The Roles of a Proactive Driver

BY TOM HANCOCK AND WALTER JENSEN

Being a driver can be one of the toughest, most important jobs on the fireground, especially during the first few minutes of a working fire. The role of a driver can set the incident up for success or turn it into a disaster. This article discusses what should be some of a driver’s most basic roles. However, basic to some may be advanced to others. Many drivers believe that operating the engine is their only role. Pulling the tank to the pump valve and charging the desired line is all there is to it. Good drivers know that there’s a lot more to it than that. The role of a driver should be proactive.

Being proactive means performing an action without waiting to have it assigned to you. Being proactive and freelancing may seem very similar, but there’s a fine line separating the two. The difference comes with coordination. Proactive actions are coordinated with other fireground operations; freelancing is not coordinated. Proactive actions are predetermined and even trained on prior to the incident. Incident commanders (ICs) should not only be aware of drivers being more proactive, but they should encourage them to be proactive.

(1) Drivers should not feel tied to the pump panel. By listening to the engine and monitoring the booster tank level lights, drivers can be proactive without neglecting their primary roles. (Photos by Jonathan Plowman.)

Some believe that asking a driver to perform additional tasks can lead to the driver’s neglecting his primary duties. Drivers should never neglect their primary roles in an effort to be proactive. It’s crucial they ensure that they have properly addressed all primary roles prior to attempting other tasks. However, it’s not necessary for drivers to stand by the pump panel watching the gauges for the entire duration of an incident. Drivers can monitor their pump operations by simply listening to the engine. They should be familiar with every sound their engine makes. Drivers can also monitor their tank level lights as they step away from their engines. Some apparatus manufacturers have made this even easier by mounting the larger tank level lights on the side of their cabs. This allows drivers to see their tank levels from greater distances. Drivers can address their primary duties and still find the time to be proactive. Don’t use your need to monitor the pump panel or worry that you will neglect your primary duties as an excuse for not being more proactive.

FIREGROUND HYDRAULICS

Understanding fireground hydraulics is essential if drivers are to produce proper fire streams. Some drivers believe that pumping a line at a predetermined pressure is all that’s required of them. They don’t know why they’re pumping specific pressures; they’ve just been told to do it that way. They have been forced to memorize pressures without understanding where the pressures came from. Drivers need to have a full understanding of their job to provide the proper flow. The type of hose being used, the kind of nozzle being used, and the length of the hose are all factors in determining the proper flow rate for specific hoselines.

Some drivers supply their lines at lower pressures to make it easier for their firefighters operating the hoselines. They don’t realize that reducing the pressure also reduces the flow. It’s better to practice proper hose-handling techniques instead of reducing the pressure just to make handling the hoseline easier. Every driver should have an understanding of the basic principles of hydraulics to understand how these principles affect their fire streams.

STRETCHING LINES

Deploying and preparing the hoseline for advancement are among the drivers’ most critical roles. Drivers shouldn’t stand by the pump panel waiting for the attack team to advise when the line is ready to be charged. If drivers take a more active role in stretching the line, not only will the line be stretched faster, but they’ll know when it’s ready to be charged. Spend the time prior to charging the line to ensure that it’s properly flaked and in position to provide for optimum advancement. Flaking the hoseline in a simple “S” shape pattern near the entry point makes advancing the hoseline much easier. Don’t just pull a little slack to the entry point. Make sure all of the available hose is in position. Taking the time prior to charging the line to ensure that it’s laid correctly and ready for deployment saves time in the long run. After charging the line, if conditions allow, come back to the entry point and help advance extra slack inside the structure. Don’t make entry; stay on the outside and feed the hose for the advancing attack team. This prevents the attack crew from having to leave a firefighter at the entrance.

Another important role of the driver is to check the line. Ensure that it did not get hung up on some type of obstacle that is preventing it from properly advancing. Check to make sure there are no problems with the line that may affect its flow. Kinks can be a real problem. A hoseline’s flow rate can be dramatically reduced depending on the amount and severity of kinks in the hoseline. Walk your lines, and remove the kinks. Drivers should also be looking for leaking or burst sections of hose as well as loose couplings that need to be tightened.

