and administrators started looking to other parts of the world to learn how they responded to fires. Firefighting in England was far more structured, as fire protection was organized and paid for by insurance companies. However, there were no major insurance companies operating in early America and, prior to the early 1600’s, the only departments that were functioning were done so in a volunteer capacity.  

The move towards dependable fire protection in the US started in 1679 when the city of Boston, Massachusetts established America’s first publicly funded fire department. Progress toward staffing paid departments remained slow until the mid-1800’s, when fires occurred in New York and Pittsburg, causing mass casualties and destruction. These fires became the catalyst for the development of the municipal fire services, public water supply systems, and fire protection technology that are used in fire suppression efforts today.

How the Creation of the NFBU Brought About Current Firefighter Ranks

The National Board of Fire Underwriters (NFBU) formed in the late nineteenth century and is seen as the first organized effort to propose regulations and standards to improve fire protection methods. The groups proposed standards gave birth to the modern fire department and the practice of leadership from the fire chief. As cities began to form their own fire departments to protect civilians, individuals such as James Braidwood and Jan van der Heyden led the way as the founders of modern firefighting. These men laid the groundwork of instructing municipal fire departments on how to implement ranking systems used in fire departments today.

What Are The Hierarchical Positions of Modern Day Firefighters?

The fire service today is much different than what Braidwood and Heyden could have ever imagined. The vision of Chief remained but the supportive roles for the Chief’s mission grew out of necessity to ensure each firefighter is trained on how to take on the dangerous tasks of modern firefighting. Here is a look at each role within the firehouse from lowest to highest rank and a brief description on why each role is crucial.

  1. Probationary firefighter: The probationary firefighter is an individual that is classified as entry-level within the fire house hierarchy. He or she is often still undergoing training and evaluation to determine if there is an organizational fit. The period of time for the probationary term may span from 6 months to one year depending on the individual and the organization.
  2. Firefighter: After an individual successfully completes the probationary period he or she is referred to as a firefighter. The role of a firefighter is responsible for much of the actual hands-on actions during a live operation. These tasks can include but are not limited to handling hoses, operating fire-rescue equipment, and conducting search, find, and rendering of initial first aid care to victims of fire.
  3. Driver/Engineer: Fire engineers are responsible for the operability of the firefighting vehicles that respond to emergencies. They make sure that the vehicle is clean and running efficiently, perform maintenance tasks and drive the vehicle. In addition to knowing the apparatus in and out, the Engineer is also responsible for knowing the location of every alarm in his jurisdiction as well as the location of each hydrant.
  4. Lieutenant: Aside from the duties of overseeing apparatus operation and the responsibilities of the crew, fire lieutenants are also responsible for candidate training, daily firehouse operations and other duties. In the absence of the captain, lieutenants may stand in as acting captains.
  5. Captain: This firefighter is the highest-ranking on-scene responder, responsible for directing operations at the scene of a fire incident and overseeing station duties. This role requires great responsibility and the individual must have exemplary management skills as well as the ability to lead firefighters.
  6. Battalion Chief: The Battalion Chief oversees administrative tasks such as employee scheduling and ensuring all fire houses under their scope are staffed for emergencies. Due to the nature of shift-work in firefighting, one fire department could have numerous rotating Battalion Chiefs ensuring 24/7 operational readiness.
  7. Assistant Chief: The assistant chief helps support the Fire Chief by ensuring a high standard in operational quality free from personnel issues that could jeopardize the mission of the department. In addition, the Assistant Chief also helps the Chief with matters such as budgets, community and department programming, training, and managing the success of the fire department.
  8. Fire Chief: This is the highest-ranking position in the fire department organization. The Chief oversees all operations and roles inside the department as well as working with city officials to create a safer community. A successful Chief understands the value of legal agreements, partnerships, networking, trusting and empowering others, and stepping back to look at the big picture.

Protecting Our Nation’s Firefighters for Over 25 Years

For over 25 years, Boise Mobile Equipment has served our nation’s fire fighters by engineering state-of-the-art fire engines. The safety of our nation’s firefighters is our number one priority, so BME fire apparatus are built to protect fire crews by shielding them from the lethal elements they encounter when battling fires. Our fire trucks are engineered for rugged off-road terrain, built with reinforced TIG-welded aluminum tubular bodies and are tilt-tested to withstand horizontal grades of more than 32 degrees. BME fire trucks are trusted by fire service organizations like CAL FIRE and the USDA Forest Service, as well as numerous municipal fire departments across the country. In fact, many of our apparatus were used to help battle the recent ‘mega fires’ in CaliforniaMontana, Oregon and Idaho.

Our engineers and mechanics are highly trained, allowing them to manufacture custom vehicles built to any specs. We understand that one size does not fit all in the fire industry, as every department and organization needs different equipment to do its job. That’s why we are known for our ‘built-to-spec’ manufacturing process. Rather than the traditional ‘cookie cutter’ manufacturing process where each truck is built the same and additional specs are charged as add-ons, BME builds each of its vehicles custom to every department’s specific needs.

BME’s recent contracts with Forest Service and CAL FIRE allow for tag-on’s that could make the purchase of your new apparatus faster, easier and far less costly.  For more information regarding the purchase of a BME fire apparatus, please contact us by phone at (800) 445-8342.



Maria Mudd-Ruth, Scott Sroka. Firefighting: Behind the Scenes, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1998, p. 7

Landers, Jackson. “In the Early 19th Century, Firefighters Fought Fires … and Each Other.” Smithsonian.com, Smithsonian Institution, 27 Sept. 2016, www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/early-19-century-firefighters-fought-fires-each-other-180960391/.

Klinoff, Robert (2007). “Public Fire Protection”. Introduction to Fire Protection, 3rd Edition. Thomson Delmar Learning. p. 59. ISBN 978-1-4180-0177-3.

IFSTA (2004). Fire Service Orientation and Terminology. Fire Protection Publications, University of Oklahoma. ISBN 978-0-87939-232-1.

Hensler, Bruce (1 June 2011). Crucible of Fire: Nineteenth-Century Urban Fires and the Making of the Modern Fire Service. Potomac Books, Inc. pp. 1–2. ISBN 978-1-59797-684-8. Retrieved 4 October 2011.

Scroll to top