Hot Chiefs

Riddle me this, if you can. What are your thoughts on chief officers and PPE. Considering that much of the Atlantic coast is currently experiencing record high temperatures, why is it that we see chiefs at the command post fully buttoned up? Conversely why do some people hand out grief about chief officers and others for not being “properly dressed”, even when the weather is in the upper digits?

Its 90-degrees out. Which is best dressed to manage the command post? (Cliff Shockley/

I know that many readers can exercise a healthy dose of common sense, however I’ve found it fascinating that a culture exists that demands full PPE even in close proximity to a fireground. Have we become too safe to allow flexibility? Another point I have seen directed at chief officers about PPE is the leadership model. To some in the fire service, a chief officer without his entire PPE ensemble is a poor example to his men. I don’t know about you, but I never really gave it much thought as to what my chief was wearing. If I needed to locate him I used my radio or went to his buggy. I didn’t need to look for the guy in the white coat and helmet to figure who was in charge.

So, what do you think? Is it asking too much to allow a chief to manage the board with just a vest, or does he need to be decked out just like the nozzleman?

Bonus points if you can determine how many chief officers have died in the line of duty this year and last year operating at the command post. The RIC might have to face the buggy instead of the building.

“Firefighter Fatalities and Injuries – The Role of Heat Stress and PPE”, University of Illinois Fire Service Institute, July 2008

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  • Greg Wild says:

    Last I knew, PPE was worn to protect us from an idlh atomosphere. Did I miss something?

    Let’s use our heads for something other than a place to put our helmets folks!

    Common sense, something that the fire service loses yearly!

  • backstepfirefighter says:

    Thanks Greg, and you’re correct, it is meant to protect us, company officers and firefighters. However, for the incident commander, if the command post is not in the hazard area wouldn’t PPE, especially in high temperatures and humidity, place stress on the chief’s health?


  • Nate Q. says:

    While I can understand the whole “lead by example” train of thought, if a command officer isn’t right in the thick of things (like say a division officer on a fire floor), then what purpose does it serve? What ever happened to old concepts like “hot/warm/cold zones” and “action circles”? I don’t believe I’ve ever seen an IC in a Level A suit running a hazmat scene. Down here in sunny (and humid…you east coasters know what I’m talking about) Florida, we’re aware of the effects of said heat and humidity and dress out appropriately according to the level of risk. Personally, I also find it easier to spot the IC in his little vest standing in one area, rather that having to pick him out in a sea of bunker gear and SCBA.

  • The IC’s “good example” comes from running the fire correctly not how they are dressed. If “firefighters” are concerned with the commanders fashion sense then somewhere along the line things have gotten muddled. I think they look cool in their vests.

  • Al Huelsenbeck, Wilm. DE. says:

    This is a great question. I have 24 years as a B/C and I have seen Chiefs in dress uniforms in fires! As a habit I always wear a coat and helmet regardless of situation. That does not make it right. If your CP is you, a radio, & 10 fingers for an accountbilty system in front of the fire then you need your gear. If your lucky enough to have an aide and your CP is at the car on the corner then I guess you don’t.

  • Ronnie R. says:

    When I was a Chief Officer, I wore my PPE.  It was not for my protection, or to impress my guys.  It was a reminder to me that if I was becoming uncomfortable in my gear standing outside, what are the guys inside experiencing.  This helped me remember that, especially in the summer time, the need to rotate crews in and out is esential.  Right, wrong, or indifferent, that was my mind set.

    • Bill Carey says:


      Thanks for the reply. That is the first such I have heard of, PPE as a reminder, in this subject.


  • Ryan says:

    I think it really depends on man power. If you have plenty of firefighters on scene, I think the IC should be at his truck being command and control. But there are also cases where the B/C where I volunteer has gotten on scene first. In a case like that, he's always gotten in full PPE. So I think it really depends on the scene, and how much man power you have when you arrive.

  • Steve K says:

    I believe that there are cases where the cheif does not need to be fully dressed in PPE.  I would say to have the pants and boots on incase they are need for something…I know that on our VFD we can be short handed so the cheif could very well be doing work.  But here in MS we get high temps with humidity and I say let the cheif take off his coat and helmet to stay cool.  If they have been training with the firefighters they can get their gear on just as quick (I know ours can). 

  • Wes B says:

    My Battalion Chief normally wears his white helmet on scene regardless of the weather and at night when we have been asleep or during workout times, he will also wear his bunker pants and boots.  In the winter time, he will wear his coat as well.  I really don't care what he wears as long as he looks professional and is identifiable.  His white helmet satisfies that criteria and normally, he will wear an IC vest as well.  Otherwise, the only thing that matters to me is how he manages the incident scene and maintains accountability.  There is no need for a chief officer to be in full PPE to be in the command post, use common sense.  That's what dictates 90% of what we do in this profession.

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