Any “Special Instructions”?


While responding to a second alarm in the tower ladder, the chauffeur told the covering officer to ask the dispatcher if there were any “special instructions” for our tower ladder. The officer looked at him kind of funny, but the chauffeur insisted he ask. The dispatcher responded with specific instructions for the tower ladder to respond in from a certain direction and to be prepared for an exterior operation. The chauffeur heard the instructions and gave the officer that “I told you so!” look.

Once back at quarters, the chauffeur gathered our company around and went over some important general response considerations for the tower ladder.

  • When responding to a multiple alarm or special-called as an additional unit to a fire or an emergency, the officer should ask the dispatcher if there are any special instructions for the tower ladder.
  • If the dispatcher says there aren’t any, ask him to check with the incident commander (IC) on-scene and see if he has any special instructions for the unit. Many times, if you are going to be put to work as a tower ladder, the IC will want you to respond in from a certain location to cover an opposite side of the fire building or the exposures. This positioning will also let other units know not to block access to the area around the fire, to move apparatus that may be blocking a specific area designated for the tower ladder, and to stretch a supply line to that location prior to your arrival.
  • If there are no specific instructions for tower ladder positioning, don’t commit and get blocked in; survey the scene and find the best possible position in case the unit has to be put to work.


Soon after this fire station discussion, snowstorms covered the neighborhood with an abundance of snow. Our daily drill focused on winter operations, with the following considerations:

  • Response times could be hampered by street conditions or blocked roadways. Try driving on main roads, which may be better plowed and maintained, to assist in response times.
  • Getting water on the fire could take longer because of the snow, which may obscure hydrants and slow down the hoseline stretch as firefighters try to maneuver through it.
  • Frozen hydrants may be a concern; you might have to relay water. You also might consider using a wet standpipe system in an adjoining building as a water source.
  • Carry a bucket of salt, ice melt, or sand on the apparatus to reduce the chances of a member’s slipping and being injured. You can use it under jacks/tormentor pads to prevent slippage.
  • Use a stokes basket or ladder to carry or drag equipment to the scene, if necessary. The drill discussions below apply specifically to operating safely on roofs in winter.
  • Operate slowly, and probe with a tool to prevent slipping off the roof or into a shaftway.
  • Look for melting snow or a steaming roof area for insight into where to cut; on peaked roofs, maintain a position on a roof ladder or operate from the safety of an aerial ladder or tower ladder bucket.
  • Freezing rain and snow can add more weight to a roof, which could mean an earlier collapse if fire has extended into the cockloft and attacked the roof joists.
  • Snow or ice could stop up the roof drains and not allow water runoff. Bring an ax to the roof to chop through the ice or area around the drains, if you can locate them.





Shortly after our drill discussions reviewing winter and specifically roof operations, our truck was special-called to a fire on the second floor of a two-story converted factory. As we pulled out onto the apron, the officer called the dispatcher, who said, “Stand by for your specific instructions.” As we began our response, the dispatcher said: “Report in with shovels, and take your company to the roof.” Luckily, we had just discussed this at drill, and we kept extra shovels on the apparatus for winter operations, so we were prepared to operate. From past experience, we learned to keep a few long-handled and D-handled flat shovels and a larger snow shovel on the apparatus.

Pulling up to the flat-roof converted factory, we saw heavy smoke issuing from the top floor. Maneuvering the apparatus around mounds of snow and cars was going to take a minute, so two firefighters with shovels, an ax, and a saw took an aerial ladder to the roof. When they got there, they encountered about two feet of snow and a layer of ice. Two other firefighters were feverishly attempting to get close enough to the roof’s surface to cut a ventilation hole. Pressing the saw directly into the snow only packed it down more solidly, and the saw was still too far off the roof’s surface to penetrate the roof decking. Once personnel arrived with shovels and began digging and scraping, the roof’s surface became visible.

One of the firefighters grabbed the saw and began to cut as the others continued to shovel out an appropriate size area for a roof vent. When the firefighter first placed the saw onto the roof’s surface, it almost kicked back when the blade hit the ice; the operator held it steady to prevent the kickback. (Remember, whenever your saw makes initial contact with a roof’s surface, the blade should be spinning at full rpm.)

While these operations were in progress, the other members of the company accessed the roof and probed the roof’s surface, trying to locate any skylights or scuttles under the snow. They didn’t find any.

This was an on-the-job learning experience and helped prepare us for our next incident with “special instructions.”

MICHAEL N. CIAMPO is a 24-year veteran of the fire service and a lieutenant in the Fire Department of New York. Previously, he served with the District of Columbia Fire Department. He has a bachelor’s degree in fire science from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. He is featured in “Training Minutes” truck company videos on


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