By: The Members of Squad Co. 61 – Bronx, NY
Fire Department City of New York (FDNY) engine and ladder companies always know where to go and what to cover during fires; their positions and assignments are predetermined by operational procedures. Furthermore, these procedures describe their operational positions and areas of responsibility at the majority of building types in the City of New York City proper. Utilizing these procedures promotes accountability for each company and their respective members. These assigned positions allow the incident commander (IC) the ability to determine what areas will require coverage by additional resources such as the FDNY’s versatile squad companies.
In 1998, the FDNY wanted to broaden its hazardous materials capabilities and re-designated seven engine companies as squad companies for this purpose. These newly designated squad companies fall under the Special Operations Command of FDNY (SOC). They are assigned to working fires within a designated response area and their deployment capabilities allow the IC versatility in fireground assignments as Squad companies can cover both engine and ladder company assignments. The following is a brief history of FDNY squad 61’s incorporation into SOC:
Squad Company 61 is housed with the 20th Battalion on Williamsbridge Road in the Westchester Square section of the Bronx. Engine 61 was disbanded and reorganized as Squad Company 61 and assigned to the Special Operations Command on June 29, 1998. The squads (1, 18, 41, 61, 252, 270, and, 288) are rescue pumpers equipped to operate either as an engine company or ladder company. The squads were primarily formed to deal with hazardous material incidents in the City of New York. In addition to responding to all working fires in their areas, squad company members are certified Rescue Technicians. They are trained in all facets of technical rescue including but not limited to: structural collapse, confined space operations, high angle rope operations, trench rescue and other related rescue operation as trained by the FDNY Technical Rescue School. They possess capabilities for surface water rescue and will support rescue companies in SCUBA operations as trained Dive Tenders.
In a nutshell, the squad is manpower tool that the IC can draw from as fireground needs arise. In conjunction with the normally assigned positions of the engine company, the squads also operate under conventional ladder company positions designated as: Squad officer, chauffeur, can, irons, hook, and roof. These dual-assignment positions allow the squad to formally operate in any position with proper accountability on the fireground. The squad may be deployed as an intact unit, or broken up into two, three-person teams, or three, two-person teams. One or more of these teams may be deployed, with the balance of the unit available for other tasks. When a task is completed, the squad reports their availability through the chain of command for a new assignment.
When the squad arrives on scene and reports to the command post (CP), the IC assesses the proper assignment for utilizing the squad’s capability. For example, squad 61 arrives on scene of a working fire on the top floor of a six-story apartment house: there is heavy fire on the top floor with possible extension to the cockloft. Upon reporting to the CP, the IC orders the squad officer to divide the company into two, three-person teams: one team to assist with roof operations, and the other team to assist companies on the top floor. These two teams are now designated as the squad’s inside and outside teams. The inside team would consist of: the Squad Officer, Can and Irons firefighters; conversely the outside team would consist of: the Squad Roof, Hook and Chauffeur firefighters.
The inside team would report to the sixth floor and assist with any tasks that need to be accomplished such as: searching for victims, pulling ceilings to check for fire and/or extension, overhaul, etc. The outside team would report to the roof and assist with: surveying the exterior for victims at windows, assist in the removal of victims found on the exterior via roof rope, ventilation (bulkheads, skylights, scuttles, or cutting ventilation holes), and reporting any pertinent information to the IC that he can not see from his position. Having the squads’ versatility at the IC’s disposal allows the IC to essentially “fill the gaps” when fireground operations require additional coverage.
Some fires do not allow the first arriving units to accomplish all the tasks needed to bring the fire under control. An example would include a first due ladder company needing assistance with victim removal from the second due ladder company’s inside team. The second due ladder company is usually tasked with operations on the floor above, so this crucial position would not be covered during the removal of the victim(s). Henceforth, this gap can be covered by the squad, who now assumes the duties of the second due ladder company. In other cases, the squad company will perform engine company duties outside of their assigned response area(s). If an engine company is delayed for any reason, or if another hoseline is needed, the squad is ready to fill another gap.
