BIG TRUCK, SMALL TOWN
BY DAVE GALLAGHER
The small fire department faces no less a challenge to its existence than its urban counterpart. Funding, staffing, and training are issues across the board of any fire service organization. In looking toward the small department, the realization is occurring that the small town charm is grudgingly giving way to the urban sprawl. Cornfields are going condo, light to large industry is looking for large areas of pristine land, and farms are turning into strip malls.
All three projected occupancies depend heavily on aggressive truck company operations for successful extinguishment of a structure fire.
Many small departments find themselves in a quandary. The budget will not permit a half-million dollar expense, and staffing is a problem. How does a department decide on the training that is best for it, and how does it start up a proper truck company where none has been before?
Anticipating and planning for community growth, putting truck company training into effect now, and preparing to expand those functions will help to prepare small towns to face these new challenges.
DETERMINE WHAT IS HAPPENING
First, the department must research what is happening. It should check with the zoning board, for example, to determine which parcels of land are for sale, who made offers for them, and the locations of the roadway improvements being planned. Also, determine which other resources can provide a “behind the scenes” glimpse. The demographics of an area are also helpful. Is a new industry arriving nearby, offering increased employment that will lead to a demand for new housing and support services? Are the economic indicators pointing toward area expansion?
Is public opinion weighing on the fire department? Do the civic leaders want to see an increase in any service the department presently provides? Cite the Insurance Services Office (ISO) and the importance of acquiring additional equipment to meet its criteria and the level of increased service desired. Talk to the industry representatives to get a feel for what they expect from the fire department. This may also assist you in demonstrating to your leaders the need for a specific type of apparatus. Invite the representatives before your governing body and have them explain these needs. The officials and their insurers know full well that their rates depend on the ISO rating of the authority having jurisdiction.
All of the above will also help you in selling the idea to your department and a skeptical public that may not be in favor of bringing about what appears to them to be the demise of the present small-town lifestyle. Demonstrate how developing the capabilities of the fire department will benefit them as well.
WHICH TYPE OF APPARATUS?
Determining the type of apparatus that will be needed must be approached in an organized and logical manner. Numerous factors must be considered. First, what is the apparatus expected to do? Will there be a dedicated ladder or truck company, or is the department considering the quint route? The advantages and disadvantages of each must be thoroughly examined. Although some will smack their fists during meetings and swear that one approach is far better than the other, the needs of the community`s citizens and business owners must be the primary considerations.
By considering travel routes, bridge clearances and weight limits, and turning radii, it may be possible to arrive at a solution that will meet the criteria of what is needed, what is wanted, and what can be afforded. As an example, it is possible to “borrow” from a new or used apparatus dealer a vehicle that can be used under the same conditions for which the new apparatus is being contemplated so that it can be assessed. Don`t forget to consider the mutual-aid departments with which you work. Have them drive the apparatus as well. Be sure that the new vehicle will also fit into the fire station that will house it.
It will be necessary to work on the attitude of the internal customers, your firefighters. The at-titudes of “what do we need with this?” and the ever popular “we`ve always done it this way” may be tough to overcome. Training toward proficiency in truck company operations is one thing, and it may be tough, too; but bringing in that big monster aerial may just be a bit overwhelming. On the flip side, you may have the “I can drive anything” member, who just can`t wait to get in and go, not realizing the limits of the big rig and the importance of proper aerial apparatus placement.
This brings us to another important area–specific operator training. Putting a large vehicle into a driver`s hands must be done with great consideration and is not a short-term training matter. Canned driver`s courses; NFPA 1002, Fire Apparatus Driver/Operator Professional Qualifications–1998; and other information are available from your state fire academy. A certified training program must be developed. It will cost a bit but nowhere near the cost of a lawsuit that challenges your driver`s training and experience!
It will take some time to break the hold of the engine-only concept of firefighting. Security comes with familiarity. Letting go of that hoseline can be a scary thing. When beginning training to plant the seeds of truck company operations, begin with a program that has merit. Video presentations are available. If money is a problem, borrow videotapes from the state fire academy`s library. Begin by holding smoke drills in your station; if smoke machines are not available, put wax paper in the masks for simulation. Move to acquired structures or other appropriate facilities; then develop marketable skills such as rapid intervention teams that can assist your neighbors. In the acquired structure, if you cannot burn it down, tear it down!
INTRODUCING THE AERIAL DEVICE
Introducing an aerial ladder device to a department that has never had one can be akin to bringing a 4 2 4 pickup to a Corvette show. The troops are not familiar with this new monster, therefore they are not comfortable with it.
The inevitable “we don`t need that thing” and “we`ve always done it with engines” will be heard. The short reply is, “Sure, but we`ve never had a three-story apartment building or Super Mart here either.” Keep in mind that it can be difficult for firefighters to think that a new playbook may be coming down the pike. They may just be getting the hang of the current one. Some members may be looking at the need for additional training that must be incorporated into an already stretched personal schedule. It may be overwhelming.
Preparing the Firefighters
Some of the following suggestions may be helpful for dealing with your firefighters when considering the addition of truck company operations or an aerial device to your department.
Driver/operator training must be specific and will not be short term. Your people and the department`s administrators need to know that the process cannot be rushed.
Appeal to those in your organization that may have a background in heavy equipment. Let them talk up the aspect of how this rig can help your overall effort. Use them in the training program to explain hydraulic systems, PTOs, generators, and so on. They will probably appreciate the chance to be involved and will make a difference.
Use canned programs for forcible entry, ventilation, and truck company operations. There`s no need to reinvent the wheel to get the fundamentals of truck company operations across. Plenty of highly informative programs are available in book and video format. Check with your state or county academy`s film library to see if you can borrow them, or contact a neighboring department. Chances are that the department covering the county seat may have something available.
