Making the Most of the Three Person Company - Part 1

Staffing in the fire service has dwindled because of numerous reasons over the past few decades. An engine or ladder company arriving with half a dozen personnel was once the norm; it is now a rarity. Both in the career fire service as well as the...

So, what am I getting at here? I am saying that there are many resources out there that can be used to support our case for needed resources, including staffing. These standards don't mandate your organization to do anything, but they do offer you aid in supporting your cause. How can you constantly be relying on the above standards and then be told that the staffing issues as spelled out in NFPA 1710 or 1720 are not relevant or not necessary for life safety? To pick and choose what you like versus what you don't like seems to be a problematic and potentially costly mistake in the long run.

As it relates to liability, our leaders may say that yes, it is true that the fire service does have standards that safeguard its personnel. But the cry of "there is no money to support what we presently have," "there is the fear of layoffs," "cutbacks," "no vehicle replacements," and the reasons go on and on. Staffing levels promote safety and we must use all the resources out there to further our cause, but what do we do in the mean time?

The Unfortunate Real World

We are responding with very limited numbers of personnel to our daily emergencies (see Figure 1). Only a small percentage of departments have the luxury of staffing. The key to our success must then be based on "thinking outside the box." Engine and ladder companies that have limited numbers of firefighters have to be used to the greatest effect. What we'll tackle here, in this multi-art series, is how to make the most of the three-person engine and ladder companies.

Let's use a rather serious, but not out of the ordinary scenario - a fire in a three-story apartment building. The building is a three-story ordinary constructed, unsprinklered occupancy. It has an open interior stairwell that penetrates the roof via a bulkhead door. There are four apartments per floor. The fire is in a living room of one apartment on the third floor and is extending to a bedroom room via the apartment hallway. The time is 2 a.m. and the building is occupied and two residents are showing from the "A" side windows of the top floor. There are no attached exposures. When one of the occupants fled, they left the apartment door open and fire is extending into the common third floor hallway. The hallway is choked with smoke and high levels of heat, and visibility is very poor. What specific engine and ladder company tasks are required at such a fire?

  • 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)
  • Vertical and horizontal ventilation for this particular scenario
  • Conduct forcible entry operations both into the building and into the fire area
  • Conduct a primary and secondary search for victims
  • Provide multiple means of additional egress and exit using both aerial and ground ladders
  • Perform pre-and post-control overhaul
  • Control utilities such as gas and electric
  • Perform salvage to prevent further damage
  • Provide lighting both inside and outside the building

From this list, it is obvious that any effective operation relies on a sufficient number of resources. Resources in this situation translates into proper equipment and apparatus, and most importantly, sufficient numbers of trained firefighters and fire officers.

In the next few articles, we'll take a look at getting the most of the three person engine and ladder companies. It's obvious that the more "resource heavy" you are initially, the safer both you and the public are. But what do you do if you have only three person companies? In this series that is precisely what we'll study. This series is a brief overview and is based on the safety of our firefighters and the efficiency of our organizations. We'll look at operations from the more typical tasks required. More unusual operations such as a fire in a commercial occupancy and fires in high-rise buildings may demand a slight change in tactics. Nevertheless, the principle of teamwork is critical for success.

ARMAND F. GUZZI, Jr. has been a member of the fire service since 1987. He is a career firefighter with the City of Long Branch, NJ, and is an instructor for the Monmouth County, NJ, Fire Academy, where he has taught since 1990. He has a Masters Degree in Management and undergraduate degrees in Fire Science, Education, and Business Administration. You can reach Armand by e-mail at: