Engine Company Assignments

Question: Some departments operate under specific standard operating procedures (SOPs) that give specific direction to the first- and second-arriving engines at a working fire (as well as all incoming units), called “Pre-Incident Assignment” (PSA). Other departments let the first-arriving officer make initial assignments based on the situation, called “Incident Specific Assignment” (ISA). How does your department make initial engine company assignments at a working fire?

Thirty years ago, at least where I fought fires, when the first-due engine pulled up to a working fire, you would hear an on-scene announcement like this: “5 Pumper at 1945 Vermont. Smoke and fire showing. 6 Pumper, lay in.” After that, it was anyone’s guess what 5 Pumper was going to do. If the travel distance between the first two engines (we called them “pumpers“ back then) were considerable, the second engine might only see a pumper, a driver, and some hose pulled off and going into the building (possibly).

Today, most departments operate under one of two forms of fireground operations. One is “Pre-Incident Assignment” (PSA). Under this form of operation, procedure dictates what the first-in (as well as all other responding units) do at a fire. Many larger departments use this form of operation. The other form of fireground operation is “Incident Specific Assignment” (ISA). In this form of operation, the officer on the first-arriving unit makes assignments for his unit and other incoming units based on the situation (the incident).

In Toledo, Ohio, we used ISA. In many areas of the city, the distance between companies is considerable. Using ISA allows the incident commander (IC), the first-arriving officer, to make assignments based on the priorities of the incident, which could include search, exposure protection, ventilation, or additional attack lines, among others.

—John “Skip” Coleman retired as assistant chief from the Toledo (OH) Department of Fire and Rescue. He is a technical editor of Fire Engineering and a member of the FDIC Educational Advisory Board. He is the author of Incident Management for the Street-Smart Fire Officer (Fire Engineering, 1997); Managing Major Fires (Fire Engineering, 2000); and Incident Management for the Street-Smart Fire Officer, Second Edition (Fire Engineering, 2008).

Thomas Dunne, deputy chief,
Fire Department of New York

Response: Response areas and types of hose stretches may vary in New York City, but all of our engines essentially operate in the same manner. Engine firefighters are preassigned to specific positions starting with the nozzleman, the backup man, and one or two additional firefighters to assist in stretching the hoseline.

The first-arriving engine is responsible for hooking up to a hydrant and positioning the initial hose to confine or extinguish the fire. The second engine assists in stretching this line, ensures that the first engine has an adequate water supply, and provides fresh personnel to operate the line when the first engine requires relief.

The third and fourth engines to arrive at a fire are assigned to work together and place the second hoseline in operation. A chief or company officer can expect to see these same engine procedures employed anywhere in the city.

On occasion, the first engine officer may have to enhance his tactics to fit a particular fire scene—for example, at an advanced fire he may order a large-diameter “multiversal” nozzle operated from the top of the engine apparatus to confine the fire and protect an endangered exposure. This requires precise coordination to avoid endangering firefighters who may be engaged in stretching the first line.

Tight street conditions might create another situation requiring adjustments by the first engine. In this scenario, two lines may be dropped in front of the fire building before proceeding down the block to a hydrant location. Later-arriving engines may assist in completing the first two hose stretches if they are blocked out of the immediate area.

Situations like these call for engine officers who can follow our specific, pre-assigned SOPs but who are also capable of adapting and adjusting to on-scene conditions. In that sense, we employ both preincident and incident-specific tactics.

Ron Hiraki, assistant chief,
Gig Harbor (WA) Fire & Medic One

Response: We follow the ISA model. Because of the makeup of our fire department and community, there are a lot of variables in responding to an incident. Therefore, using the PSA model would probably hinder or confuse operations.

As a combination fire department, we use resident and volunteer firefighters in our outlying stations. Their availability, staffing, and turnout time vary. Having a directive that requires the first company to go directly to the scene might not be effective if it arrives with a limited number of people. We also have many rural areas without hydrants and with long narrow roadways or driveways. Having a directive requiring the first company to lay a supply line or establish a water supply vs. going directly to the scene to knock down the fire could make the incident worse. These are just a couple of examples of variables that affect initial incident operations. Therefore, we empower our members to make decisions on arrival based on response time, incident conditions, location, access, and resources; this is the most practical and effective method of operating for our fire district.