(2) When the driver assists attack crews with advancing their hoselines, personnel from the attack crew are able to advance deeper into the structure without leaving personnel near the entrance of the structure to assist with advancement.

Drivers also need to understand the effects that back pressure from kinked and burst lines have on your pressure gauges. If interior crews are complaining of reduced pressures at the nozzle and the pressure on the gauge seems to be correct or is reading higher than it should, you probably have a kinked line. The driver should check the line on the outside of the structure and advise the attack team to check on the inside. If the pressure on the gauge is reading lower than it should, you may have a burst line. Problems like these have proven time and again to have serious consequences. As a driver, it’s your job to look for these things before they can become problems.

WATER SUPPLY

Most of the fires we respond to can be handled with tank water, but sometimes that’s not enough. Whether you’re the driver on the first-due, second-due, or even third-due engine, until a permanent water supply has been established, you should be trying to spot hydrants while driving to the scene. Although the officers on these engines may assist with spotting hydrants, drivers bear this responsibility because the officers are focused on a lot of other things as well. Whether the need for a hydrant is anticipated or not, nearby hydrants should be spotted and checked to ensure operability.

(3) Using gate valves on a hydrant allows a driver to gain control of the hydrant without having to hook up every hose at once.

Whenever possible, the first-due driver should attempt to establish his own water supply. In a perfect world, he can do this by catching the hydrant in the front yard or hand jacking a couple hundred feet of supply line to a nearby hydrant. Because of the increased friction loss, avoid lays of more than a couple hundred feet unless an engine is placed on the hydrant.

Catching the hydrant is very important and has to be done very quickly before the first-due engine runs out of tank water. Using gate valves can be very helpful in speeding up this process. By using a gate valve, only one line has to be pulled to the hydrant. This saves valuable time. One line supplying your operation may not be enough, but because you used the gate valve, you still have the option of going back and adding additional supply lines later.

If your operation begins with tank water and completes a transition to hydrant water, the driver should begin to slowly, but purposefully, fill the booster tank so that a guaranteed source is available if needed. Keeping the booster tank full throughout the incident provides a safety net for interior crews if the permanent supply is interrupted.

Catching your own hydrant may not always be a viable option. Sometimes, you have to rely on the next-arriving engine to supply you. If this is the case, get ready for it. You know you’re going to need to use your intake lines, so go ahead and pull them. Don’t wait for the supply engine to arrive; get the lines ready. It may also be possible to hand jack lines to an intersection or turn-around point to set up for a split lay instead of making the next engine come all the way to you. Your goal should be to acquire a permanent water supply as soon as you possibly can.

Establishing a permanent water supply is often vital for the outcome of the incident. Simple radio transmissions of “Permanent water is established” and “We have a strong or weak supply” are great information to all of those who may make decisions on the size and type of fire streams needed to control the incident. If the supply is strong, potentially more aggressive decisions can be made for fire attack. On the other hand, if the water supply is weak, the IC knows that a more conservative approach will need to be used.

DROP POINT FOR TOOLS/EQUIPMENT

Interior crews can carry in only so much equipment on their initial attack; depending on the situation, they may need another piece of equipment they were not able to take with them. Instead of making the interior crews come all the way back out to the engine to get equipment, they can go to the drop point. The drop point will probably be near the attack crew’s point of entry or another designated area.

As a driver, you probably know or should at least be able to anticipate the potential needs of the interior crews. If the fire extended into the attic, an attic ladder will probably be used at some point to check for extension. Take one off the engine, and set it in the drop point. A positive-pressure ventilation (PPV) fan may be another good piece of equipment to take to the drop point. Additional hooks may be needed for pulling ceiling. A salvage tub and scoop shovels may be needed for overhaul operations. You can take to the drop point anything you think interior crews may need.

The interior crews can also use the drop point to drop off equipment that may not be needed inside. An example of this may be a set of irons at a typical house fire. The irons may be needed initially to force entry through an exterior door; however, once you’ve made entry, the irons may not be used again on the interior. The irons can be left just outside in the drop point; if the tools are needed again, the interior crew will know where to find them.

