Fire Fighting in Canada

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Tim-Bits: April 2014

As a fire engine roars down the highway to the confirmed working structure fire, three firefighters in the back are jokingly bickering with each other over what tool each will grab and who will get the nozzle.

March 26, 2014 
By Tim Llewellyn

As a fire engine roars down the highway to the confirmed working structure fire, three firefighters in the back are jokingly bickering with each other over what tool each will grab and who will get the nozzle. Once the firefighters have their plan, they quietly go over where the tools are located on the rig and what they will do the moment the air brakes are set.

Seat assignment placards should be installed in conspicuous locations, such as this one for the tower ladder officer, located on the inside of the door. Photos by Tim Llewellyn


Suddenly, two blocks away from the fire, the engine officer – who didn’t hear the plan over the air horn, siren and constant radio chatter – turns around and changes everything. The firefighter who assigned himself the nozzle has now been assigned to connect the supply line to the hydrant; the firefighter who had assigned herself the irons is now in the hoseline back-up position and the original back-up man is now on the nozzle. A little bit of frustration sets in but, not wanting to break the chain of command, each firefighter nods acceptingly of his or her new assignment. The air brakes are set and the crew goes to work as assigned.

All firefighters are action-oriented individuals: we want to do something at an incident scene, particularly at a fire where there are lots of fun tasks. We are trained on the myriad operations that need to occur at a fire scene, and without direction from the officer in charge and discipline by each firefighter, we can often feel as though we need to do everything instead of relying on the team. A lack of official direction and individual discipline on the fire ground can lead to freelancing – where firefighters perform fire-ground operations without being told to or without telling anyone that they’re completing those tasks. Freelancing takes overall command and control of the incident away from the incident commander and results in a lack of co-ordination of essential fire-ground activities. 

This riding assignment placard identifies the seat assigned to the nozzle firefighter, as well as his or her fire-ground responsibilities.  
Seat assignment placards can also list both the primary and secondary responsibilities of the firefighter.


One sure-fire way to help eliminate freelancing and to allow the incident commander to maintain control of the fire ground is to establish incident operating guidelines for the arrival of apparatus on the fire scene. Make the guidelines simple. Describe what the incident commander would want the first fire engine to do when it arrives at a fire, such as establishing a water supply and stretching a handline, then do the same for the second- and third-arriving fire engines or pumpers, the first ladder or aerial truck, and so on. Once these goals for the arriving fire apparatuses are established, the next task is to figure out what each individual on each unit is going to do to support the overall mission of that apparatus. This is best
accomplished with riding assignment placards. 

Riding assignment placards have been successfully used by both career and volunteer fire departments for years. Placards are a simple reminder to the firefighters of their primary and secondary responsibilities and what tools they should take with them when they get off of the rig. The riding assignment placards are like brief job descriptions that ensure the crew knows the tasks for which each member is responsible. When the placards are used in training, they can be used to evaluate the performance of each firefighter against the goals stated on the placards. 

The riding assignment placards should be affixed to (or near) each seat so that they are visible and conspicuous. The hydrant assignment should be next to a seat that exits from the rear of the cab, since that firefighter will exit the apparatus first. The seat assigned to the nozzle person should be opposite to the hydrant seat, and the back-up firefighters should follow from there. On rescue or ladder trucks, the seat assignments could be organized based on the location of the tools that firefighters need to retrieve when they exit.

It has been demonstrated time and again in my experience that riding assignment placards give firefighters the motivation to train – to increase their skill set so that they can ride in the seat that sees more action. Riding assignment placards can help bring order to your fire-ground operations, and I encourage you to consider putting them into operation at your fire department. 

A fire-service veteran since 1989, Tim Llewellyn is a firefighter for
the Allegheny County Airport Authority in Pittsburgh, Penn. He
volunteers for the Adams Area Fire District in Pennsylvania and is an
instructor for the PA State Fire Academy, the Allegheny County Fire
Academy and the Pittsburgh International Airport fire training facility.
E-mail him at

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