To support this, we continue to provide training on size-up and incident considerations and operational procedures. To assist them, we have an exceptional incident information system with touch screen computers in apparatus that show streets, tax parcels, hydrants, and preincident plans. Good training, knowledgeable members, and technology enable us to remain flexible, which works well.

Rick Lasky, chief,
Lewisville (TX) Fire Department

Response: For us to be effective with our fire attack, there has to be some sort of organized effort in place prior to our even receiving the call. Just as seriously as we take seat or riding assignments, so should we consider incident assignments whether they are preincident or incident specific. Not to appear to be sitting on both sides of the fence, we tend to use ISA more, but as for our standard operating guidelines (SOGs), we reserve the right to allow the first-due company officer to modify an SOG, if he feels the need, to properly attack an incident. Keeping the thought of “never say never and never say always” in mind, our first-alarm response to a structure fire is as follows: The first-due engine or quint has the fire attack. The second-due engine or quint has the backup or second attack line. The third-due engine or quint is the rapid intervention team (RIT). The truck has search (both for the fire and victims), ventilation, and outside vent responsibilities, and the first-due ambulance supports the suppression efforts where needed. The battalion chief (BC) and his aide assume command.

The majority of the responses will fall in line with the above, but it could change regarding some of the following: An incident that goes to a quick second alarm prior to or on arrival because of rescues, etc. can change the assignments for some of the second- and third-due companies. A commercial roof would get the entire truck crew going to the roof for ventilation. High-rise or standpipe operations would change some of the assignments likewise.

The fireground is a very dynamic place. It can go in one direction and rapidly change and head the opposite way. With that in mind, we need to have the ability to adjust our fire attack assignments accordingly to meet the demands of the specific incident. Regardless of the size and specifics of the incident, we have to address fire attack, search (again, for the fire and victims), and ventilation every time. Without a good plan, one set in place ahead of time and one the entire team knows from one end to the other (it doesn’t matter whether you use a PSA or an ISP, the teams need to know what’s expected of them and their options), we can lose on the fireground big time. When we operate without a plan, we risk the safety of our personnel and more than likely will end up with a substantial loss of property.

Gary Seidel, chief,
Hillsboro (OR) Fire Department

Response: We use ISA. Company officers need the flexibility to make decisions based on the inherent risks and the dynamic situation with which they are confronted. The statement “No two incidents are alike” demonstrates the need for being able to make decisions based on the unique incidents we confront on a daily basis. By having a set of preincident procedures (procedures by the numbers), our personnel would be restricted in their ability to operate successfully because they would be required to take action in a preset order, not as directed by the scope of the incident.

Let’s look at firefighters responding to an approximately 2,000-square-foot, single-story, wood-frame dwelling. They find smoke and flames showing from one rear room. The companies responding begin with fire attack, search and rescue, backup fire attack, exposure control, salvage, and ventilation. Other needs may be utility control, rapid intervention, and medical intervention. The priority for this scenario depends on what the initial company is confronted with. The dwelling may be unoccupied or occupied, a firefighter may become trapped or lost, the building may collapse, the room may flash over. Therefore, the company officer needs to have the ability to make incident-specific decisions based on what he is confronted with and implement tactics to support those decisions. The person responsible for the incident’s outcome needs to be given the latitude to make the required assignments; this person has the best information available. This information, coupled with training, experience, and known priorities, enables the company officer to make the best decisions for mitigating the incident.

Firefighters are always thinking of ways to perform their duties in an aggressive, effective, and safe manner. When your duties call for a fire attack, ensure that your efforts are well coordinated and that support measures—ventilation, forcible entry/egress, and utility control—are in place so that the overall firefighting effort is done safely. The goal is to achieve the maximum safety at minimum risk. As firefighters, we are subjected to dangerous conditions and situations. Each member must become proficient in recognizing and dealing with these dangers. To perform our duty, we must not fear these conditions; we must respect, understand, and combat these conditions based on the incident-specific needs.

Jeffrey Schwering, lieutenant,
Crestwood (MO) Department of Fire Services

Response: In our department, we do have preset assignments for the two first-arriving engines. We operate two engine companies out of one house. When both companies are in quarters, the first engine out is the water supply company; the second engine is the “holding” company.

