03/03/10 90 W, 1 I - + 7 - 4 Rank Titles?

Another discussion topic for the day, this one suggested by a reader. Rank titles in the fire service. Do you address officers by their rank or name? Captain X or Chief Y. Do you function on a first-name basis? Is it case-by-case basis? The context for the suggested discussion is a back-page commentary by Fire Chief Brian A. Crawford in the February issue of Fire Rescue Magazine. The entire issue can be read online. His perspective? Rank supports an effective command culture.

I think this is a good topic. I believe that especially in paid departments where you are an employee you should address your officer by rank. I think it mostly has to do with respect and gives both a sense of chain of command, appriciation and mutual respect. A lot of times, from my experience (let me qualify that), in volunteer departments there is generally a more laid back approach and people are more likely to use a first name basis; not because they don’t respect the officer but because they are more likely to be used to the first name/friend approach. Is this right or wrong? I don’t know…you could argue either side.

Here is where I think titles/ranks are mis-used. I think that officers who step into a role and demand that people refer to them by there title are in the wrong. Yes, I agree that they should be referred to by title, but give a “grace period” for the rank transition; a time for everyone to get used to saying captain instead of Lt. or Chief instead of captain. The role of the subordinate should be to respect the rank and use it as much as possible, realizing why they are using the rank title and not just because that’s what they should do. The rank of the officer should be to…here we go opening the can of worms…earn the respect or continue to lead by example to remind everyone that the title is for a reason. For the most part, people are in positions because of what they know and/or their experience and because someone wiser appointed them to that position to lead and do a good job. Now, I know it doesn’t always work like that. There are people put in positions that aren’t qualified, etc but I don’t think that is the “norm”. We should respect that and if they haven’t earned it, they will or should at least have a realization that everytime someone calls them by rank, they really don’t deserve it.

A few examples of where I am coming from and like I said, the exception hopefully. One local chief who was promotted from assistant chief a few years back, got way too much power with the title. It went to his head. He demands you call him chief to the point that if you call him by first name, especially in uniform, he will not acknowledge that you exist. He has hail to the chief as his ringtone on his phone and really has let people down when it comes to upholding the title of chief. Yes, he is a paid chief. The next example is a Captain who always refers to herself as Captain and you can tell gets upset when people don’t call her captain, even by simple error. Finally, a captain who would probably prefer a first name basis but all his guys/gals call him captain because he earns and gives the respect due daily. He leads by example, stands up for his crew, could ask for anything from his crew and get it without complaint and is an overall great person. Two opposite ends of the spectrum…maybe some of you can relate.
rookie - 03/03/10 - 09:42

to add…how do you address a fire marshall/inspector/investigator and titles such as Coordinators and training officers?
rookie - 03/03/10 - 10:48

Good topic Mike. Well, as usual I probably will have a little bit of a different view on this. I respect the guys that choose to get promoted and become a comapny officer. Guys that I’ve come through with (and some after me) are progressing up to the Captain rank, and I’m very happy for them. If I ever work with them, of course the rank and person will be respected 100%, most importantly on runs.

But, do I think it’s a bad thing to talk to a company officer around the firehouse or whatever and use their first name? No. We’re a close group, and when we’re enjoying casual conversation around the firehouse, if I use your first name don’t get your whitey tighties in a wad. It’s not meant to show disrespect, at last check we’re both adults. I know you’re the boss. Your helmet says it, where you ride on the rig says it, sometimes your shirt says it. Trust me. there’s no question. YOU ARE IN CHARGE!! Just know, it’s not disrespect if I call you by your first name when we’re kicked back. It’s the fact that I called you by that name before on this job.

Now, if I’ve only ever known you as a Captain from when I first got on the job, then “Captain” or “Cap’” (which I seem to use more) it is and will be. But, if you and I came through together and your name was Fred, then I might call you Fred sometimes. But, on a run, definitely address the boss by rank. On a fire scene, and it means life and death, I’ll probably call you by your first name as it will more than likely get your attention faster.

Chief officers, well, they’re a Chief and should be addressed as such on duty, no matter what. Kicked back off duty having a few beers, definitely go with what you’re most comfortable.

In our department, Rook, all of our training officers are Captains or above, so the same applies from my point of view. One of our training officers, I’ve known since I was 16. Plus, he’s not the uptight type about always addressing him by his rank. I give him even more respect because of that, and call him by his rank when in a large group and when the situation dictates.

