Aides for Command Level Officers

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By J. Curtis Varone

In the spring of 1995, the City of Providence, Rhode Island, was facing a $41.1 million budget deficit, and was seeking to close fire companies to reduce personnel costs. The problem which prompted this research was that during collective bargaining negotiations for the 1995-1996, and 1996-1997 contract years, the elimination of chief's aides was being seriously considered as an alternative to closing fire companies, with little or no consideration of the operational or safety ramifications of such a move.

The purpose of this research was to evaluate whether or not chief's aides serve a necessary function in a modern, urban fire department, and to make recommendations for the Providence Fire Department in regards to the need to maintain or eliminate the chief's aide positions. The evaluative research method was used. The following research questions were posed:

  1. Are there any nationally recognized standards, laws, or recommendations that pertain to aides for command level line officers?
  2. How many fire departments in the United States provide aides for their command level line officers?
  3. How many fire departments that provided aides to command level line officers in the past, have eliminated the aide's position?
  4. In fire departments that assign aides to command level line officers, what are the responsibilities assigned to the aide?
  5. In fire departments that do not assign aides to command level line officers, are there any alternative procedures intended to assist the Incident Commander (IC) with incident management?

The literature review examined the applicable standards, laws, and recommendations pertaining to aides. A survey of 214 fire departments from around the United States was conducted to gather information about aides. The results showed that the only standard or law that addressed chiefs aides was NFPA 1201, which required fire departments to make provisions for Incident Commanders (ICs) to assign aides when necessary. All of the authorities cited recommended that command level officers be assigned aides on a full-time basis, particularly in metropolitan areas.

The survey indicated that 14.3 percent of fire departments provided aides on a full-time basis to all command level officers, while 22.4 percent provided aides to at least some of their chief officers, based either upon rank or activity level. Fire departments that provided aides tended to be larger, fully paid departments providing protection to urban areas. Over 50 percent of the departments surveyed indicated that they provided aides in the past, with 86.8 percent of those departments who eliminated aides citing financial considerations as the reason aides were eliminated. A variety of tasks were identified that were commonly performed by aides, as were a number of possible alternatives to help ICs manage emergency scenes.

Recommendations included maintaining aides for command level officers in Providence, development of a standard operating procedure (SOP) and training program for aides, and upgrading the position of aide to Fire Captain. Additional research was recommended to confirm the results of this research, and investigate some related topics.