On a working fire, the water supply company catches a hydrant and lays a five-inch line to the holding company in front of the structure. The holding company officer and his crew stretch a line to the fire while the crew from the water supply engine establishes a water supply for the attack engine and its engine, if needed, and performs initial search until additional companies arrive. The company officer from the water supply company is the IC until a chief officer arrives.

Our department has two additional engines and one quint assigned on a first alarm. The IC determines the assignments for those additional companies.

The officers of our two companies work together. Sometimes, we find it necessary to change the position of the first-due engines for many reasons, but communication is the key. Having good communication with our first two companies helps to prevent the first five minutes from turning into the next five hours.

Craig H. Shelley,
fire protection advisor, Saudi Arabia

Response: Our department uses ISA as determined by the officer in charge after consultation with the plant operations personnel. In an industrial setting, there are, for the most part, no “bread and butter” operations. Each situation is different according to the industrial process involved and must be managed effectively not only from a fire perspective but also from the process management side. Only by managing the fire as well as the process can a successful outcome be ensured. Close cooperation and consultation between plant operations and fire commanders is essential. For municipal operations, I am completely in favor of predetermined response assignments for responding units and individual assignments for members of the responding units. Predetermined individual assignments reduce, if not eliminate, freelancing and allow the IC to be ensured that tactical assignments will be covered. Such policies were initiated when I was the chief of a smaller department. In many small departments, each incident is handled differently and, many times, critical assignments are overlooked. By instituting policies for response and critical operational assignments, we can ensure that critical assignments are not overlooked. After instituting such policies in our department, we had a fire, and one of the firefighters came up to me after the fire, where he performed his preassigned position duties and found a victim hanging out the rear window, and said, “You know, chief? This stuff actually works!” I believe he summed it up to a tee.

John Salka, battalion chief,
Fire Department of New York

Response: FDNY operates under a detailed set of “Firefighting Procedures” for the various building types within the city. These procedures outline tactics for the first- and second-arriving engine and ladder companies. The first-to-arrive ladder company generally operates on the fire floor; the second-due truck most often handles the floor above the fire. The first engine stretches the first attack hoseline, assisted by the second engine; additional hoselines are stretched as needed and ordered by the chief in command. Additionally, each of the firefighters working in each ladder company has a riding assignment that translates into a tactical assignment at a building fire. These firefighters have tool assignments and will have those specific tools in hand on just about every response.

This “preincident assignments” system works extremely well for FDNY and gets the companies and the firefighters into position rapidly and accurately. There is almost no duplication of effort, and every aspect of the operation is covered. The first-arriving BC is also relieved of having to order each of the first-arriving units into a specific location in the building to perform specific tactics. Basically, the first- and second-due engine and ladder companies know where they are expected to operate and what they are expected to do before they even arrive.

Brian Zaitz, firefighter/paramedic,
Metro West (MO) Fire Protection District

Response: Our district uses preferred operating methods (POMs) rather than standard operating procedures (SOPs) or SOGs. POMs are similar to SOPs and SOGs in that they set the course of action for all first alarm-arriving units, except that they are not a standard and allow for variation on-scene, permitting company officers and ICs the flexibility to change the POM on-scene based on incident conditions, experience, and training instead of being forced to comply with an SOG.

We have established POMs for many operations within our district, from ice rescues to structure fires. In terms of structure fires, our POM is based on our district’s first-alarm assignment—three engines, one ladder truck, two ambulances, and a duty officer. Our POM clearly defines the roles for all of these responding units in terms of their arrival on the scene. For example, our third-due engine company is to establish a backup water supply, assist with search and rescue if needed, and ventilate the building if not already done. The POM method allows the IC to change this if needed; he may assign the third-due engine to fire attack or notify it en route that a backup water supply is not needed and to perform salvage operations on arrival. This flexibility allows for greater efficiency of units on the scene. The key to any POM, SOP, or SOG working smoothly is training. We practice our POMs during all applicable types of training, such as live-fire training. This practice gets all members comfortable and familiar with the POMs and their operations at a real scene.

