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Fire Department Rank Structure

The United States Fire Service is a paramilitary organization structured using a top-down hierarchy to manage its operation. The organization is divided using rank to maintain a span of control to better define roles and responsibilities. The individual's rank is identified by insignia worn on the uniform collar and badge. The fire service uses a bugle as a display of job class. This is a historic symbol of the communication bugle that was once used by fire officers to amplify their commands on the fire ground prior to the use of handheld radios.

The insignia is typically displayed using silver or gold. Traditionally, gold has a higher value, so those wearing rank with a crossed bugle are in gold which symbolizes their higher position within the organization. These people are focused on managing an area of the department or incident. Those wearing the rank of silver are at the operational level getting the work done and are frequently the ones you see on the emergency scene.

In most departments, the first level of rank within the fire service is the firefighter, and their rank is displayed on their badge or nameplate. Unless your department has Motor Vehicle Operators, the next rank will be a Lieutenant. This is a first-level supervisor who typically manages a group of people within a fire company, station, battalion, or department.

Each one of the levels is managed by a group of people. If everyone had the same rank and role, there would be chaos. A fire company may be assigned to a fire engine, also known as an engine company. Within the fire station, you could have multiple fire companies such as a ladder company, rescue company, boat, and more. The Lieutenant is typically the one managing the company and making decisions for the group. In some cases, the captain will do this as well. As the picture shows above, the captain is of higher rank than the Lieutenant. If both were in the room, the captain would be in charge.

When we go above the fire captain, we see the bugles crossed on the uniform. The first crossed bugle moves into the administration level of the fire department as a fire inspector, public educator, and investigator. A three-bugle is typically one who oversees a battalio