Making the Most of the Three Person Company - Part 3: Ladder Companies

In this third part in our series, we’ll tackle the role of the three-person truck company. Ladder company tasks cannot be an afterthought. These tasks must be completed simultaneously with the activities of the engine company. This “combined arms...


In this third part in our series, we’ll tackle the role of the three-person truck company. Ladder company tasks cannot be an afterthought. These tasks must be completed simultaneously with the activities of the engine company. This “combined arms” team approach dramatically increases safety and efficiency. Tasks such as venting in coordination with the attack are critical to safe and effective fireground operations.

In the previous two articles, we viewed the role of staffing as it relates to the fireground as well as to that of the first-alarm engine companies. We used a serious scenario where a fire is on the third floor of a three-story apartment building. The fire had possession of a room or two in the apartment and a fleeing occupant left the hallway door open. The hallway is now compromised with choking smoke, tremendous heat, and no visibility. There is an open interior stairwell that penetrates the roof. It is an early morning fire and the building is occupied and two occupants are showing from top floor windows on the “A” side of the building. There are no attached exposures. The initial engine companies went into action using a teamwork approach to increase their abilities and to complete a host of tasks quickly. In this article, we’ll take a look at the three-person ladder company and get an idea of how their value can be enhanced.

The ladder company tasks at this fire can be divided into these activities:

  • Vertical and horizontal ventilation
  •  Forcible entry operations both into the building and into the fire area
  •  Primary and secondary searches for victims
  • Multiple means of additional egress and exit using both aerial and ground ladders
  • Pre- and post-control overhaul
  • Controlling utilities such as gas and electric
  • Performing salvage to prevent further damage
  • Providing lighting both inside and outside the building

There is a lot to do and not much time to do it. While engine company tasks are very important, we must never forget that the role of the truck companies is equally vital to the overall success. While staffing may be minimal, these tasks must still be completed. The only way to accomplish these tasks is to make sure that an adequate amount of resources are called for early on. It would be great to have two six-person ladder companies responding, but for the great majority of us, that is just wishful thinking. Nevertheless, we have a mission to complete and must make do with limited resources.

Let’s see just what a three-person ladder company can do in the above scenario. A ladder company’s duties can be divided into those activities that can be done from the interior and those that can be done from the exterior. Ideally, all ladder or truck companies should divide into an interior and exterior team, but a three-person truck company doesn’t have that flexibility. If you recall the acronym taught in your basic firefighter training: LOVERSU; you will remember the important points that the ladder or truck company is responsible for: Laddering the building; Overhauling and checking for hidden fire; both horizontal and vertical Ventilation; forcible Entry; Rescue and search of occupants; Salvage activities; and the control of Utilities. Keep these principles in the forefront of your mind at your next building fire. They are not an afterthought!

In the scenario described above, certain safety principles have to be adhered to, such as maintaining team integrity or the “buddy system.” This means that our three-person truck company can only perform one major task that is in, or potentially will be in, an area that is Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health (IDLH).

The greatest task that greets the first-due truck is preventing mushrooming of smoke on the top floor. We know that two occupants are showing from the upper floor window and appear in great distress, but in this type of building, how many more occupants are potentially awaiting rescue but are unseen? There are four apartments on the top floor with the potential of housing a dozen or more occupants. All of these occupants are potentially endangered and their life safety is critical.

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