10 Tips for Truckies

Firefighters ascend an aerial ladder during a training evolution.

(Photo by Tony Greco)

Article by David DeStefano

The tips listed in the following article appear in random order and will prove useful to any firefighter assigned the traditional truck company functions of search and rescue, ventilation, and forcible entry. There are many more pieces of sound advice gained through training and experience than can be listed in this forum. However, these 10 should establish a starting point for a refresher on the basics of truck work and further discussion of the mastery of these skills.

1. Approach Slowly

With positioning critical for any aerial device, the driver/operator should take care to establish placement for maximum effectiveness based on the tactics to be employed. A good way to ensure prime positioning is to approach the building slowly. It is far better to fall short of the building and drive up, rather than pull up too far and attempt to back up in front of an active scene. In areas where overhead or curbside obstructions are numerous, the officer and/or other firefighters should dismount the rig and assist the driver/operator with positioning.

2. Maximize Your Scrub Zone

The scrub zone is the effective operational reach of an aerial device. The driver/operator should be knowledgeable about the capabilities and limitations of the aerial device he/she is driving, as well as the operating guidelines for specific incidents in their jurisdiction. The company officer should confer with the driver/operator upon approach (another reason for slow approaches) to determine the best position for the mission of the aerial device at a specific incident. In some cases, the concern may be reaching the roof; in other instances, access to upper floors on two sides of the building; or master stream operations may dictate positioning. Whatever the goal, the rig should be placed to give the aerial device its maximum span of use.

3. Reposition for Egress

Once vertical ventilation is complete and the roof team has descended, an aerial ladder often becomes a stationary stairway that remains set to the roof and unused until it is returned to the bed after the fire. This resource may often be better used after the initial operation is complete. A member of the roof team may set the aerial to the best available point of advantage. Depending on positioning, that may be the side opposite the fire on the fire floor, or the floor above the fire, or another tactically significant location. The key is to redeploy if possible and notify the incident commander (IC) so that all units operating on the interior will know they have a secondary means of egress in place.

RELATED TRAINING: Aerial Placement for Maximum Effectiveness | TRUCK COMPANY DO’S AND DON’TS

4. Master “The Irons” for Manual Forcible Entry

One of the major functions of the truck company is forcible entry. Members need to be proficient with the tools of the trade on a variety of doors and other applications. Firefighters need to know which way to turn the bevel of the halligan on which door, as well as where the adz is best used for prying. Sometimes manual application of leverage is not the proper course of action. In these scenarios members must know how to use through-the-lock tools and when to use the rotary saw or rabbit tool.

5. Know Who Has Your Back

Ladder company firefighters often conduct primary searches above and adjacent to fires as handlines are making a push on the main body of fire. In areas adjacent to the fire, truck members should try to put a door between their position and the fire whenever possible. The search team is also dependent on the position and progress of the engine company working on the fire. Their hoseline will help protect the search. The truck officer working near or above the fire should try to make face-to-face contact with the engine officer as his crew is getting into position. This will help ensure the engine company knows who is in this potentially exposed area and exactly where they intend to search. It then becomes the engine officer’s responsibility to be sure the ladder company members are safe before he withdraws from his hoseline for any reason.

6. Manage Your Search Based on Realistic Expectations

The majority of truck companies in the United States work with much less than ideal staffing. Our fireground operations are often well under-strength in the critical first few minutes after arrival, in which the chances of rescuing viable trapped occupants is greatest. Understanding the limitations of first-arriving units is key to developing realistic expectations. With two or three members available for a primary search in the first few minutes of operations at single and small multi-dwelling fires, the search team should find (or proceed to) the seat of the fire. The location should be communicated to the engine for a hoseline stretch if one is not already in place. The truck members can then begin a search in a location closest to the fire where viable victims may be found. The truck firefighters should also attempt to isolate the fire (or isolate their search) by closing a door or doors. As the team searches, they should make their way back to the egress point. This will facilitate rescue of those most endangered first, and place the searchers closest to the egress when their air supply is lowest. Attempting to search too large an area with one team will risk the safety of the searchers and the thoroughness of the search.

7. The Big Three

While conducting any interior operations, all firefighters must perform a continual size-up for survival. This includes the following three questions: Where am I? How much air do I have? How do I get out? If you can’t answer any of these questions as you proceed with your search or other function, you must transmit a Mayday without delay.

8. Report Your Status

While conducting a primary search, truck company firefighters may provide situational reports to the IC that will serve to pinpoint the progress of the search as well as update the IC with current conditions. The officer of the search team may use the LCAN acronym in transmitting the radio report. This format serves as a reminder to include the location, conditions, actions, and needs (if any) of the reporting unit.

RELATED TRAINING: First-Due Battalion Chief: The CanThoughts From The Can Position | Reporting Your LCAN  

9. Bring the “Can”

Most truck companies provide for a tool assignment that includes a pressurized water extinguisher (can). This valuable tool can serve to knock down an incipient fire or darken down a fire in a compartmented space until a line can be stretched. The “can firefighter” can discharge the extinguisher then close the door of the fire room to isolate the fire and promote steam conversion. This simple action of using a small amount of water and isolating the fire is often successful in holding the fire while aggressive searches are conducted in other offices or apartments adjacent to the compartment of origin. Truck company firefighters should not leave the can behind just because they know a line is going to be stretched.

10. Maintaining Orientation during Multi-Room Searches

When searching multiple small rooms or apartments, firefighters should use an appropriate orientation method to provide greater safety and efficiency. The search team officer may maintain orientation at the door after scanning the room with a thermal imaging camera (TIC). Firefighters may then enter to conduct a hands-on search with the officer using the TIC, providing a beacon with his hand light and rapping on the doorframe or threshold to help provide several means of orientation back to the door. This method also allows the officer to monitor radio transmissions as well as conditions in the hallway. Firefighters can search with added confidence knowing that any need for assistance will receive a rapid response and their means of egress will be maintained. A number of small compartmented areas can be searched efficiently using this form of oriented search.

In other situations, search team members may use a search rope or webbing secured to the lower door hinge to provide rapid access back to the egress. In addition, a hand light equipped with a strap may be secured to the bottom hinge to act a beacon to find the door. The importance of continued awareness of the egress for the benefit of withdrawing firefighters as well as rapid victim rescue cannot be overemphasized.


Although the tips mentioned in this article are geared primarily toward truck company functions, there are many aspects of work suitable for engine company members or firefighters that may only occasionally be assigned ladder company duties. The best use of this list is to spark discussion in the firehouse involving what methods your companies use to achieve these goals and how these or other tips may be applied to your jurisdictions personnel, type of occupancies, and department policies.   

David DeStefanoDavid DeStefano is a 26-year veteran of the North Providence (RI) Fire Department, where he serves as captain of Ladder Co. 1. He was previously assigned as a Lieutenant in Ladder 1 and Engine 3 and a firefighter in Ladder 1. He has a master’s degree in public administration and a bachelor’s degree in fire science. He is an instructor/coordinator for the Rhode Island Fire Academy and teaches a variety of fire service topics throughout Southern New England. He can be reached at dmd2334@cox.net.

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