A squad company’s versatility transcends positional and assignment coverage on the fireground. The squad can be used for any task the IC determines regardless of traditional engine and ladder company assignments. Case in point: as first arriving ladder companies are opening up a taxpayer building to get the first hoseline into operation, the squad can lend a hand on the roof or open up adjoining stores. Moreover, checking cocklofts, basements, exposures and the rear of buildings will never be gaps found on any FDNY fireground. The squad company’s flexibility allows the IC to deploy the squad to check on these elements as a primary assignment.
The squad has the unique operational capability to operate as either an engine or ladder company; seamlessly transitioning between these two distinct tactical assignments requires that each assigned position have a well defined role so that operational efficiency is maintained and maximized on the fireground. Each dual squad position ensures that it remains versatile and capable to handle any fireground function:
As with any FDNY engine or ladder company, the squad officer is responsible for the safety of the entire crew. When responding to a fire as a special unit, the squad officer pays close attention to the department radio and handy talkie (HT). He is listening to all transmissions to anticipate the assignment(s) that the IC may give the squad. Often times, the IC may be busy coordinating companies during the initial stages of an incident so the may suggest ways the squad can assist. For example, “hey chief, would you like my members to remove those (window) bars and throw up a couple of extra portables (ladders)?” Or, “would you like me to send a team around back to see how they’re making out back there?” There are times when the squad officer simply gets a list of tasks from the IC and assigns the squad company members accordingly. Keeping tabs on squad company members operating outside the purview of the officer may seem like a daunting task considering the myriad duties that could be performed anywhere on or in the building. However, the squad boss must be an experienced officer who has the capability to do it, and also change the operation or task to be performed as needed.
The primary responsibility of the squad chauffeur is the safe arrival of the company to the scene. While enroute, the chauffeur will also listen to the department radio for any updates concerning the status of the fire, which will determine the type of response and apparatus positioning. The chauffeur is also starting his preliminary size-up of the building and the status of the fire to help determine his duties. Arriving at the scene, the squad chauffeur, being the last member to get off of the apparatus, is in a position to bring additional equipment for the inside team that is requested by the squad boss.
Part of the squad chauffeur’s tool assignment is the thermal imaging camera (TIC). This tool gives him the flexibility to check the status of the hoseline; and to become an integral part of the inside team’s search for fire and life. In the event additional help or equipment is needed on the roof, the squad chauffeur can proceed to the roof with an additional: saw, rope, or any other tools.
The squad can firefighter, operating as part of the inside team, works in conjunction with squad irons and the squad officer where needed. The designation of “squad can” may actually be a misnomer; the squad can position does not carry the 2 ½ gallon pressurized water extinguisher unless the squad arrives ahead of the first arriving ladder company, and is assigned these duties by the IC. Rather, the squad can carries: a six-foot hook, halligan and the hydra-ram®. If the incident is a top floor fire, the squad may also opt to take two hooks so the squad irons firefighter has one too if needed.
During a taxpayer fire, the squad can may opt to take two ten-foot hooks due to the prevalence of higher ceilings in these buildings. If the squad is assigned engine company duties and ordered to stretch a hoseline from another engine, then squad can will bring a nozzle from the squad apparatus. It is good practice to take your own nozzle with you if stretching from another engine company’s apparatus, even if working in the squad. Furthermore, there may not be one available on the engine company’s apparatus when multiple hoselines have already been stretched. Squad companies always adhere to sound, fundamental engine company basics.
