The position of the driver is not a glorious position within the fire service, but it is a very necessary one. As with a football team, the quarterback or wide receiver is the desired position to play because of the attention they receive from their scoring or passing of touchdowns. However, they gain their glory based on the team’s other members’ abilities to do their jobs.
The driver is one of those hidden positions that is required for the rest of the team to prosper. What the driver does for the crew will have an impact on how well that crew will function and operate. Success only comes from all team members working together.
It is fitting that we are now entering the winter season. The driver’s number-one job is to drive in a safe and defensive manner. The fire trucks we are given are not lightweight cars but rather heavy pieces of machinery that require special skills to operate. One area you need to address is the braking distance; the heavier the vehicle, the greater the braking distance is required. Normally, for a fire apparatus, it will require about a four- to seven-second gap between vehicles, depending on how fast you are going. Always remember to use your defensive driving skills and scan the roadway ahead of you so that you can anticipate problems that will require you to use the brakes.
Besides driving and operating the pump, what else can a driver do to help out the team? For starters, he can help with laddering the outside of the building as part of the proactive fireground activities. Once a pump has been put in gear and water has been delivered to the hoselines, the driver only monitors the pump. He can also place ground ladders at windows around the structure to provide a means of egress and access for the other crews operating on the fireground (photo 1).
In a world of staffing limitations, the driver can also help with laddering. One firefighter can ladder second- or third-story windows, but this takes practice through training to be done effectively. Ladders are a great asset on the fireground for interior and exterior crews, and the driver can be of great assistance here, if needed.
The driver can also help advance hose off of the apparatus. Sometimes, the first-arriving crew is not completely dressed in proper personal protective equipment and self-contained breathing apparatus. So, while they are donning their gear, the driver can help pull off the handline from the preconnect hose bed and advance it for the crew to the front door (photo 2).
By the time the crew is dressed, the line is ready for water and to be advanced into the structure. In the meantime, the pump has already been engaged and is circulating water from the onboard water tank to the pump. A good driver will be able to put his pump into gear, have the pump circulating water, and can also pull off the line for a quick stretch before the crew is fully dressed, if necessary.
The driver can also help advance the line into the structure (photo 3) or feed hose inside the building from the exterior and stage the hose closer to the building’s entrance. As the hoseline is stretched off the apparatus, there will be a sizeable length remaining on the exterior. The driver can loop and bring this length of hose to the front door or entrance for when interior crews need more, allowing for an easier advancement.
The driver can also listen attentively to the radio to pick up on certain transmissions. If the driver hears that a team needs certain equipment, he can grab it for them and bring it to the front door (or in the vicinity) to cut down on the amount of time a member might need to come outside and get it himself.
On the scene of a motor vehicle accident that requires extrication tactics, the driver can be instrumental in the overall operation. Team members must use certain tools immediately. However, as the incident unfolds, other items may be needed. If the operation is going into an extended time or different tools are required for a change in tactics, the driver can bring those tools ahead of time based on his knowledge and observations of the incident (photo 4).
In addition, if the driver is close enough to the accident, he will be able to hear the communication between the members and know what they must do next. He can also spell a working member if that member becomes fatigued or exhausted.
If the apparatus is an aerial, the driver will have extra duties in its operation regarding water delivery or its access to an elevated area. Great skill is required to operate an aerial device, and you need to always be aware of your surroundings (i.e., power lines, and so on).
Depending on the number of firefighters responding and the order in which the fire truck arrives, the driver may be a part of the crew for interior or exterior operations or he may be asked to assist with another driver with his duties. He can also be used by command for accountability or as a scribe.
Being the driver is not very glorious (except for, perhaps, the lights and sirens), but it is certainly a required position that requires great dedication and training.
Photos by author.
Mark van der Feyst has been in the fire service since 1999 and is a full-time firefighter in Ontario, Canada. He is an international instructor teaching in Canada, the United States, and India, and at FDIC. Van der Feyst is a local level suppression instructor for the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy. He is also the lead author of Residential Fire Rescue (Fire Engineering Books & Video).
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