Article and photos by David DeStefano
As a firefighter, company officer, or chief, have you considered the efficiency of your first-in engine and ladder company at building fires? The actions of these companies set the pace and are usually your best chance at a successful offensive attack. What are the most important objectives of these first-arriving companies, and what tactics may be employed to best preserve life and property? They are Locate, Confine, and Extinguish.
The initial engine and truck must make significant progress toward these goals at every incident to rescue occupants and limit the spread of fire. The tactics employed by the first-in units must be coordinated and decisive to find the fire and conduct rescues while victims are still viable.
A well-coordinated attack should place the truck company in a position where its aerial device can best be used for rescue or ventilation. Depending on the fire, vertical and/or horizontal vent may necessary. With short-staffed companies, the first truck may start these actions, and the members of the second ladder company may reinforce them.
Simultaneously, truck company members need to force entry as required and begin a search for trapped occupants and finding the seat of the fire. Given that the most endangered occupants will be closest to the fire, finding the fire, reporting its location to the first-in engine, and conducting a search for victims from the seat of the fire back out to the point of egress is usually a primary set of tasks for the first-in truck company.
On locating the seat of the fire, ladder company members must attempt to confine the fire while the line is stretched for extinguishment. This can often be accomplished by simply closing and maintaining control of a door. Slowing the spread of fire and smoke to common halls or other rooms will not only make the engine company's job easier, but it will also facilitate searches in areas near the fire. Control of doors in conjunction with the use of a pressurized water extinguisher will buy time while truck members continue to search for occupants now that the fire has been located.
With truck company members finding the seat of the fire, the engine company will be able to make the most efficient stretch possible using the best route to the fire. Based on location and building layout, this may include outside stretches via a window, balcony, fire escape, or a portable ladder. The first-in engine officer and nozzle team must be able to quickly decide on the diameter and length of line required as well as the best route to the seat of the fire. These decisions are best made as the result of preplanning and knowledge of the district. Often, companies will respond to the same types of buildings in their district, making certain stretches common in particular buildings. By stretching to a neutral point in a stairwell or corridor, the engine has a line nearby but still uncommitted so that a change of location will not create a major delay in deployment.
With the initial actions outlined, here the first-in engine and truck company work together with clear assignments and a division of responsibility that ensure expedient searches will be made for life and fire. Once found, the fire will be confined, if possible, to facilitate search and rescue and permit an attack line to be stretched. The engine company may now stretch its line with confidence that the line is being committed to the correct location. These actions will result in the most efficient extinguishment possible, thus protecting firefighters and civilians alike.
Firefighters of all ranks and assignments should take the time to review how efficiently their first-in engine and truck companies operate. Use a standardized and reliable method of searching for life and fire and confining fire spread and the products of combustion. This will make efficient extinguishment more likely on the fireground by allowing the engine company to stretch its line quickly to the correct location using the best possible route.
(1) The truck company gets first position down a narrow alley to maximize use of aerial.
(2) An engine company firefighter begins to stretch in while first in truck company ladders the building and searches for life and fire.
David DeStefano is a 23-year veteran of the North Providence (RI) Fire Department, where he serves as a lieutenant in Ladder Co. 1. He previously served as a lieutenant in Engine 3 and was a firefighter in Ladder 1. He teaches a variety of topics for the Rhode Island Fire Academy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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