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Many of you may have heard the saying that there are drivers and there are operators. A senior captain once said to me that we didn’t have very many operators left and we needed to get back on track. A good operator is critical and we all need to ensure that’s what we are putting on our rigs. So, let’s take a look at a few differences. For this entry, I will focus on the Engine Operator.

 

What is a driver?

Being a driver assigned to the rig is a fairly easy thing to do. A driver can hop up in the seat, tell you where the wipers are and put the truck into pump gear.

A driver will get you to the scene safely with due regard for the citizens in the streets around you.

A driver has completed some sort of basic qualification to fill that position and has met the minimum standards.

A driver can get water on the first line and usually hook up to supply a ladder pipe if needed.

A driver may tell you “just pump everything at 120psi and you’re good.” (true story)

A driver will crack under pressure when things go wrong with water supply, and they will.

 

Now let’s talk about operators:

An operator will get you to the scene safely, but they are also intimately familiar with their district, their buildings, and even hydrant locations. They study and pay attention to block numbers and street names.

An operator is one who goes above the minimum standard. Gone is the thought that I will complete what I need to get this position and then sit on my hands. No, an operator knows the ins and outs of that pump, the mechanics of the truck, and stays current on flow pressures, hose and nozzles.

An operator will be able to troubleshoot problems. An operator will know where to start when things go wrong. They can come up with several solutions at the drop of a hat and limit time lost on continuous water delivery. An operator fixes problems, they don’t panic and cave in.

An operator will know how to draft, direct pump, tandem pump, and relay. Yes, even if they don’t have to do it all the time.

Bottom line is an operator is committed. An operator takes ownership. That is their truck! They understand just how important their role is and they take it seriously. Drivers, well, they are just seat fillers on the roster who were lucky enough to meet the minimum standards.

There is a lot more to being a good operator than just doing a cone course and a few basic pump drills. If you are a company officer responsible for checking folks off to get in front of that steering wheel and that pump panel, take it seriously. Don’t pencil whip anything and don’t take shortcuts.


I realize there are several titles for this position. Engineer, driver, operator, and
more. My point with this is, being a driver, an operator, or whatever you want to call it, is more than simply just knowing how to drive the rig up and down the street and pull a couple levers.

So, what are you? What will you be? What do you want to be called? A driver or an operator?

Jarrod

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