Truck Company Operations

The aggressive interior attack of a structure fire is possible only when several firefighting operations are conducted in a coordinated manner. These operations are of two major types: engine and truck. They are conducted simultaneously.

Photo by Craig Jackson
A firefighter from Tampa, FL, Station 1 prepares to make an interior attack on a fire in a wood-frame dwelling. The tremendous smoke condition required extensive ventilation.

Photo by Bill Bennett
An FDNY firefighter from Ladder 103 removes one of five victims who were trapped by an arson fire. One man was killed and four others were critically injured. The 1:25 A.M. blaze was started when arsonists poured gasoline under the front door to the apartment, trapping the family.

The features of truck company operations are:

  1. Truck work. The fireground operations that do not directly involve the use of water. These tasks may be done by any firefighter, either in an engine or a truck.
  2. Truck company tactics. The manner in which a truck company is deployed at a specific type of building; i.e., private dwelling, tenement or commercial building.
  3. Personnel assignment. Specific procedures to guide the initial action of truck company personnel.
  4. Apparatus placement and operation. The proper use of aerial ladder apparatus. This includes the positioning, stabilizing and operation of aerial equipment.

The specific topic of truck company operations known as truck work means operations and not apparatus, because any firefighter may perform the truck work. A firefighter assigned to an engine may have to force entry (truck work) in order to get his or her line into the building or a volunteer firefighter who arrives at the scene before any apparatus may have to enter the fire building and perform rescue (truck work).

Photo by Dennis Satariano
A Fremont, CA, firefighter makes a size-up at a well-involved house fire. Electrical wires fell across the driveway. A false report of someone trapped gave firefighters problems as they had to commit to a rescue attempt early in the fire.

Photo by Stephane Brunet
Montreal firefighters work to open the roof during a general-alarm fire.

Truck work falls under two basic categories: primary, which are the immediate operations; and secondary, which are done as needed.

Primary Operations

  • Rescue. The saving of human life. Rescue is the premier operation of not only the truck company but of all companies on the fireground. All efforts of the engines and trucks must support and enhance this operation.
    Rescue involves locating and gaining access to victims trapped in the building. In addition, rescue includes the removal of the victim from the building.
  • Search. Locating victims who are known to be trapped in the building and, in addition, a thorough examination of areas where victims may be trapped or in distress.
  • Forcible entry. Gaining entry to the building to allow all interior firefighting operations. In addition to entry, a means of egress may be made to allow the removal of victims and the exit of firefighters. Because forcible entry is so basic to the truck operations, it is arguably the most important operation of all truck work. Forcible entry is the standard by which a truck is judged.
  • Ventilation. Removing heat, smoke and fire through selected channels to the exterior of a building will have a positive effect on the outcome of an interior fire operation. Proper ventilation, vertical and/or horizontal, will greatly enhance the search for and removal of victims and also the confining and extinguishment of the fire.
    All interior operations are made more effective and safer when ventilation is performed properly.
  • Ladders. The placing of ladders for the purpose of rescuing occupants or gaining access to the upper floors and roof of a building by firefighters is the oldest and most basic truck operation. They range from portable ladders to aerial and tower ladders.

Locating Fire & Extension

To find the main body of fire and to confine it, if possible, is an immediate operation. Also, when the location of the fire can't be found, a search is conducted. In addition to locating the fire, any extension to other areas must be checked as soon as possible.

Photo by Mike Meadows
A Los Angeles City firefighter reports conditions to other truck members and to command. Extremely heavy smoke and heat vent from store windows that had just been broken.

Locating the fire and checking for extension ("chasing fire") is an aggressive and fast operation. As fire is located and exposed, it must be confined until the hoselines arrive.

Firefighters who perform this type of truck work must have strong knowledge of building construction in order to get ahead of and cut off the extending fire.

Communications & Reconnaissance

The gathering of information and the exchange of information is an important process. It should be a regular part of an interior fire operation.

Because the truck company operates in several areas in, on and outside the building, and in the exposures, truck firefighters have the opportunity to observe several areas of the building.

Firefighters who operate remote from the truck officer should be equipped with portable radios. This will allow an exchange of information between the firefighters, the company officers and the incident commander.

Firefighters who do the truck work must be able to accomplish any or all of those seven primary operations immediately on arrival at the scene. If due to a lack of manpower this is not possible, then the priority operations must be done first.

Priority Operations

Any or all of the immediate operations may be required as soon as you arrive. The available manpower will determine how much you can do. Decide what the priority operations are and do those first.

A good size-up of the important factors along with the standard operating procedures (SOPs) for that type of building will assist in covering the most important assignments first.

Truck work accomplishes two general things:

  1. Provides for the saving of life.
  2. Enhances the extinguishment of the fire.

Photo by Bill Grimshaw
Detroit firefighters wait for water from their elevating platform. Earlier, they used their hand tools to rip off window coverings to assist in ventilation.

Control of the fire is our basic objective but the saving of human life is the most important goal. All operations, truck company and engine company, must support this goal.

I don't mean that extinguishment of the fire be delayed but the immediate operations of forcible entry, ventilation and search be done to enhance the knockdown of the fire while we search for and remove trapped occupants.

Secondary Operations

There are several other operations that are done on a less urgent basis:

  • Control of utilities. The control of utilities such as the shutting off of the gas service and electrical circuits and the control of broken water and steam pipes is a duty of the truck company.
  • Salvage. The protection of the contents of a structure, during and after a fire, is a truck operation. The protection of the structure itself from the elements is part of this operation.
  • Overhaul. The opening up and examination of the building for any remaining fire, after the main body of fire has been extinguished, is an overhaul operation. This operations also includes the checking of all involved contents for any hidden fire and its final extinguishment and the removal of hazards and the roping off of any hazardous areas.
  • Elevated fire streams. Most ladder company apparatus carry equipment that can provide elevated heavy fire streams. Tower ladder stream and ladder pipe nozzles are used during defensive (outside) fire operations and are not part of an aggressive interior attack.

Robert R. Morris, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is captain of FDNY Ladder Company 28.