Public fire departments were initially founded as paramilitary organizations; therefore, fire departments across the United States tend to follow military ranks and structure. A fireman spends a certain amount of time, determined by the department, at each level. In many cases, firefighters need to take exams and partake in interviews with superiors to rise in ranks. Depending on the size of the municipality that the fire department is part of, the positions might vary based on the town’s needs; however, for the most part, fire departments follow the following ranks:
A firefighter’s journey begins as a Probationary Firefighter. As a Probationary Firefighter, you serve as the newest member and lowest ranking of the department. Sometimes referred to as “probies” or “rookie,” these members are “at-will” employees and the department could terminate the individual at any time due to any reason. This position is very much a learning role and closely monitored by senior firefighters. Probationary officers tend to stay in the “temporary” role for 6-12 months. The department heads then determine if the candidate is a good fit in both temperament and skills for a fire service career.
According to zip recruiter, the average salary of a Probationary Firefighter is $44,117 per year.
While the term “Firefighter” is a common term used for anyone within the fire department, “Firefighter” is also a rank. A Firefighter is the most hands-on position in the fire department. This role is responsible for fire suppression, search, and rescue. The responsibilities of a Firefighter vary depending on the type of company they belong to. For example, a firefighter in an Engine Company is responsible for providing water to the scene of a fire, identifying the fire’s location, and suppressing it. The department trains members of a rescue company to be knowledgeable in building construction, rigging ropes, rescues from buildings and vehicles, among other emergency protocols and procedures. Learn more about the different types of companies here.
Pay for a Firefighter ranges significantly based on the location of the department and years of experience, but on average, Firefighters make around $53,000 per year, according to salary.com.
Driver Engineer or Fire Equipment Operator
The Driver Engineer manages the technical aspects of fire safety and rescue. As the name suggests, the Driver Engineer is responsible for driving the apparatus (for example, the fire engine or ladder truck). Depending on what type of company they are in, they also would be in charge of operating either the aerial ladder or the fire pump. The Driver Engineer or Equipment Operator is the expert on the apparatus and should know all the equipment’s technicalities inside and out. This position does frequent safety checks of their apparatus and makes sure it is maintained and cleaned.
When the Lieutenant is not available, the department will expect the Driver Engineer or Fire Equipment Operator to step in and assume this role.
On average, a Driver Engineer can expect to make $97,011 per year (according to zip recruiter). For a large metropolitan area like Cambridge, MA, a Driver Engineer can expect to be paid upwards of $114,894.
The Lieutenant is responsible for the administration and supervision of the fire company. This position is a leadership role and might perform tasks such as implementing the station’s goals and objectives as well as managing schedules and shift task priorities. In addition to these leadership responsibilities, the Lieutenant will also perform duties as an officer to bring fire suppression and medical care to their town or city citizens.
According to Glassdoor.com, a Lieutenant can make anywhere between $53,000 to $125,000 per year.
The Captain is the leader of a company of firefighters assigned to a specific firehouse. This position is responsible for ensuring the station house, fire trucks, and equipment are within the department’s maintenance standards. During a fire alarm, the Captain is like the department’s quarterback and will make determinations based on the fire’s nature, condition of the structure, and the water supply source to direct their company accordingly. This role also may be in charge of training and drills.
A fire captain’s salary ranges greatly, but according to salary.com the 50th percentile of fire captain salary is $81,819.
The Battalion Chief typically oversees numerous firehouses and companies. This role is responsible for planning, organizing, directing, coordinating, and supervising the activities of an assigned shift, including the management of personnel, fire prevention and training activities, and oversight of significant programs. A Battalion Chief also oversees the captains of the various companies and fire stations.
According to salary.com, a Battalion Chief can expect to make a starting salary of around $86,000 per year.
The Assistant Fire Chief supports the Fire Chief or Commissioner. This role performs various technical, administrative, and supervisory work in planning, organizing, directing, and implementing firefighter and officer training, fire prevention, suppression, and emergency medical services.
According to salary.com, an Assistant Fire Chief for a large metropolitan area like New York City should expect to make around $93,454.
The Fire Chief is the leader and commander of an entire fire organization and is the highest-ranking officer. This role is in charge of tasks such as supervising other officers and firefighters at an emergency scene and recruiting, training, and equipping them for their respective duties. A fire chief is directly responsible for the efficient operation of battalions and/or stations and has authority over all personnel, apparatuses, and activities.
A fire chief’s salary ranges greatly. The national average is around $92,302 per year with $150,000 per year being on the higher end of the salary range.
To learn more about specific open fire department positions, visit RedBlueJob’s fire job board and discover your dream job.
While the structure is different within each municipal police department, there are general consistencies. Depending on the size of the department, the number of divisions and units may vary. In 2016, the FBI estimated that there are more than 18,000 local police departments across the country.
Each department is unique in its structure and size, depending on its municipality’s needs; however, most departments tend to follow a basic format with a Chief of Police on the top of the police department hierarchy. Under the Chief of Police, there are at least two, but more likely, three divisions: Operations, Administration, and Investigations/Support.
These three units serve unique but equally essential functions.
Chief of Police
Police departments typically are led by a Chief of Police, although this lead role is also referred to as Commissioner or Superintendent. In large metropolitan areas, the head of the police department is typically called the Police Commissioner, and in smaller towns, this role is typically the chief of police. For example, the Boston Police Department is headed by Police Commissioner William Gross, while a smaller town like Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is headed by Chief of Police Robert Merner.
This position is appointed by the town’s leadership, such as the mayor, the city council, or commission. The Police Chief or Commissioner will report directly to the mayor. This role typically requires at least a bachelor’s degree, although many police chiefs also have a graduate degree.
The Operations Division is commonly what people think of when they think of the police department. It consists of the department’s largest number of personnel. Additionally, the Patrol Division potentially has the most contact with the public. Roles within this division can include Traffic, Animal Control, Parking, Community Policing, Patrol Watch, Auxiliary Police, and Patrol Officers. The number of Patrol Officers in a police department (and how specialized the position is) varies depending on the city’s size. For example, Cambridge, Massachusetts, with a population of 105,162 residents, has 215 police/patrol officers, while a smaller town like Concord, Massachusetts, with a population of 17,669, has only 22 patrol officers.
A police department’s administrative division does much of the behind the scenes work to keep the entire department functioning. Specialized services within this department include Record Management, Training, Crime Analysis, Communications, Administration, Property/Evidence, Dispatch, and Fingerprinting. An applicant does not need to attend the police academy or have extra training for many administrative positions.
Although not the part of a police department seen by the public, the Investigations/Support Division is commonly depicted on television shows like Law and Order. This division includes detectives focused on specific public safety matters like domestic violence and vice/narcotics. While the Patrol Division is more likely to deal with crimes as they are happening, the investigators and detectives are responsible for the followup investigation of most crimes. They do this by interviewing witnesses and gathering and analyzing evidence. Typically to become a detective, someone would need to start as a Patrol Officer to gain experience and then apply or be promoted to a detective position.
The police department offers jobs for all levels of training and experience in these three different divisions. Browse jobs in each of these sectors on our job portal or upload your resume for free and be found by police departments looking for qualified candidates.