From the minute I completed my probation I wanted to be a driver engineer. I began shadowing the driver at the station I was at and asked questions, a lot of questions. I was fortunate enough to be at a station with one of the best drivers the department had at the time. Cliff took me under his wing but I never had the chance to learn all he had to teach. Within a year I was in paramedic school and never looked back. But as a company officer I had a good idea of what I wanted in a driver because of what Cliff taught me. The first important trait of a good driver is someone who will find out who a really good driver is at their station and latch on to him/her. They will listen, ask questions, and listen some more. You will never learn it all.
Of course you will never be a driver unless you are a good driver, an exceptional driver. That is number two. If you have the ability we want you to be a driver. There are those who are just not cut out to be drivers no matter how well they understand hydraulics. As a company officer if I was approached by a firefighter expressing an interest in driving, the first thing I did was accompany him/her out to their personal vehicle. Was it clean inside and out? Were the door jambs and inside of the trunk and hood clean? How were the tires? Were there a lot of dings on the wheels from hitting the curb? While you have the hood open, can they tell you where the master cylinder is? Do they know what a spark plug is? These are the beginning indicators of someone who may have the potential to be a good driver.
Today, most departments require the possession of either a state driver engineer certification and/or the local departments training before you can drive. If your department has similar requirements, as an officer you can use the tools above to see if the driver candidate possesses the aptitude for being a driver.
Using the tools I learned from my mentor, tips I learned as a company officer, and tips from a local training chief, following is a list (not all inclusive) of the traits or characteristics of a good driver engineer. As a driver engineer they should;
Know the territory where they are stationed – Electronic versions of city maps may not always work. A good driver will know where he is going before he/she gets in the apparatus.
Understand the apparatus they operate and the systems included with it;
The Electrical systems
Check the apparatus thoroughly every shift before they drive it. There are those times when a call comes in before they get a chance to check the vehicle, so always communicate with the driver they are relieving before they come on duty.
They will engage the pump during every shift. A very basic task, but it is surprising at what is considered acceptable by some officers and, always make sure there is water in the tank.
Possess a good understanding of how the pump works. A good driver should be able to describe in layman’s terms how a pump works. A good driver will do their job of looking for and teaching future drivers.
The driver must account for all the equipment on the engine to ensure that it’s in proper working order at all times. A good driver will have a reputation at emergency scenes, one that says, “If you use something from my vehicle, I better know about it, and it better be returned.”
A good company officer will include regular training on addresses, street names and locations, high hazard structures, and hydrant locations. I am a firm believer in testing my own hydrants. We rely on them, sometimes in life and death situations; shouldn’t we be the ones to make sure they work?
A good driver can lessen the burden on the company officer which allows the officer to focus on the emergency at hand. As leaders we all have had the opportunity to work with drivers who enhanced your company’s reputation and made our jobs easier.
Considered to be an additional set of eyes and ears for the officer in regards to hazard recognition.
Highly skilled at spotting of apparatus (very critical for ladder trucks). This is something that should be part of your in house company training and applies to all vehicles, including the chiefs.
Must have a good grasp of mechanical reasoning and aptitude (see second paragraph).
Highly skilled with all tools and equipment carried on their apparatus. The driver must know how all the tools and appliances work, and what to look for if it doesn’t work.
A good driver will be an instructor and mentor for newer inexperienced firefighters. One of these men/women will be talking over their spot someday.
Many of these traits fall under leadership skills, something I believe all good drivers possess to some degree.
That’s my short list. I know each department will be able to add to the list because of demographics, budgets and manpower. But I believe these can be applied to anyone.
A good driver will get you there safely and make it easy for all to relax on the return to the station.
Stay Safe – Everyone Goes Home…