In an effort to alleviate pressure on the training staff and improve safety, Augusta-Richmond County Fire Chief Chris James is changing the job description of captains in his department.
The fire department began a new training strategy Saturday that moved captains to the four ladder trucks and Station 19, which is in line to get a new ladder truck next year, and designated them as the first incident commanders and safety officers.
Traditionally, a captain was assigned to each station, was responsible for overseeing it and had contact only with his or her shift. Now, the captains on each truck are responsible for all of the stations, but only on their shift. Each ladder truck is responsible for the stations in its area.
“We need to utilize the captain’s training abilities,” James said. Part of the job description of captain means they
have a Fire Instructor 1 certification.
Because hiring did not occur consistently before he became chief this year, James has been filling about 40 vacant spots, which has occupied his dedicated training staff. Since the three-person training department has been busy with new recruits, the staff has had difficulty getting to all 19 stations James said.
“Although it has been the responsibility of the company officer to train their individual companies and the battalion chief’s to conduct multicompany training with their battalions, it has been difficult to standardize training,” James said in a department memo. “Part of this difficulty lies in the chronic understaffing of the Training Division.”
He said by making the captains’ trainers for their given territory, it will free up the training staff to develop courses to share with the department.
James said the captains’ new job description will also include more emphasis on safety.
“Every time I hear that a firefighter is being transported to the hospital, or I look at the list of personnel on salary continuation or workers’ compensation, I ask myself what could have been done to prevent that injury,” James said in the memo.
The captains will now serve as safety officers on scene because ladder trucks are sent to every structure fire, he said. Before, a safety officer wasn’t always on scene, James added.
He conceded the change is a significant shift for the department but he said it addresses safety concerns and will be a way to enforce new standards.
“The captains will have to turn training in, the firefighters will sign something saying what training they participated in, and the battalion chiefs will make sure it’s happening,” James said. “This
will be the same for every territory.”