Some people refer to firefighting as “organized chaos.” Most departments, however, would like to think that there are rhyme and reason in their initial operations. In general, I am aware of two types of firefighting operations. In the first, preincident assignment, the actions of all the first-alarm units are dictated by procedure. In many large departments (and a few smaller ones), the actions of the first-in engine are determined by procedure, not circumstances. In many cases, the first-in engine takes a line to the fire. The second-in engine augments the first-in engine’s water supply and then takes a line above the fire. The first-in truck performs specific tasks as well, usually forcible entry, outside ventilation, and search.

In the second type of operation, assignments are incident-specific. The actions of the first-in unit and all other units are dictated by the scene or situation, not by set procedure. If the most severe problem at one fire is immediate rescue, the first-in engine may raise a ladder and pull a victim from a window. If the initial priority at the next fire is exposure protection, the first-in engine may neglect the source building and get water on the exposure. The actions of the next-in units are also dictated by the situation as determined by the incident commander (IC).

Some departments use a variation of both. Some have specific preincident assignments for, say, high-rise operations but rely on incident-specific assignments for the bread-and-butter house fire.

Question: Some departments operate under preincident assignments, whereby the actions of the first-in crews are dictated by procedure. Other departments use incident-specific assignments, whereby the actions of the first-in units are dictated by the incident, not procedure. Which form of fireground operations does your department use? Why?

Rick Lasky, chief, Lewisville (TX) Fire Department

Response: To be effective with our fire attack, some sort of organized effort should be in place prior to our receiving the call. We should consider our incident assignments, whether preincident or incident specific, just as seriously as we take our seat or riding assignments. We tend to use incident-specific assignments more, but, like all of our standard operating guidelines (SOGs), we reserve the right to allow the first-due company officer to modify an SOG if he feels it is needed 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 (for the fire and for victims), ventilation, and outside vent man (OVM) responsibilities. The first-due ambulance supports the suppression efforts where needed. The battalion chief and his aide assume command.

The majority of the responses will fall in line with the above but could be changed with regard to the following. An incident that goes to a quick second alarm prior to or on arrival because of rescues or some other reason can have changes in assignments for some of the second- and third-due companies. A commercial roof would have the entire truck crew going to the roof for ventilation. High-rise or standpipe operations also would change some of the assignments.

The fireground is a very dynamic place. It can go in one direction and rapidly change and head the opposite way. We have to be able to adjust our fire attack assignments to meet the demands of the specific incident. Regardless of the incident’s size and specifics, we have to address fire attack, search (again, for both the fire and victims), and ventilation every time. Without a good plan—one set in place ahead of time and one that the entire team knows from one end to the other—you can lose on the fireground big time. (It doesn’t matter which plan you use, preincident or incident specific; the firefighters still must know what’s expected of them and what their options are).

Operating without a plan risks the safety of our personnel and more than likely will end with a substantial loss of property. As a good friend of mine has said for years, “Have a plan, drill on it, and you won’t end up with a fire scene that looks like ‘camp run-amok.’ “

Michael Allora, lieutenant, Clifton (NJ) Fire Department

Response: We use preincident assignments for first-arriving companies at residential structures. The first-arriving company officer establishes the incident command system (ICS) and remains in command until relieved by the incoming deputy chief. Our first-alarm assignment to a working incident consists of three engines, one truck, one rapid intervention crew (RIC), one rescue ambulance, and one deputy chief’s vehicle. Average staffing for fire apparatus is one company officer and two firefighters; rescue ambulances are staffed with two firefighters; the deputy chief’s car, in addition to the deputy chief, has one firefighter, who is assigned as the accountability and the initial safety officer.

The majority of our incidents occur in residential structures. Preincident assignments allow us to assign the first-arriving engine companies to secure two separate water supplies and stretch the initial attack and backup lines. The first-arriving truck company is assigned search and ventilation. Preincident assignments at residential structures allow the IC to accomplish strategic goals without having to issue specific assignments during the incident’s initial stages. Should conditions on arrival necessitate a change in strategy, the IC can issue specific assignments as needed.