The squad irons firefighter, with the squad officer and squad can, consist of the inside team at most fires. The squad irons’ tool assignment(s) vary and may change numerous times while enroute to a fire. A firefighter assigned the squad irons position for the tour must have a basic understanding of the tools to take based upon incident needs. The squad irons’ primary set of tools is the irons (flathead axe and halligan). However, radio transmissions from first alarm companies may give the squad irons a ‘heads-up’ on additional tools to consider based on potential obstacles faced by these companies. If a ladder company reports the presence of window bars on a private dwelling, he would take a forcible-entry saw with a metal cutting blade to the fire building. Keeping with a private-dwelling scenario, and in addition to bringing the irons, a six-foot metal hook would more likely be needed.
During commercial building fires, a forcible-entry saw with a metal cutting blade will likely be needed to open locks and gates around the structure. The extra saw carried by the squad irons firefighter will also complement first alarm ladder companies with: opening up the building to check for extension, victims, and create secondary means of egress for those operating in the interior. A search rope should also be taken in commercial building fires. With the ten-foot hooks brought by the squad can firefighter, squad irons can assist with pulling high or tin ceilings.
Squad hook teams up with the squad roof position. The squad hook firefighter takes: the saw, six-foot hook and a halligan; the saw is usually a circular saw with a twelve-tooth carbide-tip blade at non-fireproof structures. The squad hook and roof firefighters work in conjunction, however, the squad hook firefighter will be the one performing any cutting operations. Moreover, squad hook will be the one setting up and lowering the squad roof firefighter during a rope rescue. The squad hook and roof firefighters most often report to the roof during non-fireproof, flat-roof buildings for roof operations.
During fires in ‘fireproof’ multiple-dwellings, squad hook will take the fire blanket to cover windows during potential wind-driven fire incidents. The fire blanket is used as a wind-control device to protect members operating in an apartment or public hallway from being threatened by blow-torch fire conditions when wind becomes a factor. During a potential wind-driven fire scenario, the IC usually deploys the squad to get into a position to deploy the blanket. This is a gap that must be filled anytime wind may become a factor during a fire in these buildings.
At private dwelling fires, the squad hook firefighter may decide to take the chain saw. There are rare instances where the IC will order the company to perform peaked-roof ventilation and the chain saw may be easier to maneuver. At most private dwelling fires, the squad hook and roof firefighters become the outside team and will enter the building via the sides or rear for vent, enter and search (VES) operations; or to cover areas of the building other companies could not get to; or to assist with hoselines or further ventilation.
As mentioned above, squad roof operates with squad hook as the outside team. While operating on the roof, squad roof will assist first alarm ladder companies with roof top ventilation (bulkheads, skylights, scuttles, top floor windows) and/or roof rope rescues in progress. Squad roof will assist squad hook with cutting the vent-hole; and pushing down the ceiling to expedite ventilation. Squad roof may also provide the IC with invaluable reports on the progress of roof operations or hazardous building features. In other words, he can “paint a picture” for the IC about the goings-on on the roof, and if more resources are needed.
During mayday situations, the squad company will work in conjunction with the rescue company and firefighter assist and search team (FAST) ladder company; as long as the squad was not performing a role crucial to the outcome and safety of the incident. A prime example would be operating a hoseline that is protecting the search or interior companies. Like any engine company, the squad simply can not drop the hoseline while members are operating near or above the fire, unless relieved by another engine company. Of significance, The FDNY utilizes a ’10-66’ code for a missing member/mayday. In these events, the squad may be requested to operate as the squad while the normally assigned one is unavailable to assist the rescue company.
The squad company has become a versatile option for the IC and is never used in lieu of a responding first alarm engine or ladder company to cover their positions and responsibilities. Rather, the squad company is there to fill in the gaps when these positions and responsibilities have not been filled for any reason. When other tasks surface that need attention, and all-hands are working, the squad provides a seamless way to cover anything extra. In other words, the squad is not there to get in the way, just to bolster operations.
Firefighter Kevin Legacy of FDNY squad company 61 puts it best: “You’re going in as a special unit, you’re a guest at someone else’s fire. When they put you to work, do your job; help the brothers out; and don’t be a hindrance. That statement sums up how we operate.”