The Truck Company has one basic function at any working fire and that is to support the Engine Company’s advance and extinguishment of the fire.Also See: Truck Company SOP's Slideshow
The Truck Company has one basic function at any working fire and that is to support the Engine Company's advance and extinguishment of the fire. These functions are carried out through an assortment of diverse tactics and Standard Operating Procedures. (SOP's) These tactics can vary greatly from department to department or within companies in the same department. These tasks can be reduced to the basic traditional truck company operations consisting of Ventilation, Entry and Search.(VES) Performing these tasks are mandatory at every fire where firefighters will be conducting an interior attack.
Standard Operating Procedures: "Who's doing what??"
Photo By Michael Dugan
Members drilling on roof (Vertical) ventilation of a flat roof. One firefighter immediately gets to the roof and vents the roof to vent the interior stairways and halls. Giving occupants trapped above the fire a better chance of survival.
With the recent Thanksgiving Holiday now behind us, I'm sure many of you sat around watching the second most important Thanksgiving tradition besides the turkey: Football. Now take a moment to imagine the following analogy. The offensive team takes the field, but never huddles up to call a specific play. Can you imagine the chaos that would follow after the ball is snapped? How would any member of the team know what is expected of them? Of course they all know that the objective is to get the ball into the opposing team's end zone, but how will they accomplish this?
The same holds true for a Truck Company at the scene of a fire. Every member knows that they are there to ultimately extinguish the fire, but do they know how they will accomplish this?
The analogy epitomizes why SOP's are necessary for a Truck Company to effectively function at a fire. It allows for better coordination and effectiveness of the truck on the fire ground. If your department SOP's fail to clearly define the roles and responsibilities of all members on the truck company, then you should strive to have this issue addressed.
Riding Assignments: "The Game Plan"
Photo By Michael Dugan
Pressurized water can and a six-foot hook. A member of the interior search team brings these tools. The "Can" allows for the fire to be kept in check while the Engine Company advances the line. The "Hook" allows for the ceiling to be opened and windows vented.
Assigned positions and duties allow for a more controlled and coordinated fire attack with the added benefit of better accountability. Firefighters should be performing the task assigned to them and accomplishing them from a specific location.
The SOP's must be based upon the type of buildings your department responds to and the minimum manning on the truck company. To function properly the Truck Company must have defined positions, responsibilities, tools, knowledge and training to accomplish their assigned tasks. These SOP's will vary as the construction and size of the buildings change, but the same basic functions will need to be accomplished at every fire namely VES. The size and construction of the building will dictate whether these functions are carried out using portable ladders, fire escapes, tower ladders, or from the fire floor and floors above.
Photo By Michael Dugan
A properly placed roof ventilation hole cut over the fire and allowing ventilation of the top floor fire area.
Ventilation is a necessity at every fire where firefighters will be entering conducting an interior fight. Proper ventilation requires the firefighter to be properly trained and have a defined plan of action. The firefighter needs to know where to go and how to properly vent the building to help the firefighters and officers inside. This operation must be controlled and coordinated by someone in charge. Different departments have different standards for the control of ventilation, some make the Incident Commander in charge of all ventilation while others have no one controlling or coordinating the ventilation.
The FDNY for example, allows all vertical ventilation to take place without the permission of any officer, this allows a firefighter to ventilated the stairs and hopefully clear the public hallway of the products of combustion, giving residents above a better chance of survival and allowing the engine company to move closer to the fire. The truck officer operating inside the building on the fire floor will control all horizontal ventilation of that floor and officers on floors above will control that floor.
This allows for the officer nearest the point of ventilation to determine the possible impact before granting permission. The officer must take into account the wind, the heat encountered and the position of the advancing hose line before granting permission to ventilate the fire area.
By controlling and coordinating the ventilation of a fire building, the building is now being controlled by the Incident Commander through the use of their firefighters. If a firefighter operating on the floor above opens a window to ventilate the fire floor and encounters a heavy wind in their face they must notify the officer on the fire floor of this fact. This might change or alter the officers' decision about possible ventilation from the exterior. Ventilation is one of the few ways that firefighters can impact the fire and the building and influence the outcome of the fire operations.
At a peaked roof private dwelling fire, one of our basic operations, ventilation will help determine the chances of victim survival. Some departments send their whole truck company to the roof for initial vent of the roof. This might not be the most efficient use of our truck company.
Fire Ground Priorities: "Who's going where?"
Photo By Michael Dugan
Members drilling on the safe use of a power saw on the roof of a vacant building. If you have a vacant building in your area contact the owner and ask if you can use it for a drill. This building was being completely gutted and a new roof and supports installed.
When sending the entire truck crew to the roof, we leave the functions of entry and search to the Engine Company. This will hamper the engine's hose stretch and also take them away from initial line placement. If a victim is encounter, this will result in more time lost from hose line placement to the victims' removal. The roof at most private homes will allow for ventilation of only the attic space and not the immediate fire area. To do this we have to push down the top floor ceiling from the roof and this might be difficult to impossible depending on the attic height, storage and possible wooden walkway within the attic.