Our Inspectors and Deputy Fire Marshals are a mixed group, some were line Captains at one time and others are civilians. Captains, definitely the same applies (as well as the Fire Marshal himself who is a Chief). As for the civilians, they’re civilians, first name basis.

I know of a fairly new Captain that told me to call him by his first name around the firehouse because we’ve known each other for a while. That was very cool, and he earned even more respect because of the fact that he can separate “firefighter to boss” and “Jeff to _______”. Just my take on things…..
Silver - 03/03/10 - 13:47

Around the station I don’t care what I am called. If it is at the dinner table and you want me to pass the tea you don’t have to say “Chief can you pass the tea”. I once had someone tell me that if they call me by name around the station then they will do it on calls or in public. I think that most of the people are smart enough to know the difference between station and public life and will act accordingly. I am not one to get hung up an a title. If I call a station of mine to talk with an Officer I will ask for Lieutenant or Captain if their firefighter answers the phone.
Apex Batt Chief - 03/03/10 - 17:02

I agree with Silver. It’s entirely situational as to what you call someone. I have people that I came up with, who are now various ranks. I sometimes call them by their rank, and sometimes their name – it’s entirely situational.

When I was introduced to a crew at a Raleigh fire station (I will decline to name it at this particular time), I was told by the person introducing me that they were Capt. X, Lt. Y, and FFs Z and F. That person left, and I was then told by the Captain that, “My name is _____, and this is _____, _____, and _____. None of that Rank crap.” I had so much more respect for them, and I was given the privilege of calling them by either their ranks or names or nicknames (which I have used since then).

On a scene, it’s a different story. Most of the time, with Capt or Lt, I’ll call them that. Chief, the same way. Firefighters, I might call by name or last name. EMS personnel are referred to by name. Law Enforcement Officers are referred to as “sir” no matter what.

Just my take on things. I have been at departments where they had policy in place where you had to use rank references all the time. From what I saw, they were not a happy place to work. If you’re going to regulate what people call each other on the job, what else will you regulate?
CJS (Email) - 03/03/10 - 17:10

Well said Silver…I always look to your comments for insight!
rookie - 03/04/10 - 08:39

Hahaha, easy rook’, you just opened up the flood gates and awakened the Silver-bashers!!! Hahaha, thanks though; thing about me is, no matter if I have a keyboard in front of me, or a person, this is how I feel and don’t mind sharing my take. Sometimes it’s harsh reality, and like they say, “truth hurts”. One thing I promise you don’t have to worry about from me; “hey bud”-ing you to death, then talking trash as soon as you turn your back.

Stay safe!!
Silver - 03/04/10 - 13:54

Silver, you have a Fan Club!!! LOL
gen3fire - 03/04/10 - 19:42

You should see the decoder rings you get as members, LOL.
Legeros - 03/04/10 - 19:51

Now Mike, would this be “razzing or hazing” LOL :)
gen3fire - 03/04/10 - 20:16

Whaaaaaa!!! My feelings are hurt now, I deserve an apology. Hahahaha, kidding, but unfortunately this is the type of nation we have become, a nation of wussies and everyone gets offended.

I was so pissed to learn that when my nephew’s soccer team won their league, everyone in the league gets a trophy because “you’re all winners”. With this mentality, we’re really setting ourselves up for failure. It’s called losing, cry a little and get over it and try harder next year. Toughen up kid, it’s called life…
Silver - 03/04/10 - 20:42

Silver is my hero. Thanks for the last comment
Apex Batt Chief - 03/05/10 - 18:29

Respect should by achieved by virtue of your actions, but in our culture it’s also “awarded” by rank (we’ll agree and disagree on this one). Regardless, we will all agree title really means nothing in the grand scheme. In my case, I really don’t care what I am called. I am very secure in my knowledge, skills, and capabilities in the fire service, so… so what!! Hey, think about this perspective… and don’t forget, always be mindful of how YOU are defined and how YOU define yourself. Perception is (at least in this case) “reputation.” Also, very insightful comments Jeff. Oh sorry, I meant to say “Senior Firefighter Silver” – Hahaha!
A.C. Rich - 03/06/10 - 09:02

Thanks Scoot’, you’re mine too.

@ A.C.; Hahahaha!!!! I’ll let it slide this time….
Silver - 03/06/10 - 12:17

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