What Firefighters Do: 3 Key Responsibilities

Fire fighting is no easy task. Here are some basics about these truly heroic people.

Small towns or communities often have volunteer firefighters on an on-call basis, meaning they aren’t paid staff and may have other jobs in addition to fire fighting. Large metropolitan city or area usually have firefighters paid full-time wages.

When you dial 9-1-1 and report a fire, the fire emergency response plan for your area goes into action. The dispatcher notifies the fire department, which notifies its team. Volunteer firefighters meet at the station, with the truck or ‘rig’ leaving as soon as three firefighters are there.

At the Fire Scene

  • Driver — transports the firefighters to the fire, and may also operate either the ladder or the water pump, depending on the type of truck.
  • Captain — oversees the firefighters and determines the best way to fight the fire by entering the structure and sizing up the fire: identifying its location, type, size and direction of spread.

Firefighters have multiple tasks:

  • Start advancing the fire hose line and enter the structure to fight the fire by spraying water.
  • Attempt to rescue trapped or injured persons and administer first aid before the ambulance crew arrives.
  • Make holes in the roofs, walls and break windows to allow the smoke and heat trapped in the house to escape as well as to gain access to the structure.
  • Make holes in walls, called ventilating, to enable them to see where the fire has spread and where they need to try to extinguish it. (Fire can travel through many small areas, including the space between the walls and floors.)
  • Move belongings to another area in the house or possibly outside to prevent them from acting as kindling for the fire. If the items are on fire or smoldering, they will need to be hosed down to stop the fire from spreading.

After the Fire

After the fire has been extinguished, firefighters return to the station, where they reload and change their equipment to prepare for the next call. The fire chief and captain file their reports.

Working with the local department, the arson investigator, fire chief and/or state fire marshal begin investigating the cause of the fire, starting with a visit to the fire site.

Additional Assistance

The fire department also provides assistance to those displaced by the fire:

  • Contacts the Red Cross to assist you with your immediate needs such as food, shelter and personal items you may need if you can’t return to the home.
  • If the structure is safe to enter, arranges a walk-through with you in order to discuss the damage and the next steps to take.
  • Allows you to take personal belongings (clothes, important documents, jewelry, photos), and provides a form listing a description of the items you are taking.
  • May also assist to further secure your property from looting or weather damage or help you find a company to handle it for you.

Know that if the cause of the fire is still being investigated, you may not be able to take other things with you (i.e. couches, TVs, computers) because they may be linked to the cause of the fire.