The Role Of Seniority in the Firefighter Promotion Process

There are many factors that go into deciding who to promote in the fire service such as test scores, education, skill level and so on. Most of those factors are all based on skill and knowledge, but there’s one more factor that helps determine firefighter promotion, seniority.  

Seniority Explained

If you already work in the fire service I am sure you are familiar with the term seniority. Seniority is defined as, “the fact or state of being older or higher in position or status as someone else,” or “a privileged position earned by reason of longer service or higher rank.” Meaning, the higher the rank the more seniority someone has, or the more years of employment at the fire service the more seniority someone has. Remember, seniority and its role in promotion will vary from department to department, but here are some ways it may affect you as you begin your journey to promotion in the fire service. 

The Role Of Seniority

  1. Promotion Eligibility

The first way that seniority, or years of work for the fire service, comes into play is the qualification to apply to be promoted in the first place. Many departments have a set number of years you have to work in various positions before you can even qualify to apply for a promotion. Some people may say you need three years to qualify to apply to be promoted from firefighter to engineer, some places may say five. Then when the time comes to promote to captain, you may need another three years as an engineer first to qualify. Every department determines their own years of experience needed so it may vary wildly. That is why, if promotion is something you want to do,  it’s important to check out the job posting and talk to your supervisory officers so you can be prepared to apply to be promoted when the time comes. 

  1. The Only Thing That Matters

For some departments, seniority is the only thing that matters when it comes to promotion. Now, of course you have to pass the written test and the other testing and physical fitness requirements. However, if you have the highest seniority in the bunch it doesn't matter your scores on those tests, so long as they pass the person with the most seniority gets promoted. Remember, not all departments operate this way but a lot still do, it is a past in the fire service. Times are changing though, so don’t be afraid to go for the promotion if you have less experience than the others also applying to promote. 

  1. Tie Breaker

A big way seniority may be used is when the supervisory officers are making final promotion decisions and there are two or more people very closely scored for the position. The easiest way to decide who actually gets promoted when it’s a close call would be to give the promotion to the person with the most seniority. This is because, to most, seniority equals more experience and more knowledge, which in most cases is true. It may not always be the right decision but it is often the one made. 

  1. Job Availability

Of course you can’t forget that the only way a position will even become available for promotion in the first place is if one becomes available through the firing of a company officer, creation of a new position, or, the most likely possibility, the retirement of a company officer. If you want to be promoted you have to wait it out. You have to wait until the senior officers are done and call it quits before a position becomes available to begin with. The promotion process can be a bit of a waiting game. 

The Takeaway

Seniority has always been something that the fire service looks at when it comes time to promote new fire service officers. It is however, only one of many tools looked at when the time comes to decide who gets the coveted officer position. So if you have more experience than others, don’t think the job is yours so long as you get a passing score on all the other qualifications. In addition, if you are a less senior firefighter interested in promotion, don’t let the idea of seniority scare you away from chasing your dream. Even if you don’t get the promotion on the first try you are getting experience, and that's invaluable.