BY JIMM WALSH
Truck company functions are essential for a successful outcome on the modern day fireground. The core mission of the fire service to save lives and protect property cannot be accomplished without using truck company functions. Although some people may not want to openly admit it, a strong truck company can make an engine company’s job much easier.
It’s not often you hear the terms aggressive and safe in the same sentence. Many people associate the term aggressive with unsafe, particularly when it comes to truck company functions. Despite what some may think, the fireground can actually be made safer through the execution of aggressive truck company functions. Some of the core truck functions like forcible entry, ventilation, and search when performed in a timely manner can actually make the fireground safer for everyone.
Unfortunately, there is a common misunderstanding in the fire service that all aggressive actions are unsafe. As a result, many fire departments have become overly conservative on the fireground. Unfortunately, this is causing us to lose valuable time within which we can operate in a safe fashion. As time passes and the fire progresses, our actions on the fireground can place us in greater danger. This whole cycle can be avoided if crews are trained to take aggressive action early, in a safe and coordinated fashion.
There has recently been a tremendous effort to apply scientific research to help us better understand the modern fireground. In particular, the Underwriters Laboratory (UL) National Institute Standards and Technology (NIST) and FDNY’s research focusing on flow paths and ventilation have been some of the most significant. These studies demonstrated the importance of understanding flow paths and their effect on the fire. This new understanding of flow paths, combined with knowledge of the differences in modern building contents and construction, are essential to our safety on the fireground. Some may read these studies and use them as justification to not perform truck functions, but some could also argue that these studies could also highlight exactly why we need to perform truck functions on every fireground. To be successful on the modern day fireground, we must intelligently adapt this new science to tried and true fireground experience. Before performing any task on the fireground, we must be able to answer the following questions: Where is the fire now? Where has it been? What has it done? What is it going to do? Being able to read fire conditions and building construction are important skills for anyone performing truck functions.
One of the ways we can make aggressive truck functions safer is to work in a more efficient manner. Because of staffing reductions and limited staffing situations that many departments are facing, we must improve our efficiency on the fireground. It is unfortunate, but many departments have been forced to reduce staffing or eliminate truck companies altogether. As a result, truck functions are not being performed on many firegrounds. One the ways we can increase the potential for truck functions to be successfully performed is to implement the two-team concept. The two-team concept splits the essential truck functions into two teams: an inside team and an outside team. Splitting these tasks prevents duplication of effort and allows us to operate more efficiently with fewer personnel. The inside team should focus on forcible entry and search, and the outside team should focus on forcible egress, ventilation, and vent-enter-search (VES.) Splitting the tasks and using riding assignments allow for a more efficient division of labor that works well if truck functions have to be split and assigned to different crews.
The only way to ensure a successful fireground operation is through a coordinated fire attack. An engine company’s effectiveness and safety are directly related to the timely execution of truck functions. Calculated decisions made by competent fire officers will allow for aggressive functions to be accomplished on the fireground in a safe manner. However, the decision to execute aggressive truck functions cannot be made on the fireground. The commitment must happen ahead of time. Having standard operating guidelines and riding assignments in place and using realistic hands-on training to perfect your truck skills are paramount. Crews must show up expecting to perform certain truck functions to be successful. We need to make sure that we train until every member of our department can and will perform truck functions without hesitation. Aggressive truck functions save lives! Aggressive truck functions will allow everyone on the fireground to work in a safer and more efficient manner.
Jimm Walsh, EFO, CFO, CTO, is a division chief with the Winter Park (FL) Fire Department and is the owner of VentEnterSearch.com. He has lectured around the nation on various fire-related subjects including leadership and truck company functions. He has a bachelor’s degree in public administration from the University of Central Florida.