Suburban Fire Tactics: Accounting for Truck Functions in a Non-Truck World

By Jim Silvernail

(1) Photo by author.

All fire service agencies are tasked with the same fireground objectives. We respond to fires with the main goals of saving lives, protecting property, and safeguarding the environment. Unfortunately, all fire departments are not created equally; each has unique circumstances that affect tactical implementation. One of the main circumstantial differences is the lack of dedicated truck or ladder companies. Does that mean that truck company functions are not performed on the firegrounds of these agencies?  If you answered yes, then catastrophe and fireground failure are lurking around the corner.

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Truck company operations at structure fires are essential for fireground safety and operational success. Often during after-action reports, simple discussions, or even National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health line-of-duty-death reports, it can be discovered that many of the operational failures can be attributed to a lack of or improperly executed truck company functions. Examples of these tasks include the following:

·                  Improper ventilation.

·                  Not locating the fire in a timely manner.

·                  Not conducting timely or thorough searches for victims.

·                  Failure to contain extension.

·                  Failure to place ladders or remove obstructions to create multiple egress points for interior operations.

·                  Failure to control utilities.

These examples illustrate the underlying issues and cascading negative events associated with ineffective tactics. The real issue is failure to implement the fireground priorities necessary for the consistent achievement of fireground objectives.


Tactical implementation begins with the prioritization of fireground functions. This task is dependent on your agency’s abilities, constraints, and resource capabilities. If you operate in a system that does not have engines and trucks responding from the same close proximity, your task assignment differs from agencies that do. Your assignment may not be dictated by the type of apparatus on which you respond but will be assigned or assumed through arrival order and prioritization of functional needs. Technically, this is considered a ‘functional’ system as opposed to a ‘positional’ system of dedicated trucks and engines.

Priorities begin with the objectives. Saving life, protecting property, and conserving the environment typically all have the same common theme: “Remove the hazard, and the problem goes away.” It is not always that easy–but not far from the point. With the rare occurrence of initial rescues from an exterior location or qualifying vent-enter-search (VES), the initial priority is to deploy an attack line for fire attack and search operations. Therefore, it can be stated: “No other action taken on the fireground saves more lives or property than selecting the proper size attack line, stretching it  to the correct location, and placing it in service at the proper time.”

On the surface, this priority statement looks like an engine company function. Deploying attack lines and applying water are absolutely engine company operations; however, analyze the entire comment. There are three elements to this statement: (1) size, (2) location, and (3) time. Often, we fail because we take the entire equation for granted. How do you get the right-size attack line in the correct location at the right time? What is the right time? The right time is as soon as possible. Fast water is always the right answer at any structure fire.

Good engine companies and effective truck companies put attack lines in the correct location quickly. There is more to placing an attack line in service than pulling it off the apparatus. Many associated functions must occur to facilitate the success of the attack line; these facilitating functions are also known as truck company operations.

The truck company functions with the highest priority are those that directly facilitate the attack line and aid with victim search and removal. These actions are often associated with, or conducted on, the fire floor. They include the following:

·                  Forcible entry.

·                  Fire location.

·                  Search and rescue.

·                  Ventilation (horizontal) or building control (limiting ventilation until coordinated fire attack occurs).

Even after accounting for the fire-floor truck operations, there are still more truck company functions that must be implemented for a consistently safe, effective, and efficient fireground. Often, one assigned truck company is not enough to achieve all essential truck needs. This is especially true if the assigned company has a minimal staffing level, such as three personnel. Therefore, assigning at least one more truck company should be considered.  The second company may be given the following functions to accomplish:

·                  Laddering

·                  Searching above the fire floor.

·                  Vertical ventilation (if not already completed).

·                  Utility control.

·                  Additional forcible entry or removal of egress obstructions.

·                  Salvage and overhaul.


Developing an Effective Functional System

Dedicated truck and ladder companies are not the only companies that can conduct truck company operations. In a functional system, it does not matter what is or isn’t on top of your apparatus that decides your function on the fireground. It is the arrival order and task priority that dictates the function of the crew. Truck company refers to the crew, not the type of apparatus. To avoid confusion, in many instances ladders that also operate as engines are referred to as aerials. The apparatus are also commonly known as quints. This distinguishes the apparatus from the company, or crew.

For this system to operate effectively, there must be a game plan, known as a standard operating procedure or guideline or a preferred operating method. The plan has to be in place prior to tactical implementation, members should be familiar with it and thoroughly trained in it. Complete training in each function is necessary especially because the tasks do not have a dedicated assignment.

Tactical implementation and creating a game plan are specific to agency characteristics. They are not “one-size fits all” policies. They depend on staffing, response area characteristics, and available resources. Regardless, the game plan should start with functional prioritization that supports a strategy  undertaken to achieve the fireground objectives. All fire agencies are not created equal. Create a system that promotes safe, effective, and efficient operations, and let circumstances dictate action. We all share the same objectives, it’s the tactical approaches that differ.


JIM SILVERNAIL is the fire chief of the Kirkwood Fire Department of St. Louis County, Missouri. He is the author of Suburban Fire Tactics and the co-author of “Suburban Fire Tactics from the Right Seat” video. He is a member of MO-TF1, an instructor at the St. Louis County Fire Academy, a principal member of the National Fire Protection Association 1710 technical committee, and a regional director of the International Society of Fire Service Instructors.


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