As a volunteer assistant fire chief, my job description is simple: Take care of the things the chief shouldn’t take care of and make sure he has the information he needs to run the department well. .

Although my job description is simple, the job itself is not. From keeping up with OSHA requirements to dealing with constant staffing issues, the assistant chief job covers a lot of ground — and it can be a lonely place. There are, however, several perks that come with the job, like not having to deal with city government, not having to answer directly to regulators, and, of course, being able to wear that shiny white helmet. (Given my refusal to stay away from the hot zone, it’s more accurate to refer to the color of the helmet as a greyish-white.)

Volunteer Chief Officers perform perhaps some of the toughest jobs in the fire service. Why? Because our services are always required to be NFPA compliant, meet OSHA regulatory training standards, maintain compliant PPE and SCBAs, and respond with up-to-date and well-maintained devices, to never to name just a few of our many responsibilities. The main distinction between paid and volunteer is that we volunteers are forced to manage all of these responsibilities in our spare time and with a significantly undersized budget. We don’t have the luxury of spending 8 am to 4 pm in the office every day. There are no daily briefings, lunch meetings or administrative assistants. We do the work before and after our full-time or career jobs, often instead of sleeping, and without extra pay. I don’t sound my own horn; I signed up for this life and I am thrilled to be a part of this mission.

“The job of deputy chief is easily one of the most rewarding jobs in the fire department,” Rogers writes. (Photo/Getty Images)

Deputy Head Standard Duties

The day-to-day operations of volunteers vary widely, and often our job requirements directly address the needs of the service that day. As Deputy Chief, I work under a leader who is unafraid to make tough decisions, stand up for what is right, and conduct business in a way that best benefits the community. The daily, weekly, and monthly tasks that I perform may be direct instruction from him, stand-alone, or derived from the needs of my subordinates.

No two days are the same for a volunteer assignment leader, so let’s focus on the tasks that need to be done throughout the week, month, or even year.

Develop topics and hold a monthly meeting for officers: As Deputy Chief, I develop topics for our Chief Officer meetings which include updates from the last meeting, new business, upcoming events, upcoming trainings and personnel issues. This list is then cross-checked with the leader’s list to make sure we haven’t forgotten anything before the meeting.

[Read next: How to run a productive fire department meeting]

Act as a training manager: I drew the role of Senior Training Officer within my department. I am responsible for developing a training schedule, planning training sessions using outside collegiate institutional fire department programs, and instructing internal training sessions, including annual 240 recruit courses. hours, required annual OSHA training and online training sessions. Tracking training hours for each member also falls under this umbrella.

Organize post-call reviews: My department responds to an average of 15 to 20 structure fires each year, many of which are mutual aid. To ensure that we learn from our mistakes and share our successes, every critical response handled by our department receives a post-call critique (i.e., after-action review). I am tasked with developing the critical plan, noting our AF response as seen through my eyes. The final critique is approved by the leader and presented at each regular monthly learning meeting. This process is accompanied by an action item document that drives future training sessions, equipment purchases or repairs, or personnel adjustments based on needs identified in the review. I am also responsible for monitoring action points.

Manage grant writing/reports: Volunteer departments with small budgets depend on federal, state, and local funding to operate with NFPA standards. Writing and reporting on grants is one of the most important tasks assigned to my role as Deputy Chief. Federal grants typically take around 8-10 hours to research and complete the narrative section and an additional 2 hours to complete the application itself. I count a few more hours with the chief to plan the overall demand according to the needs of the department. State and local grants tend to take less time to come together, but the planning period remains the same. Each award comes with the development of specifications and tender documents, as well as post-award reporting requirements. Overall, I would say that I spend an average of about 10 hours per month on grant work, more during the AFG and SAFER application period.

Co-lead fundraising efforts: Operating on a small budget has its share of financial deficiencies that must be compensated by local fundraising. Our department hosts several fundraisers each year, with most members playing a significant role in each one. The job of planning and executing these fundraisers falls to our leader and myself. Our department hosts a large supper/raffle at the end of winter and partners with the local winery for a summer concert series. Our large-scale fundraiser requires substantial pre-planning and setup, while the Summer Series only requires a few hours per month.

Collaborate with partner organizations for the common good: Our service has partnered with an outside organization that provides resources for people struggling with mental health and addiction issues. I am responsible for ensuring that these organizations get what they need from our department to provide their direct services locally to our community. This type of partnership requires constant communication to ensure that our agency meets the needs of organizations. On average, with communication and follow-up, I would estimate a few hours per month of emails and phone calls.

Lead recruitment and retention efforts: One of the most important duties assigned to a volunteer officer is that of recruiting and retaining volunteers. As Deputy Chief, I am responsible for developing and implementing a recruitment plan. Similarly, developing and overseeing programs designed to retain these members is also part of my duties. Recruitment is always an ongoing effort within our department. The chef or I dedicate 2-3 hours a month to recruiting efforts to keep applications coming in.

Develop SOPs and SOGs: I am responsible for standard operating procedures and standard operating guidelines for the department. Once developed, these documents are submitted to the Chief for a thorough review and approval process. He bears the responsibility for implementation.

Answer calls: My role at the range varies depending on the type of call, the time of day and even the time of year. Our department has many farmers on the list, including my boss. When large scale calls come in during spring planting or fall harvest, my range role changes from a support role to an incident commander, as the leader has an extended ETA on the scene. Most other calls I happily travel to where the conductor/stage needs my services. For larger calls at other times of the year, I usually end up as an operations officer or security officer.

Tips for the Deputy Chef

The assistant chief position is easily one of the most rewarding places within the fire department. I learn the ropes of managing a department from a quality manager, I am a key decision-maker within the department, I participate in trainings and fires, and I witness firsthand the effects that we have within the community.

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that there is definitely no written manual for being a quality assistant chef, so here are the key points I try to follow:

  • The safety of my members is paramount. I have a primary responsibility to each of them and their families to bring them home safely.
  • We operate on tax dollars earned by the very people we strive to protect. We need to be good stewards of that money and use it to constantly seek improvements on their behalf.
  • There’s never a bad time to do the right thing, especially when it comes to safety.
  • It is important to foster a strong relationship between the leader and co-leader. When top staff are uniquely motivated to improve the department on behalf of the community it serves, good things are bound to happen.
  • Finally, never give a bad image of your leader.