At incidents in other types of structures, including commercial, industrial, high-rise, and standpiped and sprinklered buildings, we use incident-specific assignments—the IC directs the actions of the first-arriving companies. Tasks such as supplying the fire department connection and stretching large-caliber hose streams often necessitate combining companies. The IC must request more personnel (usually mutual-aid companies) for tasks such as the search and ventilation of large-area structures, multiple dwellings, and high-rise buildings.

Preincident assignments at residential structures work well in our department, which has an on-duty staffing level of 27 as a minimum. Preincident assignments are not meant to preclude the IC from directing the actions of the first-arriving companies according to conditions on arrival. They help to ensure that the primary functions needed to facilitate a coordinated fire attack are completed during the initial stages. The key is to identify which system works best for your department’s resources.

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

Response: The incident-specific assignment model is better suited to the makeup of our department and community. As a combination fire department, we use resident firefighters, volunteer firefighters, and medical responders 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 the company arrives with a limited number of people. Our community is growing immensely. A new hospital, along with several more “big-box” stores, is on the drawing board. However, 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. For these reasons, allowing our members to make decisions on arrival based on response time, incident conditions, location, access, and resources is the most practical and effective method of operation.

To support this, we train on size-up, incident considerations, and operational procedures using an excellent system of tabletop incident scenes that allow us to do scenario-based training. Many of our members have lived and worked in the fire district for many years and have a detailed knowledge of the geography, occupancies, and resources. To assist them, we have an exceptional incident information system with touch-screen computers in the apparatus that show streets, tax parcels, hydrants, and other information. The ability to remain flexible works well with good training, knowledgeable members, and new technology.

Gary Seidel, chief, Hillsboro (OR) Fire Department

Response: We use incident-specific assignments. 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” says that we need and must be able to make decisions based on the unique incidents we confront daily. Firefighters need to be able to think outside the box. Having a set of preincident procedures (procedures by the numbers) would restrict our personnel’s ability to operate successfully because of the requirement to take action in a preset order instead of as directed by the scope of the incident.

Both philosophies offer the firefighter clear-cut guidelines/procedures that must be accomplished at an incident. However, allowing firefighters to accomplish incident objectives based on the exigent circumstances with which they are confronted during the scope of the emergency usually will ensure a more successful outcome.

As an example, firefighters respond to a single-story, approximately 2,000-square-foot, wood-frame dwelling. They find smoke and flames showing from one rear room. The companies 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 the conditions that confront the initial company. The dwelling may be unoccupied or occupied, a firefighter may become trapped or lost, the building may collapse, the room may flash over, and so on. Therefore, the company officer must have the ability to make incident-specific decisions and implement tactics to support those decisions. The person responsible for the incident’s outcome needs the latitude to make the required assignments and should have the best information available. This information, coupled with training, experience, and “known priorities” (see below), enables the company officer to make the best decisions for mitigating the incident.

Known priorities are the tasks necessary for mitigating the incident and include RECEO-VS and WALLACE WAS HOT.

  • Rescue
  • Exposures
  • Confinement
  • Extinguishment
  • Overhaul
  • Ventilation
  • Salvage

  • Water
  • Apparatus/personnel
  • Life
  • Location/extent
  • Area
  • Construction
  • Exposures

  • Weather
  • Auxiliary appliances
  • Special hazards

  • Height
  • Occupancy
  • Time

I have always instilled in my firefighters five key points that speak to the company officer’s training and experience, known as the “five Cs”:

  • Context—the setting or environment to which we respond.
  • Content—the incident type (is it dynamic going to static or vice versa?).
  • Control—use the ICS to handle the incident.
  • Concise—strategy and tactics used to mitigate the incident.
  • Concrete—the firefighters doing the job.

