Figure 4. Affixed next to the seat of the water supply firefighter is a tag identifying his or her assignment for the majority of responses to which this company responds.
Figure 5. Affixed next to the seat of the interior team firefighter is his or her tool assignment for the majority of responses.
Figure 6. On this engine company, the nozzle firefighter shall be tasked with stretching (or assist in the stretching) the attack line as directed by the officer.
The second of the four elements in using riding assignments effectively is the tool assignments for each person depending on where they are sitting in the apparatus. If the first- and second-due ladder companies have to conduct tasks such as forcible entry, then members must have forcible-entry tools with them. If searching for victims and fire spread is required, a thermal imaging camera, a search rope and a 6-foot hook are a must.
Remember the acronym LOVERS-U (Laddering, Overhaul, Ventilation, forcible Entry, Rescue and search, Salvage and Utility control) to determine what your ladder companies are responsible for and equip the personnel accordingly. Remember to equip them with the most common tools needed for the mission and don’t weigh them down! As a rule, two to three tools or items per member is adequate.
Task Assignments for Each Firefighter
Division of labor is the concept where we seek to get the most from our limited resources and to eliminate redundancy. The third element of riding assignments is task assignments for each person depending on where they are sitting in the apparatus. These are examples of what could work for a department (they are certainly not set in stone, but offer a place to start). These samples are based on a four-person company. You have to do what works for you, though. If you average three members per engine or ladder company response, then your riding assignments should reflect that.
The First- and Second-Due Engine Companies
• The Engine Company Chauffeur - Tasked with safely getting the crew to the scene and positioning the engine properly. If first due, establish a sustained water supply and supply water to the appropriate hoselines or appliances. If second due, assist the first engine in establishing as sustained water supply.
• The Company Officer - Tasked with company safety and management. If the company is first due, this officer assumes the role of the Incident Commander (IC). If the company is second due, this officer is up front with the nozzle team for safety and direction.
• The Nozzle Firefighter - If first due, this firefighter is tasked with stretching the appropriate diameter line to the point of operation. If second due, this firefighter assists in stretching the first-due engine’s line and relieves the nozzle team when they run low on air so as to maintain the momentum of the attack.
• The Water Supply Firefighter - If first due, this firefighter is tasked with hooking up to a hydrant in situations where the engine makes a forward lay. After this task is completed, this firefighter joins the company and aids in stretching the line and acts as the backup firefighter. If second due, this firefighter assists in stretching the first-due engine’s line and relieves the nozzle team when they run low on air.
The First- and Second-Due Truck Companies
• The Ladder Company Chauffeur - If first due, the chauffeur ladders the building as needed then assists in making up the exterior team. Riding assignment dictates that in the event this member deploys into action other than on the turntable, that he or she carries a 6-foot hook or pike pole and a Halligan tool. If first due, this member is responsible for assisting in vertical ventilation. If second due, this member is tasked with Vent, Enter and Search (VES) tactics.
• The Company Officer - The officer is part of the two-person interior team responsible for forcible entry, search and rescue, and checking for the location and extent of the fire. If first due, the interior team ascends to the fire floor. If second due, the interior team ascends to the floor above. The officer carries a Halligan tool, flathead axe and thermal imaging camera.
• The Exterior Team Firefighter - Works in conjunction with the ladder chauffeur. Riding assignment dictates that he or she carries a 6-foot hook or pike pole and a flathead axe. If first due, this member is responsible for assisting in vertical ventilation. If second due, this member is tasked with VES tactics. For situations where a saw is required, such as a top-floor fire or where commercial occupancies are heavily secured, this member may carry a saw with an appropriate metal or wood-cutting blade as well.
• The Interior Team Firefighter - This member is the other half of the two-person interior team along with the officer and is responsible for forcible entry, search and rescue, and checking for the location and extent of fire. Riding assignment dictates that this member carries a 6-foot hook or pike pole and a 2½-gallon water extinguisher. If first due, the interior team ascends to the fire floor. If second due, the interior team ascends to the floor above.
