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What does a Fire Chief do?

By Harriette Halepis
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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Fire chief is one of the top ranking officials within any fire department. Depending upon the fire department, a chief is either elected or appointed to the position based upon proven tasks and merit. Once appointed, he or she will be given the responsibility of managing daily tasks within a fire station.

In the United States, a fire chief generally reports to a fire commissioner, a mayor, or another board of elected officials. In other countries, a chief may not report to anyone at all, and it is not uncommon for him or her to be the highest ranking fire official. In almost every instance, it is possible for a chief to be demoted by community members or by an elected committee.

Chiefs are required to manage other fire officers, assist firefighters at the scene of a fire, and train new staff recruits. Some may also be asked to help with fire prevention, fire inspections, disaster relief, and other community involvements. In addition to these everyday tasks, a chief may be required to handle administrative duties such as bookkeeping and managing station funds.

The main responsibilities of a chief largely depend upon the size of the fire department. Larger fire department chiefs are often assisted in their tasks by other high-ranking officials. In this case, deputy chiefs, assistant fire chiefs, division chiefs, and battalion chiefs report to the main fire chief. The chief may also have the right to make vital decisions at the scene of a fire without authorization from superiors.

If a chief cannot make it to the scene of a fire right away, another officer might take charge of the situation. When the fire chief does arrive at the scene, control of the situation is immediately passed onto him or her. Due to the vast amount of responsibility that a chief must undertake, it is rare to see an inexperienced person at the helm of any fire department large or small.

An ideal chief has had many years of experience fighting fires. In addition, this individual must be able to effectively communicate with a community, with other firefighters, and with other emergency outfits. As a result, he or she should have administrative, managerial, and political talents in addition to fire fighting skills.

Outside of the firefighting realm, a chief is often asked to perform social duties and attend social functions. Often, the chief of a fire station is a role model within a community, and as such is required to address the public on various occasions.

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Discussion Comments
By anon268313 — On May 13, 2012

@MoodyMuse: Sounds like our Chief too. I'm interested in joining our department and he's making it hell for me to even put in my application.

By anon92435 — On Jun 28, 2010

This article could not be further from the truth. The aforementioned job description would be limited to a fire department of a minimal size.

Fire chiefs are essentially the CEO of a company. Minimal fire experience is necessary for a fire chief to become successful. Fire chiefs need to know how to surround themselves with people who add to the department's ultimate goal.

I like to compare it as such: Does the CEO of McDonald's need to know how to cook french fries? Absolutely not. He needs to know how to manage the processes involved in making sure the french fries are properly cooked.

I bet the CEO would barely be able to put together a sandwich. Does this make him a bad CEO? No way.

Operations chiefs, battalion chiefs, district chiefs and company officers are all supervisors in charge of the operational aspect of fire and rescue.

By MoodyMuse — On Oct 25, 2009

Or, if you lived where I live, the fire chief is *very* busy spending a long time at the local greasy spoon *every* day, twice a day, or at the credit union.

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