I’VE OFTEN ADDRESSED, in past installments of “Volunteers Corner,” subjects that are considered to be ladder company functions—so many times that some of my engine company friends have asked me if I think they are orphans.
Of course, the answer is no. I’ve stated many times that the line is most vital to the outcome of the fire. First, without water you’ll have a hard time putting the fire out (although many truckies believe they can eat flames). Secondly, once the fire is controlled, the danger to occupants is over.
We’ve discussed how important the placement of the first line is in the outcome of the fire. We’ve dealt with ventilation, construction, fire travel, occupancy layouts, and search, just to name a few of the subjects covered over the last few years. They’re important subjects not only for ladder personnel, but for the enginemen as well. This knowledge gives us a well-rounded firefighter. not one who hides behind a nozzle and just wants to move forward until all the red is gone. The nozzleman performs a vital function, but much more is going on around him, and he must be aware of it.
Many times when we think of the engine company, we think of it revolving around the nozzleman. After all, he’s the one who gets all the action; he’s the guy who gets the pat on the back when there’s nothing left except smoke and steam: he’s the one who tells us how hot it was, how long the hall felt, and how many rooms he put out. That’s great, but let’s look at how he got there.
First, the nozzleman did nothing without water. The pump operator/ chauffeur got us to the fire building without an accident (if you don’t get there, you can’t do anything). Secondly, he had to operate the pump to ensure an adequate water supply without injuring us—a delicate balance. The pump operator, hopefully, is a senior member who will not panic just because he sees flames. Rather, he will go about his job methodically, and not let the pressure of the moment upset the apple cart.
The next important person is the control man. He is last on the line and his major function is to make sure we have enough line laid out properly from the pumper to the building so that the nozzle advance will be complete and smooth.
The third man on the line is also invaluable to the operation. As with the control man, he must make sure the line is straight and that there are no kinks to resist the flow. He must also be in a position to move the line around the corners without binding or kinking. He feeds the line to the nozzle team at their pace and is ready with the control man to relieve the initial nozzle team should they run out of air or become injured.
I must make this very clear: The job of the third and fourth men on the line demands understanding, training, and discipline. They allow the line to move, and must chase all the kinks, resisting the temptation to bunch up like so many sheep and yell back for others to perform their functions. These are tough positions on the line. You break your back stretching the line, chasing all the kinks, feeding the line, and preparing to relieve if necessary, and the nozzleman gets the pats. He should be patting you.
Now we can look at the nozzle team. You might think I have listed engine duties in reverse, but think about it— we have been going forward ever since we left the firehouse. The nozzle team consists of the officer, nozzleman, and backup man. The duties of the backup man are to absorb part of the nozzle reaction pressure and to keep the line straight behind the nozzleman. (When the nozzleman moves left, the backup goes right.) When breaking in a new nozzleman. the backup should be one of the more experienced men on the line. Don’t get caught up with the thought that the probationary firefighter should be left in the rear. Get him up front and, after the fire, explain to him why he had such an easy job of it. Explain the importance of his support team. Explain why the team must operate as a team. .After a few fires, he will understand and you’ll have a team player.
The nozzleman is very important. He sets the pace, directs the line, and above all, puts out the fire. Let’s just remember one thing: Without his support team, he’s still in the kitchen.