A truck crew of three men venting the roof while two firefighters force entry to the building and then begin to advance a line might not be the most effective use of manpower. If your family was trapped inside a burning building is this how you would want the operation to be conducted? If not, and your department does it this way then maybe a review of your SOP's is in order.
In most new construction, skylights are provided for light and sometimes for ventilation. These skylights are a great way to relieve the top floor of smoke and heat and this task can be accomplished by a single firefighter. Skylights are considered a natural chimney. If the roof has to be vented then one firefighter might be able to accomplish this and leave the other truck company members to do the entry and search.
Photo By Michael Dugan
A firefighter drilling on the proper way to pull a roof cut with a halligan tool.
Entry is the second main duty of a truck company. They are responsible for providing a safe way for the engine company to advance a hose line into the building to extinguish the fire. Remember the quick extinguishment of the fire is the overall goal.
The truck company will force a way into the building and allow the engine to get water to the fire. In recent years this has become harder because people are worried about crime and have secured their homes with more substantial barriers to keep out intruders. These security devices will hamper the rapid deployment of the hoseline to the seat of the fire by the engine company. The Engine Company will be further hampered if they must perform this duty themselves.
When economic times are hard, the politician always look to the fire service to cut their manning and provide the same level of service. This will leave firefighters doing more with less people and therefore the duties on the fire ground must be prioritized. Getting water on the fire should be the number two priority, second only to firefighter safety. All available means of getting water on the fire should be employed. If we have water on the fire we are in the process of eliminating the fire problem. (Remember what we said in the beginning of this article, the Truck Company is in support of the initial attack)
In commercial structures the truck company might have to cut storefront roll down gate to allow the engine to apply water to the fire. Either way you do it you still have to create the quickest and safest way into the structure for the firefighter with the hose and water.
Photo By Michael Dugan
Firefighters drilling and learning the ways of making a window entry on the floor above the fire at the "Firehouse Expo" in Baltimore
The last function of the truck company is search. This is what they are there for, the most basic but hardest job at a fire. When entering a building on fire for a search what is the first priority of your search?
You should find the fire first!
Finding the fire first may sound contrary to what we have all been taught, from rookie school on, "protect life and property." By finding the fire first we are allowing the engine company to get to the fire quicker. This means that as the truck company if it took you four minutes to find the fire and you went past three doors, when you communicate to the engine the location of the fire they can come right to the fire area. The member of the engine company must trust the truck to find the fire and check all rooms before the fire so that they will not be trapped by fire behind them. The truck must check all doors past on the way to the fire, because you never pass a door in a fire until you know what is behind it.
Once the truck locates the fire and tries to confine it, by closing a door or using a pressurized water extinguisher, the truck now can start their search for life from the fire area back toward the exit. They do not want to proceed past the fire for a search unless a line is in place or you have a known life hazard.
The position beyond the fire can become untenable as soon as the engine gets water on the fire and drives the fire and heat towards you. If a known life hazard exists and you must make a search past the fire, communications with the engine company is critical for the safety of the search team.
The truck company must also search for extension of fire within the fire building. This means that walls and ceiling have to be opened looking for avenues of fire extension. This can be started as soon as the engine company has knocked the fire down. If member of the engine company are the ones looking for extension they must wait until the fire is extinguished, before leaving the line to open up the fire area.
Fire Attack: "Firefighting is a team effort"
Photo By Michael Dugan
Members drill on climbing the aerial and gaining access to the roof. This drill must also include the need for effective reports from the roof level to the incident commander and company officer.
The truck and the engine company are the bread and butter of the fire service; together they must be working towards the same goals. If the engine company is doing the entry and search along with stretching their hose line they might not be able to complete any of these jobs because they are doing too many different jobs at one time. If the engine is doing all of the venting and entry, the line stretch will be delayed and the officer might not be able to properly supervise all of the functions required by his unit because he is overextended. Not to mention the overexertion that is being placed on the members of the Engine Company.
The Truck Company has the primary duty to support the Engine Company and allow them to get water on to the fire. The ventilation, entry and search by a Truck Company will allow the Engine Company to be dedicated to stretching a line and getting water on the fire. When the fire is extinguished the problems for the firefighters and the occupants of the building have been greatly reduced.
Training and manning will effect how a fire department goes about the implementation of SOP's. The manning is an unfortunate issue that most fire departments have little or no control over. On the other hand, training is something every firefighter, officer and fire department should be looking to expand and improve. Effective training based on your well thought out SOP's will make your firefighters more aware of their duties and responsibilities on the fire ground.
Quality Training, SOP's and Teamwork will increase the overall efficiency safety and effectiveness of all members on the fire ground.
Michael M. Dugan is a 17-year veteran of the FDNY, serving as a Captain of Ladder 123 in Brooklyn