Truck Company Basics: Reconnaissance

By Mark van der Feyst

One of the functions of a truck company operation is to conduct reconnaissance on the fireground. Whether it is conducted by an official truck company, rescue company, or engine company, reconnaissance is an important function that must be completed.  For all incident commanders (ICs), one frustrating aspect of an incident is being unsure of what is going on inside and around the structure during the first minutes of the situation. Knowing what is going inside as well as the outside will aid the IC in making good decisions.

Reconnaissance is a term that is used by the military as a part of their overall strategy. Reconnaissance means the process of getting information about enemy forces or positions by sending out small groups of soldiers or by using aircraft. In doing this, the military can pinpoint its efforts in a more concentrated manner. The fire service has adopted this principle with relation to fire attack. If we can gather information about our enemy’s position, we can also pinpoint our firefighting efforts in a more concentrated manner.

Fire truck in an apparatus bay

The truck company is a valued asset for gathering information that will help the IC direct resources to where they are needed. 

Reconnaissance should occur when we first arrive on scene. Certainly, reconnaissance is a part of our size-up process, but it is not going to take place continually. The truck company that arrives on scene will break up into smaller teams; one team will go inside and the other team will take care of the outside. Within these two groups are tasks that must be completed. A part of those tasks will be to conduct a reconnaissance of the structure and situation. This information will be relayed back to command to be processed. With this information, the IC will be able to direct the other resources at hand to mitigate the incident effectively.

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We should not confuse reconnaissance with progress reports from the interior or exterior crews. A progress report will inform the IC of the status of the assigned task, whereas a reconnaissance report will inform the IC of the circumstances or opposing forces that firefighters are going to face. Reconnaissance is a way of conducting a complete walk-around of the structure. For most structural fires, a single person can complete a walk-around, usually the first-arriving officer. Many buildings are small enough to facilitate this. The buildings that we respond to that are too big, too complex, or connected to other buildings will not allow a single person to complete a walk-around. This is where a small team who is assigned outside functions can complete the walk-around for the exterior concerns. The small team(s) can be assigned functions such as laddering the structure, shutting off utilities, ventilating windows, removing obstructions, forcing entry into the structure, setting up master streams etc. All these tasks will allow the small team(s) to go and gather information for the IC. The inside team will duplicate this with their assigned tasks.

So what kind of information does the truck company want to reconnaissance for? Let us look at five common areas that will be present at all structure fires.

Fire Location

Knowing where the fire is located is a crucial point of information that the IC and engine company need to know. Sometimes we can see where exactly the fire is located when we arrive on scene, but other times we cannot. Even though we can see visible flames or smoke exiting from the structure at a certain point, this does not necessarily indicate fire location. Visible flames and smoke can be deceiving and may lead us to the wrong location.  The truck company can aid in locating the fire when they are conducting their primary search. The inside team will have a much better vantage point as they will either start their search at the fire location or work towards it. When the fire location has been determined, the truck company can relay that information to the IC as well as the incoming engine company. This will cut down the amount of time taken by the engine company to locate the fire for themselves.    

Fire Extension

Once the location of the fire has been determined, the inside truck team can begin searching for fire extension. Fire extension may sometimes be the biggest and longest part of fire suppression as it requires chasing down the fire and stopping it. Extinguishing the main body of the fire will only take a few seconds, but locating and extinguishing fire extension will require some time. Locating where the fire has extended to is important, as it will direct other engine companies with their suppression activities. 

Salvage Operations

We tend to forget about salvage operations during structural fireground operations. The inside truck company will be able to identify which areas need to be salvaged right away and which areas can wait.  These areas can be determined during the initial primary search. Quick salvage operations will eliminate great losses financially for the property owner.     

Secondary Means of Egress

So far, we have looked at what the inside truck company team is able to accomplish with their reconnaissance.  The outside truck company team can contribute with their reconnaissance when it comes to locating the secondary means of egress. When the outside team is walking around the structure, they should be looking for the best locations for secondary exits. Whether the outside team ladder’s windows for this purpose or opens doors in other areas on the ground floor, they must communicate this information to the IC. This may also involve locating access points for aerial operations.  

Obstructions to Access/Egress     

 The outside team will be able to identify what obstructions may be present that could hinder access and or egress from the structure. These obstructions will have to be dealt with and removed so that they will not present a problem later. Other crews may be assigned to remove these obstructions based on the reconnaissance report given by the outside truck team. A good example of this is window bars. The initial outside team may not have the tools needed to remove the bars, but another team will be assigned by the IC to remove the bars on all the windows. 

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. He is a local level suppression instructor for the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy and an instructor for the Justice Institute of British Columbia. He is also the lead author of Residential Fire Rescue (Pennwell).



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