Making the Most of the Three Person Company - Part 2: Engine Companies

In the first article of this series, we talked about the importance of using minimum standards to help us achieve our objectives. NFPA Standards 1710 and 1720 discuss the importance of staffing as it relates to safety. We then presented a serious scenario...


In the first article of this series, we talked about the importance of using minimum standards to help us achieve our objectives. NFPA Standards 1710 and 1720 discuss the importance of staffing as it relates to safety. We then presented a serious scenario involving fire on the third floor of an occupied apartment building and the numerous tasks that are required to effectively conduct fire suppression and aid in life safety.

For this scenario we need an allotment of resources, realistically a minimum of four engine companies, two ladder companies, plus additional resources such as a rapid intervention company, a chief officer or two, and a safety officer. "I don't have access to that," you may say. But an interior attack requires people!

The use of mutual aid is of value, maybe starting those mutual aid companies out immediately through "automatic aid" dispatch would solve some of your problems! In fact, first alarm assignments that are "heavy" in their resource allotment avoids playing catch up later. Instead of having alarm assignments that have an even distribution of resources, why not have an initial response that could be viewed as overwhelming? There is no such thing as a "fair fight," whether in combat or in our line of work. We need a sufficient amount of personnel arriving on engine and ladder companies to do the job.

Let's take a look at those tasks required from the engine company standpoint:

  • Primary sustained water supply
  • Secondary sustained water supply
  • 1 3/4-inch handline stretched to the seat of the fire
  • 1 3/4-inch backup line stretched to support the attack and for personnel safety
  • 1 3/4-inch line to the floor above (if applicable) or into the most severely exposed exposure (we should be prepared to put three lines into operation at every building fire we go to.)

The above tasks must be completed for the sake of safety and efficiency. So where do we begin with the three-person engine company? The key to our success is to know our limitations and then compensate for them. In the scenario above, our only chance for effective firefighting is the teaming up of engine companies.

For example, a single three person engine company would be hard pressed to establish a sustained water supply and get a 1 3/4-inch line into operation quickly. Therefore we must team up our engine companies. Through solid department standard operating guidelines and consistent training, these team tactics can work.

Teaming Up Our Engine Companies

The first-due engine company has the opportunity to set the stage. This includes establishing a water supply unless the situation is so dire that water is needed quickly, in which case the first-due engine may go right into action and rely on booster tank water. Even 500 gallons of tank water will last for several minutes using a move-stop-hit approach. Being a first-due engine company requires that some sort of flexibility be allowed based on the situation.

The second-due engine, in coordination with the first-due engine, must therefore assure that a water supply is established. These first two engine companies can take a teamwork approach to this fire and each can rely on the other. Staffing is far too limited for either one to be completely effective. If the response of one or the other is delayed, there is a chance for a delay in water application. We didn't have these problems when an engine company was self-contained and could perform all these tasks on arrival. Times have changed, unfortunately.

These first two engine companies have the opportunity to apply water via one of several ways. Booster tank water is not a sustained supply. While it is a tool in the toolbox, tank water cannot be a strategy for other than the first-due engine at a building fire and only if unusual conditions are being encountered. Between both engine companies, this sustained water supply task is critical to accomplish (see Figure 1.) Effective radio communications, standard operating procedures, consistent multi-unit drilling, and understanding the various ways to effect a water supply (forward, reverse, or split-lay) can set the stage for completing this mission.

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