Interior firefighting is the trademark of the fire service. 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 to ensure that the holistic firefighting effort is done safely. The goal is to achieve the maximum at minimum risk. This is the philosophy of “fighting fire smartly.”

We are constantly 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 them based on the incident’s needs. There is no room for complacency or ignorance on the fireground.

Robert C. Krause, captain, Toledo (OH) Department of Fire & Rescue

Response: We use incident-specific assignments. Officers are given the latitude to make decisions based on the situation and use responding resources in the most efficient tactical manner. This approach provides for a fluid operational environment and affords the IC the flexibility to make strategic and tactical decisions in using the arriving fire companies. The only preincident assignments I use are to ensure that every first-in crew member has a tool or an attack assignment. Not every firefighter can be on the nozzle; someone must help to advance the line and to ensure that the line doesn’t become kinked or hung up in a doorway. I discuss with my crew members what fireground activities they would perform if we arrive first at a working fire. But this is a flexible assignment: Arriving first, we may be presented with an immediate rescue situation. Therefore, using an incident-specific approach to each emergency scene puts the IC in the best possible position to use resources as needed for mitigation.

Thomas Dunne, deputy chief, Fire Department of New York

Response: New York City encompasses almost every type of construction and occupancy. Approximately 350 units respond to varied incidents that often call for very different tactics. This variety necessitates that our units be aware of their preincident assignments. For example, specific engine or ladder operations at a row-frame dwelling fire would be very different from those at a high-rise building.

In a department with so many units, preincident assignments are needed for safety and uniformity. Regardless of the units involved, all will use the same tactics. A chief or company officer may encounter extremely diverse fire scenarios as he moves about the city, but he will see the same procedures used wherever he goes.

However, it would be too limiting to label FDNY actions strictly as “preincident assigned.” Unit operations are also dictated by the specific conditions observed on arriving at the scene.

At times it may be necessary for a unit to abandon its normal preincident assignment completely. A very large volume of fire, construction alterations, building collapse, or haz-mat concerns may make a unit’s preassigned duties irrelevant or even dangerous. The safest way to operate is to establish uniform procedures but to allow for the possibility that each incident encountered may present specific factors that may require altering preassigned responsibilities.

Officers promoted in my department have mastered several volumes of preincident procedures, but they are also expected to adapt these procedures to the reality of the individual operation. Rigid adherence to procedure can cause one to miss the incident-specific variations often called for in firefighting.

Freddie Fernandez, battalion chief, Miami-Dade (FL) Fire-Rescue

Response: When I first joined Miami-Dade in 1983, it was much easier to determine the course of action the first-in unit would take because most of our stations were staffed with a full task force assignment in which two pumpers and a ladder truck responded together from the same house. That made it pretty clear that the first-in unit would launch an investigation or fire attack without any concern for water supply. The second pumper was usually right behind the first pumper, and that unit knew its primary focus was establishing a water supply; the crew would then report to the IC for further instructions.

In 1995, we eliminated a large portion of suppression apparatus and replaced them with EMS rescue units. We still place the same number of personnel at a fire scene, but many of the first-in personnel respond from multiple fire stations and on EMS vehicles that do not have fire hose or pumping capability. This has presented the first-due officer with another consideration—whether to go straight to the scene or to secure a water supply on the way in.

This service delivery configuration plan also throws another wrinkle into decision making. In many cases an EMS unit is first in. This can be a catch-22 situation. The benefit is a quick response time, especially when the officer provides a detailed and accurate size-up report. The negative lies in the fact that in some cases the first-in unit commits to a firefighting mode, dons personal protective equipment and SCBA, and commences fireground operations without a hoseline. This action simultaneously compromises EMS capabilities. A prudent officer, however, would call for another EMS unit when committing to suppression duties and would communicate his actions to the responding units.

