The Probie's Guide to the Engine Company: Where Am I Going?

Aug. 28, 2006
The new guy was just putting away the last dish when someone yelled “First due box!" He’s the last one onboard and the engine pulls out just as he closes his door.

"This article series is dedicated to the remembrance of Probationary Firefighter 6th Grade Michael C. Reilly of the FDNY. Appointed on 11 April 2006, assigned to Engine Company 75, and died in the line of duty operating at Bronx Box 3-3-2797 on 27 August 2006."

The new guy was just putting away the last dish when someone yelled "First due box!" He's the last one onboard and the engine pulls out just as he closes his door. Bouncing back and forth in the cab, he buttons up, and tries to slip his arms into his SCBA straps. Forgetting his radio, he slips out of the SCBA and slips the radio on. As he leans against the rig while taking a corner, he notices his hood on the floor of the cab. Instinctively he leans down to pick it up and is jerked to a halt by his SCBA. He hears the driver holler "layout!" Realizing that is meant for him, the new guy jerks out of his seat, out of the cab, and runs to the back of the engine. Stepping up on the backstep he pulls down the end of the supply line and drops it near the hydrant at the curb. No sooner then he turns back to the engine, then he sees it head down the street.

Running down the street, realizing he left his helmet in the cab, he goes the distance of a couple of houses and catches up with the engine. The lieutenant and the lineman have already begun running the 150-foot line to a house with fire coming from a first floor window. The driver has already cleared the bed and begun hooking up to the intake. Grabbing his helmet and leaving his hood he makes his way to the house. The driver runs by him carrying a ladder and yells to him "flake out this line!" The new guy quickly chases the kinks and then begins to mask up.

Finally making his way into the fire room, he can see the charred remains of a living room and the lineman venting the room with the line. He can hear his lieutenant giving information over the radio and it dawns on him the he never turned his own radio on. Someone shouts "hey new guy!" and he turns to see the driver handing him a hook. "Start on the ceiling okay?" He makes his way towards where the lineman is standing and his lieutenant asks him "Where have you been?"

Text Book + Real World = Confusion

I'm not saying to take everything you learned and forget it. What I am saying is, take what you've learned and see what applies to your specific situation. With the exception of what is taught in a specific recruit school most "basic" firefighter training is "generic". It is when you get to your own house that you have to learn their ways. The problem most new firefighters have is discerning what book knowledge to use, what to keep tucked away, and what to throw out. Rather than speak up, most usually are silent, because that is what they are taught; the probie must keep his eyes and ears open and his mouth shut. When company training or street drills come up, he is on the alert, ready with the correct answer, even thought he has no idea what the question will be. In the context and experience of a combination department, here are three areas we'll expand on; where you can reorient yourself to the way your house does things in the context with the engine company and what they taught you at "fire school".

  • Learn your area: Where Am I Going? What Am I Getting Into?
  • Learn your apparatus: Lines, Lines, Lines
  • Learn your place in the company: Tonight You're Riding the Line

Learn Your Area

When I say learn your area, I don't mean just the addresses, but the physical makeup of your first due area. In Hyattsville we have a mix of single family dwellings, stand-alone apartments and apartment complexes, not to mention commercial and residential high-rises, and retail occupancies. What ever your construction mix is, you need to know what lines will reach these addresses. Engine companies have their one or two lines they usually pull all the time. I hate writing that, because sometimes firefighters pull this line without thinking they should pull a better line (more on this in a later article). The key to learning your area is that you need to be more aware of the addresses that are the exception. I have run addresses that required the first engine to run the 400' line and the standpipe rack, to just get into the building. The layout of apartments and today's mini-mansions, sometimes doesn't allow you the access to use that always handy crosslay or bumper line.

Photograph 4 shows an example of the unique addresses that you need to know. At this fire, companies could only access the fire building through a long dirt lane well off the hard road. The closest hydrant was approximately one block away one the hard road. Although the fire building was a known vacant and did not possess immediate exposure problems, the incident commander did have to change his strategy to ensure the water supply was not only secure, but efficient. What addresses in your area require a strategic placement of apparatus before the attack on the fire can begin? As a member of the engine company, will you have to assist the first due engine with the placement of the initial handline? Will you have to extend their line in order to reach the fire? Knowing your area means not just the physical identity of the address but the unique characteristics that cause changes in the selection and stretch of the initial handline.

Learn Your Area, Review

As a new member to the engine company, you have a lot to learn and learn quickly. Knowing the size and length of the handlines and supply lines on your rig doesn't help if you don't know your addresses and their peculiarities. Below are some tips to help you orient yourself.

  • If you have an ambulance in your house, ride it. Honestly, most of us hate riding the ambulance, but the reality is the ambulance runs more calls than your engine. If you ride the ambulance, even as an observer, or extra aid man, you'll become familiar faster with addresses in your response area.
  • Start studying your map books. Even if you have no desire to become a driver, learn the area by learning the maps. Make copies for yourself, or, if you have no map books, start a list of addresses your company responds to. Use Yahoo maps or Google maps and put your company's address in. Take your copies and drive your area. Become familiar with your streets and buildings and make notes of places with limited access, dead end lanes, or any thing that will cause you to select something other than a crosslay for the initial handline.
  • Stay close to the senior men in your company, especially your engine driver. Listen to what he has to say, especially when he's talking about runs. Chances are he's been in your house longer than your officer, and will know more about your response area than anyone else.
  • Keep a journal and write down what you observe on calls with regard to stretching handlines. Make notes about building access, length of lines stretched and water supply.
  • Take some utility rope, as long as your longest preconnected line. Tie a knot in it every 50 feet. Use this with your engine and see how far it takes to reach the front door of an address, just as if it were a handline. Make a note of this in your personal maps or apparatus map book. Figure how much additional line is needed to cover the entire building and have one working length available. You could also buy a measuring wheel from your local hardware store for this, but be sure not to be exact in your measurements.
  • Make an effort to always be on the street. Whenever the company goes on the air for the meal or for fuel, get onboard. Even if you don't need to get something to eat, or you would rather stay in the station, get on and get out in the street. The more experience you gain simply riding and paying attention to how you get there, the more this will be recorded into your memory.
  • Undoubtedly you have a pager or scanner. When you're away from quarters, or not riding, keep a note of where your engine responded. When you have the time, write out how to get to each address from the station. Go out and drive what you wrote down and see if you are correct.
  • If your local paper lists the latest home sales in your area, look up the ones in your response area and see if you know where they are and how to get there.
  • Each time you go to your quarters, take a different route there and a different route back home.

That's all for this section. I hope the tips help you become more familiar with the area you'll be working in as a member of the engine company. None of this is rocket science, but just simple things passed down from one firefighter to another. In the next article, I'll give you a review section for this month that you can use in your own department, urban, suburban or rural. We'll also begin to discuss what you'll be getting into once you arrive. Let me know what you think. Until then, stay safe and share the knowledge.

William looks forward to hearing from readers of his articles and their experiences. He can be reached at [email protected].

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