The FDNY may be the only department in the nation that has six firefighters on a truck company, while most have far less than that running on calls. Some have trucks with only one person staffing it.
So, how does one do truck company work with just one person? Not very well, but it is possible, especially when additional staff is borrowed from an engine company.
To help fire departments sort out the issue of truck company staffing and how to do the work most efficiently, Jim Ogle, a firefighter with FDNY Ladder 14, presented a class called "Big City Truck Operations on Main Street America."
Staffing is an ongoing issue with many departments in the United States and one that probably not going to go away anytime soon. Ogle, who has 17 years in the fire service and about six and a half in with FDNY offered tips on effective truck company work with a variety of staffing levels.
"Truck company operations do not need to be controlled by numbers on an aerial apparatus," Ogle said, adding that an aerial device isn't even necessary to do truck company work if all the tools are readily available.
While there are many tasks that can be assigned to truck companies, there are two major ones – laddering a building and ventilating it.
"Laddering a building is one of the lost arts of the fire service," Ogle said, noting that Boston is one of the few places that still do it with purpose and regularity.
When it comes to ventilation, firefighters don't need to be on the roof to do it effectively, he said.
"One of the most dangerous places to be on a burning building is the roof," Ogle said, noting that because attic space has most often become extra storage area, the fire load under the roof isn't known and lightweight construction means the roofs can fail far more rapidly during fire conditions.
"Why should we put people on the roofs when we can ventilate horizontally," Ogle said, noting that whatever method of ventilation used it must be done in coordination with the engine company attack for safety and efficiency reasons.
Ogle reminded class attendees of the primary truck company tasks using a mnemonic -- LOVERS U: Laddering, Overhaul, Ventilation, Entry, Rescue, Salvage and Utilities control.
One way to achieve all of those tasks is to assign seating position on the aerial with particular jobs, Ogle said, noting that when a firefighter knows what to do and where the tools are and what is expected before arriving on a scene, the more efficient the individual becomes.
Stealing a page from the business world, Ogle said the fire service can also be subjected to the Seven Ps Principle: "piss poor planning produces piss poor performance."
"How much more efficient would we all be if we knew our jobs and where proficient at them before we ever got to the scene," he asked rhetorically.
As staffing is reduced, fewer tasks can be accomplished, but safety should not be sacrificed -- ever, he said.
At the very least, departments should be in the habit of placing ground ladders on every side of the fire building.
"If firefighters need to get out quickly, having that ladder in the right place could be the difference between life and death," he said.
Secondarily, coordinated ventilation should be a bottom line goal, he said.
"You shouldn't be randomly going out and breaking windows," Ogle said. "You need to coordinate with the engine company."
Coordinated ventilation means the fire will likely go out faster and keep firefighters safer by reducing the exposure time in a burning building, he said.
While it might be less efficient to have less than a full complement of staff on a truck, the efficiency of those who are on it will mean a much safer and effective response, Ogle said.
"You need to know your response area and you need to be proficient in your job to be effective," he said.