William Brooks Jr., captain,
East Wallingford (CT) Volunteer Fire Department

Response: Our department SOPs specify that the first-arriving engine company initiate fire attack using tank water and the second-arriving engine company establish a water supply. We use five-inch large-diameter hose for water supply.

This will hold true in about 95+ percent of cases. The exceptions occur when there is a long driveway/access, drafting from a static water supply is necessary, or a hydrant is very close to the first engine. In the case of the long driveway/access, the first engine will drop a supply line (the first-in engine officer announces that a dry line is being dropped) at the beginning of the access and lay in prior to initiating attack. The second engine will pick up at this line and finish the lay to/from the hydrant. If using a static water supply (most typically, water tanks supplied by tanker shuttle), the first-in engine will forward lay a supply line to the fire building, and the second engine will set up in a location that best allows for shuttle operations to supply the first engine by drafting from the water tanks and pumping the supply line.

In the case where a hydrant is in the immediate area of the first engine, the pump operator/driver may be directed to stretch and hook up his own supply line, or the second engine may stretch from the first engine and hook up before stretching the backup line. Other options/assignments are at the discretion of the first engine officer based on circumstances. Operations at buildings with sprinkler/standpipe connections also require a difference with the pump operator/driver of the first engine stretching and hooking up to the FDC connection. The second engine will establish a water supply and assist as needed or bring in another standpipe pack.

Jay Wieners, chief,
Lake Hiawatha (NJ) Fire Department

Response: Our department adheres to an established SOP regarding the responsibilities of the first-arriving engine company. The procedure covers not only the company’s tactical priorities but also the individual assignments of the firefighters. Of course, the plan will at times have to be modified based on incident conditions; but, for most fires, it works. We find it is far easier to make the small modifications to the basic plan at the scene than for the officer or IC to devise a separate plan for each incident and then give the assignments. We also find that this system tends to control freelancing and aids accountability.

The company’s priority (offensive mode) is to establish a water supply from a hydrant (lay in) if a working fire is confirmed prior to its arrival unless the IC orders otherwise. It, then, is to stretch an appropriate handline between the fire and any trapped or fleeing occupants. In the absence of occupants, the line will be stretched between the fire and the unburned portion of the structure or exposed structure, if necessary. Once the fire is contained, the company will move in for extinguishment. Personnel permitting, a second team of firefighters may be assigned to stretch a backup line or address other tactical needs.

Our SOP also covers individual assignments: Seats are filled in priority order according to assignment. This way we can work with as few as three and as many as seven firefighters. The critical three assignments are the driver/pump operator, officer, and nozzleman. With more firefighters responding, a backup man, a hydrant man, an outside vent man, and a driver’s assistant may be added. The last three positions mentioned would usually comprise the second team when they are available.

Mike Bucy, assistant chief,
Portage (IN) Fire Department

Response: Our department has specific SOPs that dictate what the first-arriving units should be doing. The key here is that these are SOPs—standardized responses. We understand that not every response should be treated equally—thus we train our officers to follow the SOPs but to deviate from them if necessary. More importantly, if we find that the same deviation occurs over and over again, we look at the SOPs to see what needs to be changed. The problem most fire departments see on the fireground, I think, are caused by their being too rigid—not allowing for “nonstandard” issues to be immediately and easily resolved. This can lead to disastrous events.

Richard Wilson, lieutenant,
Bartlett (IL) Fire District

Response: We leave it up to the first-in officer to do size-up and direct his crew using guidelines set up by the chief officers before our BC arrives. With our growth and new administration, we will be moving toward the preincident assignments, using an SOG. Most of us are aware that a truck/tower gets the address as well as the squad, aka “the tool box,” leaving the engine companies to lead out and get away from the structure. In some rural departments, like ours, with houses set back, we have to adapt and gear our initial company training toward those target areas, running procedures that will assist in this setup. This would not get a truck/tower in front as we all would like, causing engines to lead out to the house up/down the driveway to set up for a drafting situation. Doing this can be challenging because all our tools are away from the area where they are needed, causing firefighters to “tote” all equipment to the scene. Let’s think of that oh-so-dreaded rapid intervention crew (RIC) assignment: All that equipment is carried a distance to be staged and hopefully never used. Just keep in mind that just because we might be second-in with a hydranted area does not mean that we will always be water supply. We could be sent as a backup team, RIC, Roof Operations, or any other task needed by the IC.