Craig H. Shelley, fire protection advisor, Saudi Aramco, Ras Tanura Division

Response: My current department uses incident-based systems whereby the actions taken at the scene are dictated by incident specifics. The system is based on a number of factors. Many of our responses are for chemical and hydrocarbon process fires. Each one is unique, and the situation on arrival is different for each one. In addition, in the system we use, plant operations personnel serve as the IC. The fire department is there to assist the operations personnel. In many instances, it is not advisable to put out the fire or use water indiscriminately. The operations personnel know the systems involved and the consequences of inappropriate actions. We work in coordination with them using their guidance and input. It is a team effort. When we respond to residential fires, our personnel assume the IC role. Some functions, such as water supply and attack, are designated at the beginning of the shift, but usually an action plan is developed on arrival in coordination with plant personnel.

My previous two departments used systems in which the actions of the first-in crews were dictated by procedures. I strongly believe in this, based on my nearly 30 years of experience in using this type of system. This system allows the operation to develop smoothly and usually eliminates confusion and missed operational assignments. As an officer, I always knew that the initial operational positions were covered and I would receive reports from my crew regarding their assignments that would greatly aid in size-up and operational planning. I have had staff tell me that the procedural-based actions would never work in the department, but after using the system for a while, the staff acknowledged that it worked.

As with any system, leadership commitment and member buy-in are needed. If our officers become enablers of those who oppose a system, the system will fail. Finally, even for an incident-based policy, there should be guidelines. No system or fire unit should operate without guidelines; this will only lead to freelancing, a leading cause of firefighter injury and death.

Jim Mason, lieutenant, Chicago (IL) Fire Department

Response: Our department generally operates under preincident assignments. We arrive on any given still alarm with a minimum of two engines, two trucks, and one battalion chief. Many, but not all, parts of the city receive an additional heavy rescue squad on the still alarm. We work from the acronym of Size-up, Call (if needed) help, Save lives, Confine the fire, Ventilate, Extinguish, Overhaul, Salvage—SCSCVEOS—for all nonhigh-rise and haz-mat incidents. It lends itself to most situations but is not incident-specific. We have written orders that generally describe hose lead-outs and searches. We also have training bulletins that guide us in ventilation, forcible entry, water supply, and other fireground operations.

There are also some incident-specific procedures. Our rapid intervention training manual is very task-specific. Our officers are expected to use experience and initiative to guide the crews through a successful and safe firefight. Our high-rise operations are more incident-specific. Basically, all fire resistive buildings are grouped together. Recalling elevators, fire investigation procedures, standpipe operations, control of building systems, transfer of command, relief procedures on the line, communications, and so on, are all parts of our incident command manual and are standing orders to be performed at any high-rise fire. We use this management system for the fireground because there are liabilities inherent in establishing a procedure for a given incident without firsthand size-up of the conditions on arrival.

Randall W. Hanifen, lieutenant, West Chester (OH) Fire Department

Response: To maximize the use of apparatus responding to incidents, we use engines and quints. Each is staffed with three to four personnel. Because our engines and quints arrive in a different order at each incident, we must use incident-specific assignments. If the quint arrives first, it would usually provide fire suppression; a later-arriving engine would have to pick up the truck company’s half of the quint’s operation. Incident-specific assignments make better use of resources. We accomplish tasks sequentially more than concurrently because multiple fire apparatus respond from multiple stations instead of one station. The sequential approach to task accomplishment gives the IC the flexibility to assign whichever task is to take precedence when an apparatus arrives at the scene.

When using incident-specific operations, a solid ICS must be initiated immediately and followed through, and the initial IC must develop an incident action plan and communicate it to the subsequent commander when command is transferred. This allows the flow of the incident to progress or be halted if reevaluation of the incident indicates a change in strategy is needed. Also, an effective accountability system must be initiated by the first-arriving unit and be constantly maintained; the IC and the RIT will not be able to assume the location of a specific company because of the diversity in the tasks they may be accomplishing.

