The rescue company is one of the most versatile and highest trained companies in the fire service. Its duties range from everyday bread-and-butter operations and vehicle extrications to more complex confined space, building collapse, and water rescue responses. Its members traditionally consist of highly trained veterans of the fire service with an extensive training background and have seen a fair number of fires. Members concentrate their technical training in building construction, confined space, rope and rigging, water rescue operations, vehicle rescues, and rapid intervention. In many departments, the rescue companies are the workhorses of the department.


Three types of rescue companies can be found in the fire service. The fire rescue company is usually set up to perform everyday fire operations. Its tools and duties are primarily used during all working fires. Fire rescue vehicles are usually smaller single-axle rigs; some are built on commercial truck chassis. The tools consist of basic hooks, axes, saws, shovels, bars, ropes, chains, cribbing, basic hydraulic rescue and entry tools, lights and cords, tarps, and first-aid equipment.

(1) This squad has the ground ladders toward the right side the body. The gas saws and roof bag are located at the rear, which allows the roof team to have all its equipment in one central, easily accessible location. (Photos by author.)

The heavy rescue company also operates at most working fires and is the company primarily responsible for technical rescues. In the morning, members may be opening the roof at a taxpayer; after lunch, they could be removing a worker whose arm is stuck in an auger down at the docks.

(2) To the left of the divider, this combination of high rescue-style compartments with roll-up doors allows the storage of high-lift jacks. Adjustable shelves offer flexibility of storage for toolboxes, bottle jacks, first-in EMS bag, and electric- and battery-operated hand tools.

Such units usually have much larger tandem-axle rigs that carry a large amount of equipment and personnel. These vehicles will usually have a larger cab, and the entire body is used for equipment.

Many are outfitted with winches, A-frames, small cranes, and cascade systems. The complement of tools includes all the basic equipment of the fire rescue company as well as a larger selection of hydraulic rescue tools, timbers for stabilization and collapse operations, torches, haz-mat supplies, ice/water rescue sleds and flotation devices, jacks and struts for stabilization of large objects, and air bags.

3) This heavy rescue apparatus has seating for eight, a light tower, a hydraulic crane, walkup rear steps, large coffin storage boxes with timber storage on top, and ground ladders inside the body accessible from the rear. Six hydraulic rescue tools can be operated simultaneously

In the past 20 years or so, we have seen a combination of rescue and engine-the squad company. The squad has combined some of the most common technical duties of the rescue company with the suppression capabilities of the engine company. These are commonly called rescue pumper units. Most will have a pump rated at least 1,250 gpm and a minimum water booster tank of 500 gallons. Some might even have a foam system.

(4) This heavy rescue unit has all vehicle rescue tools located in one large compartment at the rear of the truck. The slide-out tower allows for easy removal of all the tools.

The apparatus looks like a traditional engine but has a rescue-style body with high side compartments and may even have coffin-style storage boxes on top. Ground ladders are stored inside the body from the rear, in a tunnel similar to that of an aerial apparatus. Depending on the needs of the incident commander, the apparatus can function as a pumper or a rescue or truck company. In many smaller departments, these units save the cost of purchasing and maintaining two pieces of apparatus. The Fire Department of New York has had squad units in service for many years to assist the five rescue companies or to provide only fire suppression duties. Late last year, the Philadelphia Fire Department placed two squads in service to complement the services of Rescue 1 and Haz-Mat 1.

5) The preconnected hydraulic rescue tool located in the front bumper allows for quick deployment.

Equipment usually consists of all the typical fire suppression appliances including preconnected handlines and supply line. Other equipment can include hydraulic rescue tools, hand tools, haz-mat supplies, foam equipment, first-aid supplies, and gas-powered saws and fans.


The rescue company is only as good as the duties its members perform; they need to know what their duties are before they get to the job. There are six primary duties the rescue company needs to carry out at every working structure fire.

Search and rescue. This is the company’s most important duty and will be initiated at every working fire. Visibly trapped victims receive top priority; ladders must be thrown and the victims removed to safety.

(6) This heavy rescue has a wide variety of specialty rescue tools and lumber for collapse and trench rescue operations. This vehicle has a second special operations truck that responds as the technical task force unit.

The most important areas to search are above and adjacent to the fire. Victims in these areas have the highest chance of survival; those located directly in the fire area have a very low chance of survival. The engine company should provide a quick and effective primary search of the fire area. Remember to use basic search techniques aided by thermal imaging cameras (TICs), if available, but do not rely solely on these devices. What happens if the battery goes dead? Check under furniture, in closets and bathrooms, and around windows.

Once the primary search is complete, a more throrough secondary search will be completed. For larger buildings, you may deploy a search line and develop a large area search technique that will cover the area quickly. The line will allow the search team members to stay in contact with each other and safely evacuate the building should they become disoriented.

(7) This pull-out tower allows easy access of hydraulic rescue tools on this squad. Large-diameter supply line and preconnected 21⁄2-inch handlines are also easily accessible.