Todd Ungar, lieutenant,
Willoughby (OH) Fire Department

Response: Our suburban department provides fire and EMS service to our citizens. Our officers have a mental and physical checklist of items that should be completed at incidents; everyone on the shift has specific tools and assignments depending on the vehicle they ride. With that being said, most of our engine company assignments are ISA because we frequently respond with an inconsistent number of personnel and units as a result of EMS call volume. Like most departments, the focus is on getting the proper initial attack line in operation as quickly as possible. Traditional engine company assignments will vary according to whether the ladder crew is responding.

Our second-due engine can and will be used for truck company operations, and we are fortunate to be able to carry nearly the same tools and equipment (minus the aerial and ground ladders) on our engines and ladder truck. When all personnel are in quarters, it is more likely that we would follow more of a PSA plan, where engines do engine work and trucks do truck work. Our personnel must be able to switch gears and perform a variety of tasks regardless of the type of vehicle in which they respond.

Skip Heflin, captain/training officer,
Hall County (GA) Fire Services Fire Academy

Response: Our department uses PSA according to SOPs that outline the roles of the units as they arrive. The typical assignments are outlined and depend on the type of call. For example, on a residential building fire, the first-arriving engine establishes command, conducts a 360° walk-around, and transmits a size-up to address any rescue situations and then the fire itself. The second-arriving engine establishes a water supply. On a commercial assignment, the second-arriving engine catches the hydrant, and the third-due engine supports the sprinkler system. Having SOPs in place helps cut down on radio traffic; incoming units don’t have to call and ask command for an assignment. The SOPs are there as a guide only; common sense should prevail. If the IC on-scene determines that something different is needed, the order is issued and should be followed. The SOP is to be used if the on-scene IC gives no other assignment. Generally, the on-scene IC will assign the next-in unit to the task needed; when that does not happen, our SOPs are there to provide guidance.

Jay Womack, lieutenant,
Euclid (OH) Fire Department

Response: The first-arriving officer determines initial engine company assignments based on the situation (ISA). Once the officer decides on the strategy based on size-up, he takes formal command, goes into investigative mode, or attempts to mitigate the emergency by going “fast attack.” Fast attack is used 99 percent of the time with great results. A first-alarm response would bring two engines, a ladder, one ambulance, and the command vehicle. At a confirmed working fire, Command will typically special call our remaining two ambulances to the scene, emptying our three stations.

Once our platoon chief arrives, he will typically have the second-in crew back up the attack crew with the emphasis on helping attack get the first line flowing. The ladder crew may already be committed to an assignment, depending on the order of its arrival, so the job of ventilation may be given to an engine company that is expected to be proficient with the tools and equipment on the ladder. Members of the fire department are encouraged to train with equipment on other apparatus so they can become familiar with the subtle nuances of each tool.

Our department does not have the resources to have engine assignments carried out only by engine companies; tremendous emphasis is put on being cross-trained on a variety of tasks. Understanding that some would feel this is not the optimum approach, I believe that it speaks to situational awareness, giving members a global view as to what is occurring outside their line of sight and what is entailed in achieving those other assignments.

Nick Morgan, firefighter,
St. Louis (MO) Fire Department

Response: Our department would fall into the category of preincident assignment SOPs. Because we operate under the “total quint concept,” our SOPs designate which companies operate as engines or trucks based on the order of dispatch. For example, our SOPs state that on a typical still alarm for a house fire, Fire Alarm dispatches three quint engines, one quint hook and ladder, and a BC. The first and third engines in the dispatch order are expected to operate as engine companies. The first-arriving engine company gives a size-up over the radio, establishes an initial water supply, and stretches the first preconnect 1¾-inch line to attack the fire. The water supply is generally a forward lay in that the supply line is connected directly from the hydrant to the pumper, though usually it is hand-stretched by the firefighter assigned to the “plug” position. This engine is expected to pull past the involved building on arrival to give the captain a three-sided view of the fire building and to leave room for the designated truck to position in front of the structure.

