March Roundtable Replies: Truck Doing Engine Work

In your department, would truck companies ever be expected to perform what is normally considered “engine” company functions? Here are replies to this month's Roundtable question from some Fire Engineering readers; read Skip Coleman's reply HERE.  

Thomas Dunne, deputy chief, Fire Department of New York

Response: Because of the size of the FDNY, there are generally an adequate number of engine companies for an operation. Ladder units are primarily used for their unique functions only. If an incident commander senses that he doesn’t have enough of either type of unit, a multiple alarm or special call will provide the resources he requires. If he is proactive in these requests, he will generally have them at the scene when needed, despite the traffic congestion that is typical of our city.
I have on occasion used available engines to perform secondary searches if I didn’t have fresh ladder personnel or to provide engine firefighters an opportunity to get some truck experience. But, other than for having firefighters from a tower ladder help stretch a supply line to their apparatus, I don’t recall ever using truck personnel for engine work. Our ladder members always help the engines repack hose once the fire is under control, but there has always been a good-spirited, traditional rivalry between engine and truck firefighters.
The fact is that engines and trucks each demand their own unique skills, and we’d be lost on the fireground if either’s functions were inadequately handled. In a large department, you are probably better off using an engine or a truck for its specialized work and allowing firefighters an opportunity to learn each function over the course of their career.    
David Wicker, lieutenant/acting captain, Glynn County Fire Department, Brunswick, Georgia 

Response: Our department has eight stations housing nine engines, two aerials, six ambulances, two minipumpers, a CFR, and a tanker. We respond to calls in the unincorporated areas of Glynn County (244 square miles) and provide aid to Brunswick and Jekyll Island Fire Departments. Working 24/48, we staff each engine with two people; a firefighter as a driver/operator and an officer or acting officer supervising the firefighter/driver.

Our two aerials are a 78-foot ladder and a 105-foot ladder-tower, each with a driver/operator only. Incident command is routinely established with assignments generally given by the incident commander to individuals on scene, not by unit, so the aerial operator might be on an attack line when the aerial device is not needed.

Catching a hydrant is sometimes a function of the aerials as well. The greater likelihood is that the ladder truck will remain in quarters unless the call is for an actual fire or a fire alarm in a commercial, multifamily, or multistory structure.

Engine carry extrication tools, further blurring the “traditional” duties of truck and engine companies. There is no distinction.

For our western-most station and southern-most station, backup is four and seven miles away, respectively, from their stations, not to mention that the distance to the scene could be miles farther.

Except for two stations, if a response zone has a particularly bad medical call where the engine operator has to drive the ambulance to the emergency room, the officer has the entire district to himself. Overall job knowledge is paramount.

Jason Whaley, firefighter/engineer/physician assistant/toxicology advisor, Greater Prudhoe Bay (AK) Fire Department 

Response: Ours is a rural/industrial department in arctic Alaska. While well-equipped, we have very different requirements than most departments, as we serve the nearby town and our own industrial hydrocarbon facilities, with no municipal hydrant system. We train on combined engine/truck tactics on a regular basis; we also cross-train roles to ensure department readiness. Truck companies regularly handle engine company duties on an as-needed basis, depending on the nature of the call. Hydrocarbon firefighting is also extremely different from structural firefighting, a significant part of our tactical training.
Jan A. Mottinger, chief, Bradford (OH) Fire & Rescue Services

Response:  In my department, every firefighter has to do what is necessary when arriving on the scene. Our department is a small-town volunteer fire and EMS organization that has limited daytime personnel on the first responding engine until mutual-aid fire departments respond.

In our area, all of the fire departments depend on each other to assist on fire calls. We work together as one department and do a good job. The incident commander assigns the first engine to the first necessary function and the second-in engine the next function.

Kevin Brophy, Firefighter, Syosset (NY) VFD

Response: Apparently, we agree, I have been responding since 1997, and it has always been expected that you could be assigned a task not necessarily consistent with the apparatus you arrived on. We have always taken care to train and cross-train for just this sort of contingency.

John Foley, former assistant chief, Center Moriches (NY) Fire Department

Response: As you said, ladder companies could be assigned to engine work, and vice-versa. Yes, it happens in our volunteer department all the time. However, in these days of shrinking staffing and the increased use of quints, it’s done in paid departments as well. Europe has been doing it for decades. We need to get out of the mindset that one particular piece of apparatus (or one crew) only does one job. We have to adapt; otherwise, we’ll be driving ourselves out of business.

Steve Cooper, deputy chief, Bloomfield (NJ) Fire Department

Response: Cross-training has been in place since we lost our second truck company in the last meltdown (in the 80s). At that time, we were running two-person (yes, an officer and a firefighter) engine companies, and firefighters were assigned as the rig arrived.  
Now, while we retain a three-“person” minimum on rigs, cuts have dictated that the headquarter engine company be closed, as needed, leaving three engines and one truck in our small city. This prevents the closing of a station completely. The truck has been equipped with an extra water "can" and a couple of extra lengths of hose for the standpipe pack" if they are needed. On occasion, the next-due engine will be out on a “still” or mutual aid, and it’s a long wait for water, as the town is long and thin in dimension.  
This was the case about a week ago when the truck arrived at a fire in the walls, apparently caused by soldering pipes. Seeing smoke on arrival, two men grabbed water extinguishers; the officer brought along a "multipurpose" hand tool. On arrival on the third floor, the walls were opened up and the "cans" were dumped into the burning stud space. Good thinking, good stop. 
This will become the norm as more senior firefighters retire to cut their losses. Had the crew waited for an engine company, it is likely the top floor/roof of the home would have been lost. I was not in charge of this particular operation, but I would expect nothing less from my shift.

 So, yes, the truck itself brings essential equipment to the scene, but the incident commander can use the personnel as he sees fit and the "truck equipment" may end up being used by other companies if the crew is committed elsewhere.     

I am aware that some departments in my county are worse off and are attacking working fires with less than the "recommended" minimum staffing. I fear the repercussions as much as I admire their dedication. I fear this will continue for several years before we see any hint of change for the better.

Ronnie Hicks, deputy chief/shift commander, San Diego (CA) Fire-Rescue

Response: Generally speaking, our Trucks perform truck work. However, due to "brown-outs" we have several districts that are only covered by a Truck company. In these areas we have placed Quints and these units will respond to incidents that normally would be considered "Engine" responses, i.e., vehicle fires, rubbish fires, vegetation fires, etc. In these cases we also respond the closet Engine to assist. On structure responses, Officers on these units have the option of performing fire attack ONLY if they can make a significant impact to the incident, i.e. fire is in the incipient stage, exposures are threatened, live hazard. Otherwise these units perform as trucks.

Ryan Morasch, captain, High River Fire Department, High River, Alberta

Response: We run five-man engines and a six-man, 75-foot quint for fires in town. Engines are first due with the quint next. Our quint crew does what ever is required to support the engine crew. Could be ventilation, exposures, search and rescue, or establishing an initial two-man RIT. Circumstances dictate the quints job but usually they do Ladder company ops as opposed to Engine tasks.

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