Ask your neighbors. If a nearby department has an aerial device, call up the training officer and ask what his training program is like. Perhaps you may be able to get a copy of the operator`s handbook used to clear that department`s personnel.
Rely on NFPA 1002 requirements for a practical driving checkoff, or see about an emergency driver`s course.
Remember to run a day and night session. That ladder truck has some tough spots to see in the dark.
Watch your one member who tells you, “I can drive anything.”
Start training your members well before the aerial device arrives. It`s not a set-up-and-go concept.
Have a realistic list of needed tools and equipment. Do your homework; do not rely on just transferring the tools and equipment for an old vehicle. If you are going with an aerial device or are designating another vehicle to perform truck work, you need the right equipment for your district and budget.
Realistic training is needed. “Theory” training is good for background preparation, but to be truly effective you need to reinforce the theory with hands-on.
Begin by assigning one of your first-alarm responding units to truck operations on a rotating basis. This can be a month-by-month or other scheduled method.
Again, refer to canned, high-quality training videos for introducing the concepts of primary search and other operations without a hoseline.
Run practical drills involving engine operations and truck functions. Work the crews together, but keep the objectives separate. The truck crew does not need to hump hose during the primary search.
In the beginning, use a smoke machine if you have one. If not, placing wax paper in a face piece will work.
If your firefighters are comfortable, move to acquired structures. Tear them down if you can`t burn them. You can do primary search drills in unfamiliar structures without having to get burn permits.
When you can get an acquired structure for live fire exercises, give the assigned truck functions crew-specific objectives:
–Get to the second floor, and open the appropriate window for horizontal ventilation (timed).
–Complete vertical vent in less than three minutes.
–Primary search with appropriate radio traffic (1,000 square feet in 10 minutes).
–Start and operate each piece of power equipment in a specific, real-world time.
–Throw a 24-foot ladder with one person, and complete a VES of a second-floor bedroom in a set time.
You can set your own times, but keep in mind that a member or crew strives more when aiming for a definite goal.
INTRODUCING THE TRUCK COMPANY
Selecting the individual who will be riding in charge of the truck company must be done carefully. When planning for the addition of truck company operations, be sure to establish criteria for selecting that individual. The group leader of a truck company or a crew should have more than just one or two years on the job. These operations call for a member with good common sense, maturity, and experience.
Operating without a hoseline can be dangerous, and good decisions must be made to ensure the crew`s safety. While staffing of the apparatus will be determined by member availability, it is highly recommended that at least three members, preferably four, be onboard. The truck needs to get in position quickly and begin operating as soon as possible as a fast, well-placed vent or an elevated master stream.
Truck company SOPs must be encompassing but should not constitute micromanaging. If using a quint-type apparatus that has the capability of running as an engine, remember that that big aerial device for which you paid will do little good parked at a hydrant 300 feet away.
Try to have a minimum of three–four or five would be better–respond on the vehicle.
If the crew is responding from home, you will need to balance the expense of response time vs. crew size. It may or may not be counterproductive to wait too long for the fourth, or sometimes even the third, member`s arrival at the station.
With a dedicated aerial device, the truck must arrive as rapidly as possible and set up quickly. A well-placed and well-timed roof vent, ladder placement, or elevated master stream device can make a great difference in the operation`s outcome.
On its arrival, a quint should set up in front of the structure. This will give the company officer the flexibility of starting truck company operations or attacking the fire as an engine company and having the second-arriving vehicle assume the truck functions. Even if the second or later-arriving unit, the front of the structure must be left open for the truck–with no exceptions!
With your new aerial vehicle, it may be advantageous to establish automatic mutual-aid responses (AMAR) with your neighbors. You may find that one of the departments may need an aerial device or a rapid intervention team (RIT) for its operations. This can keep your people active and motivated. In return, you may receive a function your department needs such as an AMAR tanker, a reciprocal RIT, training, and so on. This arrangement may even lead to a regional approach on other issues (see below).
Plan for Downtime
In addition, you must have a plan in place to fill in for the vehicle when it is down for routine or nonroutine maintenance.
Another vehicle can take over as a “service truck.” A reserve medic, engine, or other utility vehicle can carry personnel and enough equipment to perform truck functions.
Arrangements must be made with jurisdictions in an AMAR agreement to ensure there is no lack of coverage. This may mean changing dispatching assignments.
The truck company can have nontraditional uses also. In fact, in this age, staying viable means entering nontraditional roles such as special rescue, which is a natural extension of truck company operations. The ladder vehicle is a large toolbox on wheels and can be fitted with an abundance of equipment. Departments wishing to expand their services can look into areas of high-angle, confined-space, and trench rescue. Training and equipping for such efforts can be complex and expensive. A multijurisdictional approach in which the talents and funds of departments are combined may be the way to start.
What at first may seem to be a large, cumbersome, and techno-frightening rig rumbling into town may actually be the mechanism for bringing the local fire department to the forefront of the community`s attention.
(Left) Former vacant or agricultural lands are being sought for major development. (Right) Apartments are being built at a rapid pace. These will be three-story units. Can your present equipment make a rescue here? (Photos by Sarah Gallagher.)
Good, honest, hands-on training is a must. The tools must be brought out and used. (Photo by Kevin Coffee.)
Get all of your crews together and drill to experience coordinated, but separate, efforts. (Photo by Sarah Gallagher.)
You never know what the truck will be called to do. The team leader has to be competent. (Photo by Sarah Gallagher.)
DAVE GALLAGHER, a third-generation firefighter, is a 23-year veteran of the fire service and a career lieutenant with the Huber Heights (OH) Fire Department. He is also a member of the Trotwood (OH) Fire Department, where he served on the committee for its first dedicated duty ladder company. He is an Ohio state-certified fire instructor and teaches at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio.