Determining Truck Priorities

By John W. Mittendorf

When a truck company that is typically staffed with three persons arrives at a structure fire as the first-in truck company, the officer has a formidable challenge–prioritizing fireground responsibilities. In the interest of simplicity, engine companies are normally focused on fire attack operations, but the responsibilities for truck companies can be more demanding as ladders, search and rescue, ventilation, utilities, forcible entry, salvage, and other similar operations may need to be accomplished. The challenge is being able to prioritize these operations AND complete them in a safe and timely manner with the aforementioned typical staffing of three while simultaneously incorporating accountability!

Therefore, let’s consider a simple method that will allow truck company personnel to implement a structural size-up in concert with truck company priorities.

While approaching the incident, consider the following:

  • Is there anything showing?
  • What is the type of building (residential or commercial)? As an example, a fire in a commercial occupancy at 0200 hours with dark windows will minimize search considerations, while the same conditions applied to a residential dwelling will maximize search considerations.
  • Develop your initial aerial device priority (access for personnel, rescue trapped occupants, elevated master streams).
  • Evaluate exposures (remember, fire is not static, so be prepared).
  • Determine wind direction (park on the windward side if possible).

Next, with this simple initial truck size-up, consider the five basic truck priorities (not listed in any particular order):

  • Ladders.
  • Inside operations
    • search and rescue
    • forcible entry
  • Ventilation.
  • Utilities and salvage.
  • Elevated master streams.

Now, divide or categorize your staffing as follows:

  • Inside operations (consists of all operations inside a structure and mandates accountability–minimum of two persons).
  • Outside operations (consists of exterior operations, and may not require accountability–i.e., ladders, utilities, exterior horizontal ventilation, etc).

Remember that the primary difference between a staffing of three and four is that four allows two operations with accountability (either inside or outside); three will only allow one operation inside with accountability and one person outside on limited operations, or one operation with three persons.

Finally, what specific needs does the incident dictate? In concert with the needs dictated by the incident, your ability to prioritize those needs, and your available staffing level, you should be able to quickly set your incident goals in a timely manner. Remember, your particular staffing can only accomplish so much. Therefore, some priorities may need to be delegated to other companies.

John W. Mittendorf joined the Los Angeles City (CA) Fire Department (LAFD) in 1963, rising to the rank of captain II, task force commander. In 1981, he was promoted to battalion chief and in the year following became the commander of the In-Service Training Section. In 1993, he retired from LAFD after 30 years of service. Mittendorf has been a member of the National Fire Protection Research Foundation on Engineered Lightweight Construction Technical Advisory Committee. He has provided training programs for the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Maryland; the University of California at Los Angeles; and the British Fire Academy at Morton-in-Marsh, England. He is a member of the editorial advisory board of Fire Engineering and author of the book Truck Company Operations (Fire Engineering, 1998).

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