Tony Tricarico, captain, Fire Department of New York

Response: All members on duty have a predetermined position or assignment. They know what they will be doing before arriving at the scene. This type of operation could be considered both preincident assignment and incident-specific assignment. You are assigned a position at the beginning of a tour, but your actual tasks vary according to the actual fire/emergency. The ladder company has the following positions: officer, chauffer, can, irons, outside vent, and roof. In the engine, we have officer, chauffer, nozzle, backup, and door and control. Certain engine companies respond with only four firefighters; in this case, the door position is eliminated.

On being dispatched, the company is given information relevant to the response, type of occupancy, and possible fire/emergency it may encounter. This type of approach eliminates a certain amount of guesswork. When a member is assigned the outside vent position, per se, that member already knows what to do no matter what type of occupancy is indicated in the response. The positioning and tasks vary according to the type of response. The same goes for all positions in the truck company. In the engine, each member knows what position on the line to maintain, what duty to perform, and what responsibilities to take on.

We have assignments for all first-alarm companies—four engines, two ladders, one squad, one rescue, two battalion chiefs, and a FAST truck (RIT) for a confirmed structural fire—and some procedures for second-alarm companies. By the time a second-alarm assignment is coming in to the box, a battalion chief, at a minimum, is on the scene and ready to give assignments to the incoming companies as they report for duty.

All of our procedures are on paper and must be studied by all members on entering the fire academy, for promotional exams, and throughout their career, to ensure they are doing their job properly. These procedures are written to have all personnel on the same page when operating. Should a member become lost, the rescuers would have a general idea of where that member should be; it helps to keep continuity in performance. Additionally, the chief in charge will know what tasks are being performed and can use this as a gauge with which to evaluate the progress of the operations.

Fred C. McKay, captain, Toronto (ON) Fire Services

Response: There is no doubt that a dichotomy exists within the fire service today regarding preincident assignments and incident-specific assignments. My department is currently in a state of flux regarding this issue, as we have recently undergone an amalgamation of six fire departments of various sizes into what is now one of the largest departments in North America. As we have evolved into one department, we have chosen to steer away from the more traditional method of preincident assignments and prefer to assign our personnel to incident-specific strategies, tactics, and tasks based on the situation at hand.

Most firefighters would tell you that one of the things they like most about their job is the variety from one day to the next, and from one fire to the next. Because of the myriad of situations we can potentially face, the system we use should be as flexible as possible. Modern firefighters should be trained to perform any task-level assignment, thus permitting them to be inserted anywhere in the tactical and strategic solution to a chaotic situation. This may represent an added workload as far as training and commitment, but the more professionally minded firefighters seem to embrace this challenge, helping to ensure a consistently safer and more efficient fireground operation.

Every firefighter wishes that every fire truck were fully staffed, but the harsh reality for most departments is that they have to do more with less. That being the case, the IC needs to use his personnel in the most efficient manner. Firefighters become more versatile, aerial trucks with all the equipment a pumper carries have become the norm, and rescue pumpers carrying the latest auto extrication equipment are now available. Cross-training firefighters to staff these vehicles takes some time and effort but will produce very capable personnel.

Certainly, there is a place in a modern fire service for the specialists (haz mat, confined space, high angle), but for bread-and-butter fireground operations where the firefighters have to be deployed in fast-attack mode, the more options the IC has, the sooner the situation will be mitigated safely and efficiently.

Farley Gruber, chief, Columbia Township Fire Department,Grand Junction, Michigan

Response: We operate on incident-specific assignment because of the simple fact that each incident is different. We have SOGs establishing those things that have to be done, the correct order, and the time frame within which each needs to be done (vent, utility shutoff, extension). Being a paid on-call fire department, we do not have persons with preassigned jobs; everyone is trained for every possible task.

Ariel Villarreal, captain, Pembroke Pines (FL) Fire Rescue

Response: Our department currently operates under incident-specific assignments primarily because we do not have structural firefighting SOGs in place (they are under development). There is no foundation for uniformly establishing preincident assignments throughout the department. The responsibility for making task-specific assignments lies solely with the first-arriving company officer (the initial IC).