Tasks Depending on the Occupancy
The final of the four elements that make up the riding assignment concept is the task to be completed depending on the occupancy. This is where training is so very vital. In addition, this is where a department has to really analyze what it does routinely versus those missions that are not as common.
Riding assignments can be tweaked further to identify missions based on the occupancy. Take for example the role of the Ladder Company Exterior Team Firefighter. If the occupancy is a multiple dwelling or commercial occupancy, then vertical ventilation may be warranted first, whereas for a fire on a lower floor of a private dwelling, this member may be tasked with VES operations.
Again, much forethought has to go into the different responses your department can go to. It is important that the more common responses be addressed and that all of your members are reading from the same sheet of music. Effective planning and training can pay enormous dividends!
Identify the Positions
For riding assignments to be effective, members should have a ready-made engraved-plastic or metal-marking system or tag affixed next to the apparatus seat they are responding in. This provides a clear and concise means of jogging the firefighters’ memory. It tells them what tools they should take with them, who they are assigned to work with and what task they are required to perform. See Figures 4, 5, and 6 for examples of engine and ladder company riding assignments. These are just examples and are based on a four-person company. Again, you have to tailor the individual assignments for what works for you.
With this information, a member has a chance to plan his or her actions en route to the scene. This is an advantage for the firefighter. He or she can formulate a plan of action well before their arrival. With pre-arranged riding assignments, so much is already completed and so much less discussion is required upon arrival.
The key to this is training and planning!
Training and Understanding
Training on each of the four elements associated with this concept is critical to any department’s success. Simply identifying what a member carries along with some fancy buzzwords means nothing. All members who can potentially be responding have to know what the role of each position entails.
While on the surface, it sounds like a lot to learn, in reality it includes topics that are covered in some shape or form in most departments anyhow.
Furthermore, riding assignments may differ from department to department. A lot of it has to do with the needs and resources of the individual departments and their operating procedures and guidelines. It’s important not to try to replicate the local big city department, but rather set up these assignments for what actually works in your area. Every department is different, but there are certain tasks that need to be completed at the most common responses. What makes up your bread-and-butter responses? Is it mainly private dwellings, commercial occupancies, industrial-type occupancies? No doubt that if there were a fire in your typical response hazard, you would expect certain general tasks to be completed.
Riding assignments are not a cure-all for every response, though. For example, if you want the first-due engine to establish a sustained water supply and stretch a line to the seat of the fire in a private dwelling, you may have the resources available to make it work. But, if your response were to a fire on the 15th floor of a residential high rise, then these same guidelines would be inappropriate for this situation.
Remember, gear your riding assignments towards the most typical responses you face. You’ll never be able to have a boilerplate guideline that covers every possible activity, but if you can cover most of the standard responses, then fireground efficiency will take a turn for the better.
Response by Private Car
Riding assignments work in both the career as well as the volunteer fire service. The key is to have a company respond as a cohesive unit. In the volunteer fire service, some departments may permit their members to respond to the scene via their own personal cars. This is problematic at best and creates issues of accountability and command and control unless these resources can be corralled upon arrival.
Ideally, an engine or ladder company responding from the station has members that are pre-organized into a team. This is an ingredient to effective riding assignments. Personnel arriving individually at separate times don’t offer such cohesiveness.
Riding assignments are a tool in the department’s toolbox. Use them to strengthen your organization and tailor them for your department. If your apparatus seats eight people, that’s great, but unless these seats are routinely filled on the typical responses, don’t go crazy creating assignments for them. That wouldn’t be realistic. Riding assignments can help to strengthen command and control practices and even help improve accountability. Nevertheless, riding assignments are not a solution for everything. Whatever your department chooses to do, remember that these assignments are just one small element in a much larger picture. Always error on the side of safety! The goal is to bring everyone home!
ARMAND F. GUZZI JR. has been a member of the fire service since 1987. He is a career fire lieutenant with the City of Long Branch, NJ, Fire Department and is the deputy director of the Monmouth County, NJ, Fire Academy where he has taught for over 20 years. He has a masters degree in management and undergraduate degrees in fire science, education, and business administration. View all of Armand's articles here. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.