Forcible entry. Forcible entry is needed to gain access to the fire building, the fire apartment, and exposures. The building needs to be opened up to allow the engine to stretch to the fire and to allow interior team members to perform search and ventilation duties. Entry may be as simple as finding an unlocked door or as complex as having to cut through a steel roll-up door. A set of irons can get you in most places you need to go.

Additional tools to make entry easier are the “A” and “K” tools, a hydraulic “rabbit” type tool, and a gas saw. If you are forcing entry into the building, make sure that a secondary point of entry/egress is established. If roll-up doors are opened, make sure that they are secured open. Prop the door open with a hook. If the door is a slat type, remove all the slats to eliminate the threat of the door’s closing.

Ventilation. Prompt and correct ventilation-the systematic removal of heat, smoke, fire, and gases from the fire building-will lead to effective fire control and possibly save lives. Correct ventilation allows fresh air to replace the smoke and heat and will aid in the search for victims.

Vertical ventilation should be achieved at all top-floor fires. Remember to ventilate directly above the fire, which allows the fire and smoke to be drawn through the hole like a chimney. If the vent hole is not made over the fire, the fire can be drawn into other unaffected areas of the building and can intensify. Bigger is better! One large vent hole is quicker and more effective than several small ones.

If a trenching operation is needed, call for additional resources before the saws are started. Make sure that you have plenty of personnel and tools. A trench cut is one of the most effective ways to stop the fire in its tracks, but it can also lead to the rapid spread of fire if not performed effectively. For fires on all other floors, horizontal ventilation should be used. Positive-pressure ventilation should be implemented as soon as water is on the seat of the fire. If you are going to win the battle, you must coordinate ventilation with the engine company.

Utility control. Gas, electric, and water need to be controlled as early as possible to eliminate dangers to the crews operating on the fireground. Pulling the meter or turning off the main breaker should secure the power to the building. If you cannot locate the main breaker and need to turn off individual breakers, note if any are already tripped, and let the fire marshal know-this information could be important to his investigation.

Gas can be shut off at the meter most of the time. If the meter is damaged from the fire, the shutoff in the street must be located and shut down. Does your department have a gas key to shut off the gas at the curb box? Water can be shut off similarly. Make sure that you notify the incident commander that all utilities have been secured and verify that he has notified the appropriate agency to respond.

Salvage. This is what separates good and bad public relations. Remember that we are there to help the public. Good customer relations are key to our business. The building owner has just suffered a great loss; you can make him see a bright side to things by just taking a few extra moments to try and save the building’s contents from further damage.

Gather furniture in the center of each room and cover with tarps or plastic sheeting. Relocate items into other areas of the building that have not been affected by fire. Water damage can destroy many items; smoke and soot can sometimes be easily cleaned. Get this done as early as possible.

Overhaul. We don’t look good if we respond to a fire, extinguish it, go home, and then have to come back in a few hours because we might have missed a hot spot or two. Open up as much as possible to make sure the fire is out. Pay special attention to door and window frames, baseboard moldings, and concealed spaces above the fire. Use hooks and saws to peel everything back that is burned; use the TIC to find any unextinguished embers. A little extra time spent now can save many headaches later.


The rescue company should be split into interior and exterior teams. The interior team consists of the officer, inside vent, irons man, and can man. It is responsible for assisting the outside team with obvious rescues from ground ladders, forcible entry, searches, ventilation, checks for extension, and salvage and overhaul. Typical interior riding positions of the rescue company are as follows:

Officer. Primary duties are to be responsible for his crews, locate the seat of the fire, and search adjacent areas of the fire floor.

Inside vent. Must search the floor above the fire and ventilate horizontally as needed.

Irons. Gains access to the building and assists with search and ventilation as directed by the officer.

Can. Locates the seat of the fire, controls incipient fires, and searches adjacent areas of the fire floor.

The outside team includes the chauffeur, roof, and outside vent man and is responsible for obvious rescue from ground ladders, throwing ground ladders to every side, vertical ventilation, outside horizontal ventilation, utility control, and scene lighting.

Typical exterior riding positions of the rescue company are as follows:

Chauffeur (driver). Responsible for throwing ground ladders, providing scene lighting, and assisting the roof man.

Roof. Responsible for opening up for vertical ventilation.

Outside vent. Responsible for getting to the rear of the building and coordinating horizontal ventilation with the engine company. Once this is complete, he will assist the roof team.

These duties and riding positions are for when you are operating as a pure rescue company. If you are responding as a squad company, your duties might shift to suppression functions as directed by the incident commander.

As you can see, rescue rigs come in many different styles and colors, but their duties are all very similar. These companies can perform a multitude of tasks on the fireground. With today’s rising cost of apparatus, the squad company concept has become popular with many departments because of the dual functions it provides from one rig.

DANIEL T. HINKLE is a captain with the Warrington Township (PA) Fire Company and a 19-year veteran of the volunteer fire service. He is a Pennsylvania State Level II fire instructor and an NFPA certified fire Inspector. He has a bachelor’s degree from Delaware Valley College and is an instructor at the Bucks County (PA) Public Safety Training Center.

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