A company officer has the discretion to make preincident assignments for his company. I am a proponent of preincident assignments because immediately on arrival members work as a structured unit, are aware of what their and other company members’ personal responsibilities are, and approach each incident size-up from the perspective of their operational responsibility.

Brian Singles, firefighter, Hampton (VA) Fire Department

Response: We use the incident-specific method because Hampton is a very widespread community and staffs 10 fire stations under the command of one suppression battalion chief. We depend on the company officers and their crews to advance an attack on a fire involving structures without an order from or the presence of a battalion chief. Once the battalion chief arrives, he takes command of the scene. We consider our department aggressive, but only when the first-arriving fireground officer has the knowledge, time in grade, and experience to initiate such a plan of attack.

Ron Terriaco, lieutenant, Concord Township (OH) Fire Department

Response: We use preincident assignments. Our first-due engine goes to the fire building, parks the engine at the best vantage point, and starts the fire attack or rescue. The pump operator assumes accountability until relieved. The pump operator also sets a 24-foot ladder to a window for escape on side 1 and gets tools and a positive-pressure ventilator to the front door. The attack crew makes entry for fire attack or rescue, whichever is dictated.

The second-due engine is water supply and backup attack. It lays in from the hydrant to the attack engine, connects the supply line into its engine, and connects into the attack engine with its engine and supplies it. This will always give a backup water source in case of hydrant failure.

Our second-due engine also comes with a squad. This squad stays with the hydrant, dresses the hydrant, charges the hydrant when called for, and moves up with the second-due engine. The second-due pump operator establishes the water supply and helps the other pump operator. The second-due crew makes entry with the backup line and is assigned to primary search or fire attack.

Our automatic-aid truck or engine company, whoever arrives third due, is assigned to the RIC. Other required assignments are handed out from here.

Patrick J. Showers, captain, Clearwater Fire Service, Lewiston, Idaho

Response: My department uses incident-specific assignments. Every incident poses its own challenges and problems. If a command officer gets into the mindset that this is the standard for every job or every tour, someone is not going to come home from the tour. A good leader will overcome and adapt to the changing fireground situation. Your scene size-up dictates your course of action. The basics are the same, but the tactics change with every call. What worked on this fire might not work on that fire. Everything boils down to the basics and leadership. If you have a good leader who can adapt to the situation and firefighters who know the basics and can take direction, everyone comes home from the job and the tour.

David B. Cheshire, captain, Manteno (IL) Community Fire Protection District

Response: Our fire district operates as preincident and incident specific. Our SOGs are guidelines. Guidelines give the first-arriving officer and the IC the flexibility to adapt and overcome the incident, providing you with all possible avenues to mitigate as needed.

Lance C. Peeples, instructor, St. Louis County (MO) Fire Academy

Response: Failure to use preincident assignments is a leading cause of fireground difficulties. Many departments do not separate the fire suppression effort into even the most basic divisions of engine and truck tactics. Certainly, absolutely irresponsible staffing levels are responsible for much of this. If all a department can muster for a fire in a single-family dwelling is four members, it’s a pretty sure bet that things are going to be pretty disorganized as those members attempt to sequentially perform the duties that should be performed simultaneously by nearly 25 firefighters.

To ensure the most efficient use of responding personnel, it is essential that the fire department administration mandate the use of preincident assignments. This ensures that the most critical assignments are covered first and that the supporting assignments are not neglected by those who want to “get in on the action.”

The following is a description of a two-engine, two-ladder, and chief response to a fire in an occupied two-story family dwelling:

First-Due Ladder

“Ladder” is used to identify the company assigned to perform traditional ladder company functions such as laddering, forcible entry, venting, and search. The company does not have to be equipped with an aerial device. These duties must be performed even if a ladder company is not assigned.

Position: Officer.

Tools: radio, A-tool, thermal imaging camera (TIC) or lantern.

Assignment: supervise, assist Irons and Can with forcible entry, search.

