Employers place a strong emphasis on essential skills in the workplace. Essential skills are used in nearly every occupation, and are seen as ¿building blocks¿ because people build on them to learn all other skills.
Each profile contains a list of example tasks that illustrate how each of the 9 essential skill is generally performed by the majority of workers in an occupation. The estimated complexity levels for each task, between 1 (basic) and 5 (advanced), may vary based on the requirements of the workplace.
Firefighters carry out firefighting and fire prevention activities, and assist in other emergencies. They are employed by municipal, provincial and federal governments and by large industrial establishments that have internal firefighting services.
- Are unable to fight fires effectively because pumps and other equipment do not work properly or utility services such as electricity and water supplies are interrupted. For example, firefighters may experience drops in water pressure during emergency situations. They report malfunctions to their superiors, look for the sources and switch to alternative equipment and service. (2)
- Arrive at scenes of emergencies to find obstacles such as cars parked by fire hydrants and live electrical wires on the ground. They call towing services to remove parked vehicles or utility workers to remove downed power lines. In all situations they must quickly and effectively determine to remove or refrain from removing dangerous objects. (2)
- May find that they are short-staffed or encounter conflicts between staff. For example, they may find that they do not have enough firefighters to handle a large fire. They immediately call other firefighters scheduled for vacation and may contact other nearby stations. Firefighters working as supervisors may face reduced staff due to sickness, injuries, personality conflicts and grievances. They may refer to their departments' prescribed human resource guidelines to resolve conflicts between workers, and contact union representatives to gather information on grievances. They may also refer complex personnel problems including positive drug testing, sexual harassment and hostile work environments to their fire chiefs and municipal authorities. (3)
- May lose communication with other emergency responders during crisis situations. For example, they may use bullhorns and shout when two-way radios are not working properly and try to switch radio channels. They must quickly re-establish communication links to ensure all firefighters from their stations are accounted for. (3)
- Decide which cleaning duties and administrative chores may be skipped in favour of other activities like extra training or reading. (1)
- May decide to participate in new occupational safety training exercises. They consider their current skill levels, opportunities to upgrade and industry demands for the acquisition of new skills. (2)
- May decide to close and condemn derelict homes and buildings that do not meet fire code regulations and pose fire hazards to nearby structures. Firefighters suggest steps that property owners can take to have their buildings demolished, and recommend how to renovate their establishments to meet fire code regulations. (3)
- Make decisions to adequately contain and control fires. For example, they may decide how firefighters and equipment should be deployed at fire scenes, and decide which levels of emergencies should be declared. They consider the intensities of fires, dangers posed to surrounding areas, available firefighters and their past experience in similar situations. Decisions are critical to protect buildings and personal safety of public and other firefighters. (4)
Job Task Planning and Organizing
- Judge the safety of newly constructed, occupied, vacant and fire damaged buildings for potential hazards and to assess their fire detection and extinguishing capabilities during routine and special inspections. For example, they assess the locations and numbers of sprinkler heads in large restaurants to ensure they comply with fire codes. (2)
- May assess present and future needs for firefighting equipment and supplies in their stations. For example, firefighters in the roles of inspectors and supervisors consider the equipment currently available, any training required to advance staff skills in the uses of new equipment and the number and types of buildings in the areas they serve before purchasing them. (2)
- May evaluate the effectiveness of firefighting methods and materials in order to identify potential areas of improvement. They may review response times, completeness of assigned jobs and tasks, adherence to action plans and standard operating procedures and personnel's ability to operate equipment to determine the strengths and weaknesses. (3)
- Judge the safety and risks or dangers of businesses and buildings against established fire code regulations. Firefighters judge whether buildings and businesses meet regulations, can be renovated and be brought up to code or should be condemned and demolished. (3)
- May assess the severity of fire and accident victims' injuries to determine the most pressing medical problems. They consult victims and witnesses, triage the victims until emergency medical services arrive, communicate symptoms to medical staff and determine risks to victims' lives. (4)
- Assess the gravity and hazardousness of fires. Firefighters judge the danger of fires moving to other floors and the potential for oxygen back drafts that quickly increase the intensity of fires. They increase safety precautions by immediately communicating the escalating situations to all emergency personnel and may recommend the evacuation of all firefighters from burning buildings. (4)
Own Job Planning and Organizing
Firefighters work in very organized, structured and hierarchical environments. When they are not responding to emergency calls, firefighters follow set schedules to complete chores and duties, monitor firefighting and safety equipment, verify station supplies and check current inventories. They also answer and attend to emergency calls through strict protocols within highly structured management systems. While firefighters develop and follow operational procedures for most emergency situations, they must often adapt plans to suit unique sites and emergencies. (4)
Planning and Organizing for Others
Supervisors of firefighters set their own work routines and are responsible for the day-to-day scheduling of tasks for all firefighters under their command; however, those working in smaller departments may set their own work schedules. They encounter significant variety in their work activities, as every incident is unique. Short-term planning is used to best respond to the emergency situations. On the scene of an emergency, firefighters must prioritize tasks quickly and efficiently. Firefighters encounter many disruptions in the course of duty. For example, a building's conditions may deteriorate, resulting in an abrupt change in their approach to fighting the fire. Their work is always integrated with the emergency plans of others, such as paramedics, police officers and medical staff. Firefighters may report to supervisors and fire chiefs who have higher levels of authority. Their success is measured against standards and norms within the service. (4)
Significant Use of Memory
- Remember the fastest ways out of buildings and the locations of streets and major buildings in the communities they serve.
- Remember emergency medical response protocols and acronyms such as Airway, Breathing, Circulation (ABCs) to treat critically injured casualties.
- May memorize important sections of firefighting standards such as fire codes, the National Fire Protection Act and their departments' standard operating procedures.
- Remember common formulae used in calculations. For example, firefighters recall the formulae for calculating friction loss of water pressures in hoses where the flow rate, sizes and lengths of hoses and the heights of targets are variables.
- Find information on completed standard incident reports and hazardous occurrence investigation reports to determine persons involved and actions taken during maintenance and emergency calls. (2)
- Gather information from witnesses, other firefighters and emergency responders and from personal observations when they arrive at emergency situations with little to no information. They must use the information to rapidly develop plans to contain and control the situations. (2)
- Find information about the assembly, maintenance, repair and use of firefighting equipment by referring to manuals, lists and information sheets. (3)
Other Essential Skills:
Working with Others
Teamwork is essential to successful firefighting and efficient responses to emergencies. All members of fire services are well trained in their jobs and how to work together to be successful and safe. More experienced firefighters may lead team efforts but all must understand the chain of command in their departments and collaborate in chores and emergency situations. (4)
Firefighters take part in many continuous learning opportunities to develop skills in new firefighting practices and participate in regular exercises to practise standardized firefighting techniques and demanding physical manoeuvres. They participate in continuous learning and professional development activities like advanced First Aid, CPR, First Responder training, WHMIS training and specialized firefighting skills including those requires for airport and harbour fires. They obtain this training primarily through opportunities provided by their local branches and larger professional associations but also identify training opportunities of personal interest or those that may benefit their station, community and jurisdiction. In most cases, firefighters are responsible for identifying and for attending training and developing their skills, but the costs and materials associated with continuous learning activities are often covered by their respective municipalities, departments and associations. Firefighters engage in physical learning activities as well as on-line and paper-based educational development using manuals from professional associations like the International Fire Service Training Association. The quality of their training has a direct correlation to their own safety and that of the general public during emergencies. (2)