ADDITIONAL HOSELINES

Sometimes additional lines may be needed on the fireground. By monitoring radio traffic and reading scene conditions, the driver may be able to anticipate the need for additional lines. It’s okay to pull additional lines; however, ensure that the line is in the right location before charging it. The line may be assigned to an interior crew to check for extension or as a backup line for the original attack line. Other times, it may be needed for exposure protection on the exterior. In either case, the driver can pull the line and have it in the general area in which it will be used. Remember, pulling additional lines is done to save time. If the line is not in the right location when it’s charged and the charged line has to be repositioned, your actions have been counterproductive.

SECONDARY MEANS OF EGRESS

(4) Interior conditions can deteriorate rapidly early in an incident. Proactive drivers can establish secondary means of egress before other units arrive on the scene.

Interior conditions can change rapidly, especially early in the incident. Having a secondary means of egress can be very important. Because we can’t always afford to wait for later-arriving crews to establish other means of egress, the driver is in the perfect position to throw a couple of ground ladders. With all their other responsibilities, drivers don’t have time to do a full size-up to determine the best location for the ladders; however, even if the ladders aren’t in the best spot, they serve their purpose by being off the engine and closer to where they may be needed. It’s faster to reposition the ladders if things go bad instead of having to deploy them in the first place. On positioning the ladders, the driver should advise the interior crews of the location of the secondary means of egress. Later-arriving crews can always reevaluate the driver’s ladder placement and move the ladders to a more appropriate spot if necessary.

SCENE LIGHTING

Being able to see on the fireground is very important. But with everything else going on in the first few minutes of an incident, lighting the scene can be easily overlooked. It takes only a few seconds to fire up the generator and turn on a few spotlights. Being able to see makes performing all of your operations much easier. Seeing the scene lights from the interior can also help keep interior crews oriented as to which side of the structure they are on. It also creates a safer environment, allowing crews to identify potential scene hazards such as electrical and tripping hazards. Light up the scene.

REHAB AREA

Rehab tends to be one of the last assignments made. Crews are often left to fend for themselves because rehab hasn’t been established when they come out. If crews are exiting the structure and rehab hasn’t been officially established yet, establish one. At the very least, set a cooler and a few cups on the tailboard. Look around; advise Command if you have a good spot to establish rehab. That’s one less thing Command has to worry about. Fresh air bottles can also be taken over to the rehab area, and the driver can assist the crews with swapping out their bottles.

RESTORING THE ENGINE

Taking care of the company’s equipment is one of the driver’s greatest responsibilities, and restoring the engine after an incident is a big part of that. All of your equipment must be accounted for and in good working order. Always monitor each piece of equipment that comes off your engine. As the incident begins to wrap up, start tracking down your equipment. Go to each crew that had your equipment and get it back. If your equipment is dirty, clean it. Don’t put dirty equipment back on your engine. When loading hose, the driver should be the lead person for loading operations on your engine. Other crews may not have the same regard for your engine or the neatness of a hose load as you should have. Make sure it’s done right and is up to your standards.

Conditions on the fireground may not be as ideal as the engine bay for checking your equipment. When you get back to the station, go back through each compartment, making sure everything is accounted for and in good working condition. It’s best to do this as soon as you return. The longer you wait, the harder it may be to track down missing equipment.

As a driver, you are vital to the success of the operation. The crews couldn’t do it without you. By taking a more proactive role, you’re providing a safer, more efficient fireground operation. Remember, being proactive doesn’t mean freelancing. It means taking coordinated actions to assist your crew. Firefighting is the best job in the world, and the driver’s position has often been referred to as the best job in the fire service. Have pride in your job, and take a more proactive role.

TOM HANCOCK is a 15-year veteran and a lieutenant with Cobb County (GA) Fire and Emergency Services. He has served as an FDIC classroom instructor and also spent two years as a department training officer. He has an associate degree in fire science from Coosa Valley Technical College and is finishing up his bachelor’s degree requirements in organizational management and leadership from Reinhardt University.

WALTER JENSEN is a 10-year veteran of the fire service. He has spent the past five of those years with Cobb County (GA) Fire and Emergency Services, where he serves as an engineer. He has an associate degree from Suffolk County Community College.

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