The engine dispatched third is expected to back into the fire scene from a location where it can reverse lay from the first engine out to another hydrant to establish a secondary water supply. The captain and two firefighters from this company remain at the fire scene and stretch the second or backup preconnect line to assist the first engine with fire attack or support the primary search underway. This ensures that the companies operating will have water, even if the first hydrant fails. This procedure also supplies additional water volume should the first engine and truck need to use their aerial ladders if the fire goes defensive or begins that way.

There are times when the companies arrive in a different order than how they were dispatched. When this occurs, the captains have the flexibility to establish operations based on arrival order rather than dispatch order. However, this requires that the members of each company pay attention to the radios en route, as this must be communicated among the companies to avoid chaos and confusion on the fireground. Even though our SOPs establish fairly specific assignments for each arriving company at a working fire, our quint system gives us a certain amount of flexibility in how we operate on the scene. This, of course, requires that our company commanders not “lock in” on their assignments and communicate effectively with the other responding companies.

Devon J. Wells, assistant chief,
Hood River (OR) Fire Department

Response: Since our fire response staffing varies frequently, we do not have preincident assignments for each apparatus. However, we use seat assignments for each firefighter on the apparatus. In a small combination department that handles advanced life support, transport services, and all other fire services, the staffing levels on our fire apparatus differ on every call. Our system relies on the first-arriving officer to do a complete size-up and make the initial assignments to responding apparatus. Second- and later-arriving units will vary because of the number of call-back firefighters and volunteers available to respond. Also, our mutual-aid neighbors may be the second-in apparatus depending on the incident’s location. This makes preassigned tasks difficult, since the response varies so much.

We train our officers on quick decision making, size-up skills, and initial incident management to reduce any differences that exist. They are all trained on the same strategy and tactics so that each will address concerns as similarly as possible. This makes the transition to the responding command officer much smoother. Also, each officer is involved in frequent training sessions where they play different roles in the command structure. This allows each officer to see how others would handle situations and creates a more uniform approach to incident management.

Joseph D. Pronesti, chief,
Elyria (OH) Fire Department

Response: Our department has the disadvantage of up-and-down staffing issues. There were times our engines responded with four; now, we are at three. I caution any department that runs with four members to comply with two-in/two-out to train and mandate that if two go in, two stay out. Too many times, the chief officer in my city would pull up to find the pump operator alone outside and the other three inside attacking.

Our department now has three engines and a truck company in service, each with three members. The first engine in attacks the fire if the officer feels they can safely do so and after evaluation of the life safety issues. If they do not initiate an offensive attack right away, they may establish a water supply, lay out their lines, and wait for the next companies to arrive before attack. The wait time in most cases is less than two minutes.

Our second engine company lays a backup or supply line, if not already established. The third company arriving is RIT. If all three companies need to go to work, we use a mutual-aid RIT.

The days of rushing in have to end. It’s time we train our officers to stop and think. For smaller departments like ours, flexibility is the key, and incident-specific assignments probably work best.

Perry Bailey, chief,
Eastman Fire/Rescue, South Carolina Operations-Eastman Chemical Company

Response: Ours is an industrial fire department with two career firefighters per shift and eight to 10 interior qualified firefighters from other jobs in a large industrial complex. The career staff members serve as apparatus operator and incident manager and usually lay a supply line for connection by next-arriving firefighters. As responders arrive on-scene, we staff the initial attack line, the RIT, and the second hoseline, in that order. By the time RIT is staffed and ready, attack team 1 usually has a line off the truck and is ready to enter. For upper-floor operations, hose teams 1 and 2 go in together.

Tom DeMint, battalion chief,
Poudre Fire Authority,Fort Collins, Colorado

Response: We operate under our departmental operational directives, which are our response procedures. We follow ISA for our first-due officers. The first-due officer is the initial IC and is responsible for the following: establishing command, conducting a size-up, developing strategic goals and objectives, communicating the action plan to other responding units, and ensuring orders and assignments are understood. In his communications, he must give in his arrival report the following information: What do I have? What am I doing? What do I need? Who is in command?

