On the Line: Second Due is Second to None

By David DeStefano

True to the aggressive nature of firefighters, we all want to be first in, on the first line, searching closest to the seat of the fire. However, the strategy of firefighting requires operations to be prioritized, with order of arrival the deciding factor in the assignment of most resources on the fireground. With that fact established, members arriving on the second-due engine and ladder company must realize that their functions are every bit as important to bringing the incident to a safe and efficient conclusion as the first-in companies.

Although each jurisdiction may have its own policies or guidelines, some common decisions that must be made and tactics employed by the second-due engine company are as follows:

Water supply/fire department connection (FDC)

In many jurisdictions, the second-in engine is responsible for water supply as the first-in engine stretches an attack line or investigates an incident where there is “nothing showing.” Upon confirmation of a working fire, the second-due engine, if still en route, must select the most advantageous approach to the scene in which a water source may be secured. The company officer must consider street access, distance from supply to scene, and the estimated flow capabilities of the source. If the first-in company is still investigating as the second-due engine approaches the scene, these factors must evaluated and the water supply company must stage at the last (best) water supply. In many cases involving a larger building being investigated, the second-due engine maintains a position staged at or before a water supply on the block before the building. In this way, if the companies investigating find a fire that is difficult for the first-in engine to reach with attack lines, the second engine may be able to move into the position of primary pumper. Many departments team the first-in engine and truck together to investigate alarms or reports of fire in a building equipped with standpipes. This often leaves the job of supplying the FDC to the second-in engine.

Backup Line

In addition to supplying water for the primary pumper, the second engine, when possible, may assume the role of the backup line. This function is critical to the safety of the initial attack. The backup line should be at least the same diameter as the initial attack line, follow the same path, and be at least one length longer than the attack line. The longer length will assist if the first line was stretched short or the fire has spread laterally within the range of the backup line’s position. Engine company members on the backup line must show restraint and discipline. To prevent interference with movement of the attack line, firefighters on the backup line should remain at the last turn, doorway, or landing unless they are needed to operate their line on the fire.

Assist with 2 ½-inch Line

With many departments operating short-staffed, stretching and operating a 2 ½-inch handline for interior attack is often an overwhelming challenge. The second-due engine may be called upon to assist in operating and advancing this line if the primary pumper already has a reliable water supply.

The second-due ladder company also has a set of responsibilities that contain unique as well as overlapping assignments. The traditional ladder company functions of ventilation, forcible entry, and search usually require reinforcements from at least one additional truck company beyond the first-in unit.


In support of the first-in ladder company, the second-due truck should ideally approach from a different direction and position on a different side of the fire building to optimize the use of their aerial device for rescue, master streams, or to provide a second means of access to and egress from the roof. Often at least one member of the second-in truck will ascend to the roof to assist the first-in company with vertical ventilation when there are no immediate rescues to be made over ladders.

Ground Ladders

The second-in ladder company may raise ground ladders to the fire building in support of suppression efforts or to prepare a second means of egress for members in distress. Depending on department policy, the fire floor opposite the seat of the fire as well as the floor above the fire are high priorities for ladder placement.

Searching Above the Fire

With the first-due ladder company searching the fire floor, the floor above the fire is often the first priority of the second-due truck’s search efforts. Looking for life as well as fire extension, members are in a vulnerable position working above the fire and must constantly monitor conditions as well as the progress of the fire attack underway below them.

Additional Access/Egress

The first-in ladder company may only be able to force a primary entrance point to initiate the search for life and fire and facilitate the hose stretch into the building. With security-conscious occupants and vacant structures, additional entry and egress challenges may await the second in truck. Window bars, roll down shutters, or boarded windows need to be opened to provide egress or ventilation for companies operating on the interior. This work may be assigned to the second-in truck company.

There are many important tasks that are assigned to second-due engine and ladder companies as mentioned in the preceding paragraphs. These duties may vary based on jurisdictional requirements, but having policies in place to guide the actions of these companies is invaluable to be sure they are completed in a timely manner at every incident. Although every firefighter wants search for occupants and locate the seat of the fire or stretch the first handline, each task on the fireground is important if the operation is to be conducted safely and efficiently.

Maintaining Accountability with Automatic Status ChecksDavid DeStefano is a 23-year veteran of the North Providence (RI) Fire Department, where he serves as a lieutenant in Ladder Co. 1. He previously served as a lieutenant in Engine 3 and was a firefighter in Ladder 1. He teaches a variety of topics for the Rhode Island Fire Academy. He can be reached at dmd2334@cox.net.



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