Position: Irons.

Tools: halligan, flathead ax, radio, lantern.

Assignment: force entry with Can firefighter, search.

Position: Can.

Tools: six-foot hook, H2O extinguisher.

Assignment: assist Irons with forcible entry, search.

Position: Outside Vent.

Tools: six-foot hook, halligan, radio, lantern/TIC.

Assignment: throw ladder to windows, vent, enter, and search.

Position: Roof.

Tools: six-foot hook, halligan, radio, lantern/TIC.

Assignment: throw ladder to windows, vent, enter, and search.

Position: Driver.

Tools: flathead ax, radio.

Assignment: assist OV, raise aerial if possible.

First-Due Engine

Position: Officer

Tools: radio, lantern/TIC, A-tool. (If staffing is inadequate, the engine officer may have to be physically involved in stretching the hoseline. This may preclude him from carrying an A-tool.)

Assignment: Supervise first line.

Position: Nozzle.

Tool: nozzle.

Assignment: operate nozzle.

Position: Backup.

Tool: hoseline.

Assignmentrelieve backpressure.

Position: Door.

Tool: hoseline.

Assignment: hump hose, remove kinks.

Position: Control/hydrant.

Tool: hoseline.

Assignment: estimate length of stretch (reverse lay) or make hydrant (forward lay), remove kinks.

Position: Engineer.

Tool radio.

Assignment: operate pump

Second-Due Ladder

Positions, tools, and assignments are same as for first-due ladder. This company supports the first-due ladder. The IC may order this company to open the roof.

Second-Due Engine

Positions, tools, and assignments are same as for first-due engine. The company backs up the first line. If no assistance is necessary, it stretches the second line to the floor above the fire.


Assumes overall command of the incident.

Note that this plan provides for the assignment of 25 firefighters and officers. It may be possible to operate with fewer members at a fire in a two-story, single-family frame dwelling (indeed, the majority of fire departments are forced to!), but it certainly is not optimal. The search operation will be delayed, and with each passing minute the chance of survival for trapped occupants drops dramatically. Inadequate staffing and lack of preassigned jobs result in delayed ladder placement and venting. Both jeopardize the lives of firefighters and civilians. Engine companies that fail to preassign jobs typically are unable to advance their lines as everyone migrates toward the nozzle and no one humps hose.

Clearly, preassigned duties should be made at the change of tour in paid departments. Duties can be assigned according to riding position on the apparatus in volunteer units. Obviously, assignments would differ with the occupancy type. Fire department administrations must develop protocols for each type of building in its jurisdiction. For example, at a private dwelling fire, the roof firefighter would use a portable ladder to vent, enter, and search the bedrooms; at a fire in a tenement building, the firefighter must proceed to the bulkhead door to vent the staircase. Considerable training is needed for the firefighter to be able to assign the correct protocol to the situation. Only experienced firefighters should be assigned to positions that operate remote from their officers (outside vent, roof, control, for example). Officers must retain the flexibility to alter the SOP in unusual conditions. The keys are adequate staffing and training!

Walter Lewis, lieutenant, Orlando (FL) Fire Department

Response: In learning from others, the Orlando Fire Department set forth SOPs some years ago, with occasional revisions because of staffing, apparatus, or tactics/ response changes. In the most recent revision, the duties of each riding position were spelled out for the four most common fire situations (residential, garden apartment, commercial, and high-rise) as well as other incidents (aircraft down, haz mat, bomb threat, multicasualty) to limit confusion between the first two alarms of units. This seems to combine the preincident assignment (nozzleman, first due, house fire, roof, right jump, first engine) with highlights of the most common circumstances.

This is especially helpful for the younger members of the department. In each of the ranks, from district chief to firefighter, many have held that position only for a short time. To ensure completion of duties, facilitate an aggressive firefighting and rescue environment, and assist with accountability, the SOPs are issued and tested among all departments. For us, having a plan beforehand greatly enhances efficient performance during most incidents.


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