Our Operational Directives allow the first-arriving officer to keep command in the combative commander role or pass/transfer command to another engine or truck company until the BC arrives, as the incident dictates. This officer is also responsible for determining the appropriate mode of operation based on critical fireground factors and the needs of the incident. The combative commander typically engages in the tactical and task levels while accomplishing the incident priorities (life safety, incident stabilization, and property conservation). Before engaging in an offensive or marginal mode fire, he must determine the need for immediate rescue, the location and stage of the fire, and the available resources to meet two-in/two-out protection. The first-arriving officer (IC) then assigns responding units to meet the tactical objectives he has established. The assignments of additional responding units are not scripted to allow the IC flexibility to respond to the incident needs as they dictate.

Jimmy Taylor, battalion chief,
Cobb County (GA) Fire & Emergency Services

Response: We allow our officers and acting officers off the first-arriving units to make initial assignments based on their size-up. We do have some guidelines, but they are just guidelines; decisions should be made based on a thorough size-up, and that can be done only on-scene. We require the first-in officer to establish command unless the company must do a rapid attack, in which case command will be passed to the second-in unit. Establishing command that early in the incident should eliminate freelancing and centralize decision making. The IC should make assignments based on his tactical priorities. A secondary size-up is essential to determine the effectiveness of operating crews and if the resources on hand are sufficient to handle the tactical priorities.

Once the BC arrives, he meets face-to-face with the IC to transfer command.

The bottom line is, decisions should be made by officers on-scene and not by the chief behind the desk. Premade assignments change the tactical priorities for the first-in crews, since the chief has emphasized what he thinks should be done first. In my opinion, premade assignments only confirm that the chief has no confidence in the decision-making abilities of his officers. If that is the case, your problems with the first-in units have only started.

Vance L. Duncan III, deputy chief, Training Division,
Erie (PA) Bureau of Fire

Response: We have some preincident assignments for first- and second-arriving engines at a working fire, though the first-arriving officer is allowed to make incident-specific assignments based on the situation.

The functions of an engine company are to provide an adequate and self-sustaining water supply, select and deploy hoselines and appliances, operate nozzles to confine and extinguish the fire, remove endangered occupants, and treat the injured.

The first-arriving engine company arrives on-scene and completes a size-up. This size-up should answer the following questions: What do I have? What am I going to do? How can I do it with what resources I have? What additional resources do I need? (Keep in mind the safety of all on the scene.)

Once these questions are answered, the officer may begin to attack the fire with appropriate hoselines (1¾-inch or larger) and begin the search for and rescue of trapped/missing occupants (depending on the time interval for the arrival of the truck company).

The second-arriving engine company secures a sustained water supply for the first-arriving engine. This may be a reverse lay, forward lay, or a blind alley/split hoselay. Once this task is done, the second-arriving officer and his remaining crew (driver stays with the apparatus) receive their assignment from the IC (either the first-arriving engine officer or the deputy chief, if on-scene). Assignments may include stretching an additional hoseline to assist the first-arriving engine company on the fire floor, stretching a hoseline to go above the fire floor, beginning search and rescue operations, or another task-specific assignment.

Depending on the size of the structure or volume of smoke and fire, the third-arriving engine company may secure another sustained water supply, advance additional/larger hoselines on the fireground, or function as the RIT. It receives its assignment from the IC. If this engine company is not assigned as the RIT, an additional engine company is dispatched as RIT.

Jim Mason, lieutenant,
Chicago (IL) Fire Department

Response: Our first-due companies are given a combination of preincident assignment procedures as well as the flexibility for the first-due officers to make decisions based on the specifics of an incident. For example, apparatus assignments, the first-due radio report, apparatus positioning, many common ventilation tasks, and hose stretches based on typical fire problems are all preincident specific in our procedures. Offensive or defensive procedures are also spelled out for the specific dangers such as unstable construction styles containing trusses.

Incident-specific decisions are made for primary search targets based on the location and extent of the fire, some unusual venting operations, and offensive or defensive decisions based on reports the IC receives from interior companies during the attack. Forward or reverse hydrant lays are also an option of the first-due companies, even though we use reverse lays more often.

What this does is give guidance to the first-due companies for standardized actions in typical fire situations and allows the officers to work “outside the box” when need be. A good example of how both are beneficial is when companies respond to a large building where fire is not showing on arrival vs. a small building with fire coming out a window. The small building would most often have standard actions taken, whereas a large building would need to be investigated before the fire mitigation could even begin. In the second situation, preplans would help, but the actions taken must be decided in an incident-specific manner.

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