Truck Company Work in the Rural Environment

Firefighter with the irons

(1) Assigning the responsibility for specific tools to riding positions rather than individual volunteer members assures that the tasks, as well as the tools needed for the job are not forgotten.

Article and photos by Thomas W. Aurnhammer

While the majority of small rural volunteer and combination departments may not have a ladder or aerial apparatus, the importance of what has traditionally been considered “truck company work” cannot be overlooked. In many situations, the fire attack cannot be successful without these functions being performed. We refer to these tactics as “truck company work,” to separate them from “engine company work,” or directly attacking the fire with water. This article will look at various methods of accomplishing “truck company work” without the “truck.”

Ventilation Considerations in Rural Structure Fires

Questions arise as to when, how, why, and if, rural firefighters should still be performing interior fire attack and vertical ventilation. Even in the rural environment, situations are going to come up that require an interior fire attack. Norwood (2015) also questions the practice when he asks, “Should vertical ventilation still be a primary tactical assignment? There are no absolutes to what we do on the firegound. When it comes to vertical ventilation, my answer would be, ‘It depends.’ There is no silver bullet” (para. 3). The decision to mount an interior fire attack and coordinated ventilation is dependent on fire conditions upon arrival, availability of resources to perform the tasks, and firefighter safety. The key is coordination. “Coordination of vertical ventilation must occur with fire attack just like with horizontal ventilation. The way to make sure that the fire does not get larger and that ventilation works as intended is to take the fire from ventilation limited (needs air to grow) to fuel-limited by applying water” (Kerber, 2013, p. 4). The decision of when and how to ventilate must be based in part on the risk management plan adopted by the incident commander (IC).

The Overlooked Art of Truck Work in Rural America

At times, we suffer from not thinking about the overall strategy needed on the fireground and get tunneled in on the specific tactics that we typically carry out to address a particular fire problem. Add to this the mindset of arriving to an incident on a piece of apparatus that traditionally concerns itself with deploying the proper size attack line and securing a water supply, and the “art” of truck company work can easily become lost in light of other fire suppression activities.

Looking to the examples provided by our urban counterparts, tasks such as forcible entry, ventilation, deployment of ground ladders, and controlling utilities often seem to be carried out in a seamless manner. Although having personnel assigned these tasks as a matter of routine make it easy, many smaller departments do not have the benefit of the personnel and equipment to allow these tasks to be carried out automatically. A greater understanding of ventilation operations has occurred. Along with that understanding, an increased emphasis on the importance of the coordination between fire attack and ventilation has been driven by a better understanding of fire dynamics. According to Kerber (2013), the time between venting and the occurrence of a flashover are approximately two minutes for fires involving modern furnishings, compared to over eight minutes for fires involving “legacy” contents. In the rural setting, to properly support any fire attack efforts and increase firefighter safety on the fireground, truck company tasks must be factored into the IC’s incident action plan.

Truck Company Work Sets the Pace for Fire Attack

A successful fire attack is the outcome of a synchronized balance between the actions of the initial attack team and personnel assigned to carry out the truck duties. We know that proper ventilation can reduce the possibility of flashover and backdraft, and that a vent-limited fire may provide some additional time in making ventilation decisions. Haphazardly opening up a structure can have dire consequences. “Instead of being arbitrarily aggressive, we should be intellectually aggressive. Being intellectually aggressive requires being able to recognize predictable dangers and taking steps to reduce risk taking by our fellow responders” (Dodson, 2007, p. 134). A vent-limited fire may produce little to no smoke. To increase the safety of the ventilation team, all fires should be approached as though they were ventilation-limited.

The deployment of additional ground ladders can create a supplementary means of egress for firefighters operating on the roof. Securing the structure’s utilities reduces the possibility of having firefighters come into contact with energized electric equipment and eliminates the additional hazard of having an ignition or explosion caused by leaking liquid petroleum (LP) or natural gas. By having our personnel recognize the importance of these tasks, in addition to continuously training on coordinating both engine and truck tactics, none of these critical responsibilities should be overlooked.

SIZE-UP, LOCATE THE FIRE, IDENTIFY THE FLOW PATH, COOL FROM SAFE LOCATION, EXTINGUISH – RESCUE, SALVAGE (SLICE-RS)

Fire conditions found upon arrival will drive the selection of an offensive or defensive strategy. “The importance of truck work, whether completed by a dedicated truck company or not, is integral to successful operations” (Reeder, 2014, para. 3). Long response times and limited resources will create situations where the initial attack sequence of SLICE-RS is the appropriate tactic. The SLICE-RS method is the centerpiece of the International Society of Fire Service Instructors’ Principles of Modern Fire Attack Program, which was developed to integrate fire dynamics research into the actions of the first-arriving fire companies. “SLICERS is well and good for engine companies, but what does this new engine jargon mean to the truck company officer, or in the case of most U.S. departments, the firefighters and officers performing truck work without the benefit of a dedicated truck company?” (Reeder, 2014, para. 6). An IC can employ another tool to assure that truck company work is not overlooked. Reeder (2014) suggests the use of another acronym to assist in recalling truck company tasks: LOVERS-U is a prompt of Ladder, Overhaul, Ventilation, Egress/Entry, Rescue Salvage, and Utilities. Reeder (2014) also points out that the tasks in LOVERS-U are not sequential, and all the tasks listed are actions of opportunity. This essentially becomes a list of truck company responsibilities.

Tools of the Trade

The old axiom “the right tool for the right job” becomes essential in fire departments that do not have an aerial apparatus. The tools needed for these truck company tasks must be carried on an apparatus that is normally assigned to a structure fire response in your jurisdiction. National Fire Protection Association 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus, can provide some guidance on what equipment is needed to beef up an engine company for truck work. Equipment lists for Pumper and Initial Attack apparatus can be compared to the Aerial and Quint inventory lists to develop the details of what you need. Appendix A can also provide some food-for-thought with regards to what additional equipment may be needed for the mission (National Fire Protection Association, 2016). The equipment necessities will differ from community to community depending on need. The bottom line is to arrive at the scene of the emergency with the necessary equipment to get the job done safely and efficiently.

Another alternative would be the creation of what the Insurance Services Office (ISO) refers to as a service company (ISO, 2013). The concept here is to have the fire departments carry ladders, tools, and equipment normally mounted on aerial apparatus–for ladder operations, forcible entry, utility shut-off, ventilation, salvage, overhaul, and lighting–on another type of vehicle. The list of equipment needed to be considered a service company can be found in ISO’s Fire Suppression Rating Schedule.

In most volunteer departments, the fact that you don’t know who is going to be responding to the station makes predetermined riding assignments for the members next to impossible. An alternative, especially in the absence of a ladder truck, may be to assign tools to the various seating positions in the apparatus. As an example, the firefighter riding in the seat behind the officer would have the availability of a mounted halligan tool and a flathead ax and be the person to use the “irons” for forcible entry.

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Thomas W. Aurnhammer, a 42-year fire service veteran and fifth-generation firefighter, is currently the Chief of the Los Pinos Fire District in Ignacio, Colorado. He is a graduate of the NFA’s Executive Fire Officer (EFO) Program and holds a Bachelor Degree in Fire Administration. He is also a Chief Fire Officer (CFO) designee, as well as a Member in the Institution of Fire Engineers (MIFireE) – US Branch. He is also the co-host of the “Back Step Boys” radio program along with Ron Kanterman.

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