Firefighters’ positions or ranks are often denoted by the color of their helmet. White helmets are usually worn by chief officers and red helmets are worn by company officers. However, the meaning of the color and its style is different for different regions and also, for different departments. Even though a single system of ranks is not in use, some ranks are pretty common. Voice trumpets (a megaphone type) or currently ‘bugle’ is used by many variations for denoting insignia systems.
The following are a few common ranks –
• Firefighter or Private – Private is the lowest rank and gets subdivided into various other grades like Senior, 1st Class and Master Firefighter, awarded on seniority basis. These grades may or may not appear on an individual’s uniform or badge. Often times, these are very new recruits, and can be people recently promoted from being a volunteer firefighter.
• Fire Equipment Operator, Engineer or Driver – Many departments use a fire equipment operator, engineer or driver. The badge notes the rank in most cases but there is no insignia. Multiple grades are present in some departments for this rank.
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• Lieutenant – One single trumpet, mostly in silver, is used to mark this lowest rank in fire officers. By some departments, a single bar like in police or military is used, in silver. Some others might use a single gold bar or trumpet. Lieutenants have multiple grades in certain departments. ‘Assistant Foreman’ is used by certain fire departments and is the rank’s older name.
• Captain – Parallel bars or trumpets denote this common rank. Silver or gold connecting bar could be used for connecting the parallel trumpets or bars. Usually responsible for overseeing multiple Lieutenants apart from firefighters, a Captain would act as a senior supervisor of a station or company. As a company officer, a Captain often has to work for 1 – 4 shifts. Similar to lieutenant, some departments prefer to use “Foreman” instead of “Captain”.
• Senior Captain – Rarely used rank, a Senior Captain is denoted by two crossed trumpets.
• District Chief, Division Chief or Battalion Chief – This shift officer of the highest ranking would always be present on duty in smaller departments at any time. In larger departments where there are multiple battalions, one battalion chief would be responsible for the supervision of X companies in every battalion in the city’s different parts. For example, in Boston, 9 District Chiefs operate under city-wide 2 Division Chiefs, responsible for the supervision of 2 Heavy rescues, 23 ladders and 34 engines. Battalion chief is the lowest chief rank and is denoted by 2 golden trumpets that are crossed or 2 stars. A single star or 3 trumpets might be used by some departments.
• Chief – This is any department’s highest rank, traditionally denoted by 5 trumpets in gold or 5 stars.
• Additional Chief Grades – This falls between Battalion Chief and Chief, usually denoted by 3 or 4 golden trumpets that are crossed or the same number of stars. The titles Deputy Chief, Assistant Chief, Division Chief or District Chief are commonly used.
Apart from the above mentioned ranks, Inspector, Sergeant and Major are also used by a few departments.