The Stages of a Fire Service Career


As you grow, try to leave your department better than you found it.


I worked a day for the academy’s Call/Volunteer program, which allows members of call and volunteer fire department the opportunity to get academy training and certification over a six month period, attending classes two nights a week in at the host department and every other Saturday at the Academy’s facility.

This day’s group was a new class from northern Essex County, and they had the nature of fire demonstration. In the nature of fire demo, a the students are brought to the third floor of the Academy’s burn building to witness a fire being started and going through its phases from incipient to growth to fully involved and then to decay.  I have worked support for the nature of fire demo many times, for both recruit and the call/volunteer program.  It was during today’s class that I had a revelation; a person’s fire service career is very similar to the nature of fire demonstration

HitThePlugPhotoWe all start in the incipient phase either by taking an entrance exam for a career department or going to the local fire hall and getting an application to join the volunteer fire department. We take the test, the physical agility testing and go through the hiring process. Just as the fire starts to grow, so does our career and our commitment to service.

We then enter the growth phase, going through the Academy and going through on the job training, attending drills and other training opportunities. We are like sponges, gathering information and skills necessary to perform the job. When the tones go off, the adrenaline rush kicks in. We can’t wait to get on the rig and often wonder what is taking the senior men and company officers so long to get to the apparatus floor, even though they may only be a few seconds behind them.

The fully involved stage lasts for a few years. We look forward to going to the station for our tours of duty and continue to learn about our craft. Some of us go for promotions, some take on additional duties and skills, such as hazmat, technical rescue, arson investigation and other specialized fields, some do both and more.

Eventually, our careers start winding down, the decay phase.  For some it is the age; we still get excited about going to calls and fires, but we do not “bounce back” as well as we did in the earlier stages of our careers and tend to be more prone to injury.

Some Brothers and Sisters don’t have the same passion for the job as they once did; they tend to look at things with a jaded eye. Some of it is due to fire department politics, some of it is due to dealing with a populace that doesn’t seem to care anymore, being assaulted by the print and electronic media jumping on the “why do we need all these firefighters” bandwagon (usually during a ratings period) as well as politicians trying to make a name for themselves by jumping on the bandwagon.

Sometimes there is a breath of fresh air that reignites our passion, whether it is a change in administrations on the city/town level, a promotion or a combination of the two. Unfortunately, there are times that it takes a tragedy that can bring us back to our roots or accelerate our movement towards retirement.

Eventually, we will all see the light at the end of the career tunnel. It may be the age of mandatory retirement or the day one wakes up and decides that they want to leave the fire service and start a new phase of their lives in retirement.  If you can still do the job and want to stay a while longer or make the decision to retire, then by all means do; just be sure to share what you have learned with the “kids” before you go.

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Ron Ayotte Ron Ayotte is one of four Deputy Fire Chiefs with the Marlborough Fire Department, Marlborough, Massachusetts. Ron began his career with the MFD in November of 1981, was promoted to Lieutenant in November of 1988, Promoted to Captain in August of 2000 and was promoted to Deputy Chief in 2006. Ron’s responsibilities at the MFD include incident command, communications, plans review, inspections and training. Ron also works per diem in the Support Services division at the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services/Massachusetts Firefighting Academy, working support for various Academy programs, including Recruit training, Call/Volunteer training, Certification and LNG-LPG firefighting training. Ron’s writings and musings can be seen at Chief Concerns.

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  • Ric Jorge says:

    Dang it Ron … I really prefer living in denial rather than acknowledging I am in the decay state. Great analogy, I think it is true to life for the fire service, the phases of fire mirroring our careers. Great article.

    Its been a hell of a ride.

  • Ron Ayotte says:

    Ric.. I feel the same way. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, and while I may retire from the fire department, I'll still be involved through my writing, working at the Fire Academy. the socia networksl and through my son, who began his career with my FD in March of 2013.


    I can agree.. it's been a hell of a ride!

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