The Probie's Guide to the Engine Company: Where Am I Going?

The new guy was just putting away the last dish when someone yelled “First due box!" He’s the last one onboard and the engine pulls out just as he closes his door.


"This article series is dedicated to the remembrance of Probationary Firefighter 6th Grade Michael C. Reilly of the FDNY. Appointed on 11 April 2006, assigned to Engine Company 75, and died in the line of duty operating at Bronx Box 3-3-2797 on 27 August 2006."

The new guy was just putting away the last dish when someone yelled "First due box!" He's the last one onboard and the engine pulls out just as he closes his door. Bouncing back and forth in the cab, he buttons up, and tries to slip his arms into his SCBA straps. Forgetting his radio, he slips out of the SCBA and slips the radio on. As he leans against the rig while taking a corner, he notices his hood on the floor of the cab. Instinctively he leans down to pick it up and is jerked to a halt by his SCBA. He hears the driver holler "layout!" Realizing that is meant for him, the new guy jerks out of his seat, out of the cab, and runs to the back of the engine. Stepping up on the backstep he pulls down the end of the supply line and drops it near the hydrant at the curb. No sooner then he turns back to the engine, then he sees it head down the street.

Running down the street, realizing he left his helmet in the cab, he goes the distance of a couple of houses and catches up with the engine. The lieutenant and the lineman have already begun running the 150-foot line to a house with fire coming from a first floor window. The driver has already cleared the bed and begun hooking up to the intake. Grabbing his helmet and leaving his hood he makes his way to the house. The driver runs by him carrying a ladder and yells to him "flake out this line!" The new guy quickly chases the kinks and then begins to mask up.

Finally making his way into the fire room, he can see the charred remains of a living room and the lineman venting the room with the line. He can hear his lieutenant giving information over the radio and it dawns on him the he never turned his own radio on. Someone shouts "hey new guy!" and he turns to see the driver handing him a hook. "Start on the ceiling okay?" He makes his way towards where the lineman is standing and his lieutenant asks him "Where have you been?"

Text Book + Real World = Confusion

I'm not saying to take everything you learned and forget it. What I am saying is, take what you've learned and see what applies to your specific situation. With the exception of what is taught in a specific recruit school most "basic" firefighter training is "generic". It is when you get to your own house that you have to learn their ways. The problem most new firefighters have is discerning what book knowledge to use, what to keep tucked away, and what to throw out. Rather than speak up, most usually are silent, because that is what they are taught; the probie must keep his eyes and ears open and his mouth shut. When company training or street drills come up, he is on the alert, ready with the correct answer, even thought he has no idea what the question will be. In the context and experience of a combination department, here are three areas we'll expand on; where you can reorient yourself to the way your house does things in the context with the engine company and what they taught you at "fire school".

  • Learn your area: Where Am I Going? What Am I Getting Into?
  • Learn your apparatus: Lines, Lines, Lines
  • Learn your place in the company: Tonight You're Riding the Line

Learn Your Area

When I say learn your area, I don't mean just the addresses, but the physical makeup of your first due area. In Hyattsville we have a mix of single family dwellings, stand-alone apartments and apartment complexes, not to mention commercial and residential high-rises, and retail occupancies. What ever your construction mix is, you need to know what lines will reach these addresses. Engine companies have their one or two lines they usually pull all the time. I hate writing that, because sometimes firefighters pull this line without thinking they should pull a better line (more on this in a later article). The key to learning your area is that you need to be more aware of the addresses that are the exception. I have run addresses that required the first engine to run the 400' line and the standpipe rack, to just get into the building. The layout of apartments and today's mini-mansions, sometimes doesn't allow you the access to use that always handy crosslay or bumper line.

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