The Probie's Guide to the Engine Company: What Am I Getting Into?

Dec. 4, 2006
"Hey rookie!" he hears and he moves toward the sound. As his eyes adjust to the light and his newly realized surroundings, he can see his lieutenant and nozzleman looking at him through the spaces in between the studs of the just opened wall. "The fire was over here" says the lieutenant."This article series is dedicated to the remembrance of FDNY Lieutenant Howie Carpluk of Engine Company 42, who died while operating at Bronx Box 3-3-2797 on 27 August 2006."

"Hey rookie!" he hears and he moves toward the sound. As his eyes adjust to the light and his newly realized surroundings, he can see his lieutenant and nozzleman looking at him through the spaces in between the studs of the just opened wall. "The fire was over here" says the lieutenant.

"This article series is dedicated to the remembrance of FDNY Lieutenant Howie Carpluk of Engine Company 42, who died while operating at Bronx Box 3-3-2797 on 27 August 2006."

It's a little after midnight, and Engine 7 and Ladder 3 are responding to a reported house fire. As the engine briefly stops at the hydrant, and the truck pulls around, the probie can hear the Ladder 3 Officer transmit the working fire over his handie-talkie. The engine pulls up and our probie runs to the rear, waits a moment while the nozzleman grabs his folds of hoseline and then steps up and grabs his. It's a short distance up onto the yard and to the front door. While the interior team of the truck is forcing the door, the nozzleman and officer are donning their facepieces. "Start flaking that out" his officer tells him, and the probie works furiously to make wide bends and get rid of kinks. No sooner is he done, and then he looks at the front door and sees his crew and the crew of Ladder 3 entering.

Hectically he drops to his knees, and fumbles with his facepiece. He has cinched it down tight on his face and after a short inhale, realizes he hasn't turned his bottle on. Once this is corrected, he pulls up his hood, puts his helmet on, and makes his way inside, crouched down.

He shuffles his way forward, completely unsure of where he is going and what is ahead of him. In a moment, he remembers to follow the line and he drops to his hands and knees and feels around for it. Instantly he feels something hitting him from behind, and then a cursing directed to him to get out of the way. A foot steps on the back of his leg. He finds the line again and follows it further into the house. He moves headfirst into a piece of furniture, a chair, and moves it out of the way. He can hear glass breaking up ahead and the sounds of muffled voices and things being torn apart. The line gets pulled away from him and he is stepped on again by a pair of feet moving quickly past. Frustrated, he stands up and reaches out blindly. He can feel the heat at this level and he starts shuffling forward. With his outstretched arms he feels what might be a door frame. Another figure brushes past him as he enters. Off to the side he can see a dim square of light and make his way towards it, as if it were the end of a tunnel. He trips and falls right onto the floor. As he rights himself, he finds his light is a vented window and he can make out some lights and feels a cool breeze.

"Hey rookie!" he hears and he moves toward the sound. As he gets closer, a quickie light is turned on making the room as bright as daylight. As his eyes adjust to the light and his newly realized surroundings, he can see his lieutenant and nozzleman looking at him through the spaces in between the studs of the just opened wall. "The fire was over here" says the lieutenant.

First Line Generalities

Typically, the first due engine company will advance their line, of correct size and length, to the seat of the fire. This is done in a fast, but deliberate manner, taking a few seconds to watch for kinks, pinch points and other obstructions. The areas the line moves through, from the engine to the fire, are your areas of responsibility. As the line moves forward, members from other companies are making their way in to do a primary search or provide staffing on your line, depending on your department's situation. In this second part of The Probie's Guide to the Engine Company, we'll look at what exactly is going on while your feeding the line and the brothers are moving overtop of you.

The Fire Building

Sizeup is an ongoing process, and you need to sizeup the building you are entering, not only for your safety and the safety of your crew, but to have a mental image of what your surroundings are once you're inside. Consider the single family dwellings in your area. Hopefully you have started to learn the layout of most of the homes. Generally, in a two story SFD, you have the living room in the front, dining room in the middle, and a kitchen in the rear. Bedrooms are upstairs. The staircase might be directly in front of you when you come through the front door. The basement steps might be in the kitchen, or a room in the first floor rear. In your own area you can develop this by taking note of such layouts while on EMS runs or other "local" alarms. This layout, depending on the development in your area, may be indicative of a street, or a whole block.

Take a look at Photo 2. If your running route had you arriving in this position, with the fire building on your left, what could you quickly surmise about this building?

  • The initial stretch will be short and quick.
  • The building isn't very deep, especially on the second floor.
  • Two, maybe three rooms on the second floor.
  • Windows at my back and on my left as I enter.
  • Go out the front if I have to bail out of the second floor.
  • The line will probably have to make a 180 degree bend at the top of the stairs.

Now take a look at Photo 3. This was what was showing on arrival of the first due engine.

