Therefore a first alarm assignment must have the ability to establish, as a minimum, a sustained primary water supply. Can you do this with your first alarm assignment? If the answer is yes, then a big problem is eliminated. If the answer is no, then a lot of work needs to be done.
Placing Hoselines Into Operation
Next we turn to getting the first hoseline into operation. In the above scenario, the most important line is the first handline, simply because of the urgency of getting water on the fire. A fire in an occupied building offers limited room for delay. Available engine company staffing has to be teamed up to get the first line in operation quickly.
With a single three-person engine company, getting a line to the third floor is problematic. The first-due engine chauffeur has his or her work cut out for them. They will be attempting to establish a water supply and will make sure that the attack line from the engine to the building front door is completely flaked out and devoid of kinks. The remaining engine company personnel now consist of only the company officer and a lone firefighter. Together they must overcome a number of turns and possibly a stairwell without the ability to conduct a well stretch (that area over the railing that allows you to stretch a line straight up from the first floor to the floor below the fire without having to make multiple turns.) These two engine company members will be in the nozzle position and backup position. The critical position of a firefighter being assigned to assist in the stretch is not available with the three person company. A major benefit of the four person engine company is that we have that critical position filled for assisting in line advancement.
Stretching the line dry is very helpful because it is so easy, but you still need members to help negotiate corners, obstructions, and turns. (See my article "Stretching Dry: Increasing Engine Company Effectiveness.") This covers getting a line into operation relatively quickly and with safety in mind.
The immediate answer to the problem of the three person engine company is the second-due engine company. If by chance, the engine chaueffeur of the first-due engine is in the process of getting on hydrant water and is not experiencing any difficulty, then the second-due engine has a couple of options. The officer, firefighter, and the firefighter who was the chaueffeur of the second due engine can assist in getting the first line in operation, with their engine being parked out of the way. This use of personnel is valuable and now allows for five members to assist in rapidly advancing this line. The initial attack line now consists of the officer and firefighter from the first-due engine and the officer and two firefighters of the second-due engine to assist in the advance.
If the nozzle team starts running low on air and the personnel of the second due company were not "on air" because they were not exposed to any fire or smoke, then they can easily maintain the momentum of the attack by moving up the line and replace the initial nozzle team. Again, with this requires the critical importance of radio communications.
Depending on what is happening out on the street, a primary water supply must be acquired. If the first engine can get on hydrant water without difficulty, then the second due-engine chaueffeur also has the opportunity to start that secondary sustained water supply. This is another option for this crewmember in lieu of not participating in the attack. Anyway you view it, the first- and second-due engine companies must concentrate on getting a charged line into operation between the occupants and the fire as well as establishing that water supply as quickly as possible.
With this scenario we have discussed so far, our resources look like this: We have two engine companies and two chauffeurs to help each other out in making sure our attack team doesn't run out of water. We have a single 1 3/4-inch handline capable of flowing 180 gallons per minute, and we have four firefighters and fire officers to assist in maneuvering this line quickly! This is a valuable use of two three person engine companies.