Some of the things we first listed are not as identifiable; however, the building has not changed. Here is an important item to remember: it is still just a house. Disorientation comes about when we fail to keep the mental image we get from the street in our mind. Even though you can't see the second floor windows you can see how deep the structure is on both floors. You know there is a porch roof as well. And, you know that somewhere, right up by the front door, is probably the staircase to the second floor. As you mask up and make your way in, you need to keep what you see on the outside of the building as a landmark to navigate inside. If the line had to advance straight back, you might not have a lot of hose to feed. Possibly even less if you had to go upstairs. If you and your crew are alone, and you need to open up as you go, you should know that you have windows behind you, and at least one on your left. All of this helps keep you somewhat oriented to where you are and what you might be encountering when inside. Granted, there are always exceptions and surprises, but generally, you should not be thinking that you are in the dark in the middle of your high school gymnasium when you enter a single family dwelling.

Quit Pushing?

Of course there is pushing. There is pushing, pulling, and everything from the "excuse me there, brother, let me get by ya" to "get the _____ out of the way!" But let's be honest about it. While none of us should condone aggressive, harmful actions, we have to accept that if you try and put approximately seven people (three from the engine and four from the truck) through a normal width hallway, or up a normal width stairwell, all at the same time, somebody is going to shove someone. Truck companies have to get to the fire room to begin their search and you and your company have to get in there to put the fire out. The difficulty you'll encounter is that if you are not working the nozzle or are the backup firefighter, then you're probably out in the hall, or in the stairwell. You're in the path of traffic. The real fire attack will not be as "neat" as the ones in your training, so expect to get bumped around a bit, maybe shoved, and maybe a bit of an attitude from some other firefighter. Keep your mind on your task at hand (feeding the line), your surroundings (always sizeup everything you see inside and out) and your officer's voice. Photo 4 shows members of the first due companies at a house fire in Berwyn Heights, MD. The initial line is flaked out, charged and properly checked. The members are masking up as well as adding to their sizeup. What can you tell about this dwelling and the probable fire conditions based upon what you see?


In the previous article, we discussed learning the makeup of your first due area. Click here and use the questions to see what you know, or don't know, about where you are going. Hopefully most of the questions can apply to your neighborhood.

For reviewing what you are getting into, nothing can take the place of actual experience. However, if the working jobs are few, then you'll need to make the experience from other means. Here are a few tips to help you:

  • Take a look at your own house, or apartment, or your neighbor's. Where do you find the bedrooms to be located? Where is the kitchen? Do most of the homes on your street have exterior basement entrances? What is the average area of the single family dwellings in your area?
  • Take advantage of local or minor runs and review the dwelling you are in. How are the stairs laid out? How many rooms do you have to pass to get to the rear? Where could your hoseline get snagged?
  • Participate in as many blacked out facepiece drills as you can. You'll eventually become comfortable relying on using your hands to see for you, the more you do this. If you can do it as a shift, or company, have others participate as if they were the truck, trying to get past you. Start up a saw, run a PPV fan, let a PASS device go off every now and then; incorporate as much actual sound into your drill as you should expect on an actual fire.
  • Keep your mental pictures in perspective. Each length of hose line is 50 feet. Most homes do not have rooms deeper than 50 feet so don't imagine that you are dragging a line into the Wal-Mart when you are actually inside a small bungalow.
  • Remember: Sizeup, Sizeup, and Sizeup. Notice windows, balconies, doors, and you enter and as you move further in. While the fire conditions might change, those building features will not. They are your landmarks.
  • Read Jake Rixner's "Hey Kid, You've Got the Pipe: Mind Games" and William Mora's "Enclosed Structure Disorientation" and "U.S. Firefighter Disorientation Study" as well.

Open and Print the Where Am I Going? Review Here.

For the next article in this series, we'll look at apartments and commercial occupancies. Until then, stay safe and share the knowledge.

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William Carey started in the fire service in 1986 on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, beginning with the Allen Volunteer Fire Department, with a childhood friend. When he was old enough, he joined the Salisbury Fire Department, Headquarters Company, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather. It is in Salisbury that he and friends would spend weekends riding in Prince George's County, Maryland. After marriage and moving to Prince George's County, William became an active volunteer firefighter.

In 1998, after transferring to a volunteer company that was closer to his residence in Hyattsville, William became more invested in this company. The last four years William served as a volunteer line officer and member of the company's training committee, as well as in administrative positions. His training is extensive and his experience ranges from a very rural quiet fire department on the Eastern Shore, to one the busiest departments among the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area. In 1999 William and others in his company had the benefit of learning valuable knowledge from the FDNY's Andrew Fredericks, who was among the 343 killed on September 11, 2001. After two separate training weekends with Mr. Fredericks, William's entire mindset about firefighting and engine company operations were completely changed, and William spent his time as a line officer trying to pass on what he learned from such a developing leader in the fire service. It is that experience that William hopes to continue to pass on in his articles, focusing on the untapped area of firefighter mentality, and working smarter, not harder. A quiet individual, accomplished artist, and proud husband and father, William looks forward to hearing from readers of his articles and their experiences. He can be reached at [email protected].

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