Suburban Ladder Company Operations


A primary job of the engine company is fire extinguishment, although members assigned to a ladder or truck company also provide critical supporting roles. Together, these units offer a team approach to fireground operations. Employed properly, engine and ladder company personnel will work in unison and increase the safety of all members operating on the fireground, as well as any civilians awaiting rescue.

The ladder company is more than an elevated master stream; it is also a valuable offensive asset. The response of this critical asset must be as one of the initial responding apparatus and not an afterthought. Ultimately, an effective ladder company is comprised of an adequately staffed, highly trained crew that is used properly on the fireground.

Ladder company tasks do not necessarily have to be performed by those that arrive on aerial apparatus. A first-alarm response consisting of five engine companies may have a designated company or two perform ladder company-type missions. Performing certain supporting tasks at the right time and place aids in fire attack and rescue.


Staffing is critical for effective and safe fireground operations. In departments that have few personnel, it is imperative that some minimum level of staffing be on-scene to perform attack and supporting tasks. These assets could arrive as additional alarms, mutual aid, or automatic aid. The ladder company responding with a four-member staff may perform both interior and exterior tasks simultaneously while the first-due engine company goes into action (Figure 1). It is at this point that you can see the true worth of a responding ladder company.

The first-due engine may face a locked door, backdraft conditions, or an occupant trapped in an upper-floor bedroom. A properly staffed, trained, and equipped ladder company will move rapidly to mitigate many of these problems.

In the hallmark textbook for ladder company operations, Fire Officer’s Handbook of Tactics, Third Edition, the author, Deputy Assistant Chief (Ret.) John Norman, uses the acronym LOVERS U to describe basic ladder company tasks. This acronym highlights the responsibilities of a truck company. An interior team performs some of the tasks and an exterior team performs others (Figure 2).

Laddering. This may include using aerial and portable ladders. The exterior team will routinely accomplish this task. Firefighter safety is enhanced by creating additional means of egress, and occupant safety is increased when firefighters can gain quicker access to vital building areas, such as upper-floor bedrooms.

Overhaul. This task may be the interior team’s responsibility; it can be divided into precontrol (such as opening voids to get ahead of the fire) and postcontrol overhaul (making sure the fire is extinguished before leaving). Firefighter safety increases when you expose a hidden fire before it cuts off an escape route or increases in intensity.

Ventilation. Interior and exterior teams perform the tasks of venting for life and venting for fire on a routine basis. The safety and survival of occupants and firefighters are enhanced as the combustible gases that contribute to flashover and backdraft are released, visibility is improved, and toxic gases are replaced with fresh air.

Forcible Entry. Forcible entry allows for a quicker knockdown by allowing the engine company an unimpeded path to the fire. Occupant safety increases because of this rapid line placement, and searches are more effective. Both the interior and exterior teams perform forcible entry. The exterior team may be required to force a bulkhead door on the roof to vent the interior stair or force the rear of a heavily secured commercial occupancy.

Rescue and Search. Interior and exterior teams perform rescue and search. In addition to searching for victims, a good ladder company is also the eyes and ears of the incident commander (IC), always searching for fire extension and other dangers such as collapse hazards.

Salvage and Utility control. Salvage is a task that may fall to the interior team when staffing permits. It is the property conservation task that also aids in fire department effectiveness. Utility control (shutting down the utilities) may be the responsibility of the interior or the exterior team. The ability to safely control an occupancy’s gas, electricity, and water has pronounced effects on firefighter safety.

This article emphasizes basic ladder company tasks and the need for a ladder company that can perform multiple tasks simultaneously on the fireground. A properly equipped, four-person company is critical to the initial response from the station or an ad hoc group formed at the fire scene (as part of a recall of firefighters or a volunteer response) (Figures 3, 4, and 5). Multiple tasks must be performed simultaneously in support of the initial fire attack. Failure to conduct these tasks endangers firefighters and civilians alike.





Fire Officers Handbook of Tactics, Third Edition, John Norman (Fire Engineering, 2005).

Fireground Strategies, Anthony Avillo, (Fire Engineering, 2002).

Truck Company Operations, John Mittendorf (Fire Engineering, 1998).

Fireground Size-up, Michael Terpak (Fire Engineering, 2003).

Truck Company Fireground Operations, Harold Richman (National Fire Protection Association, 2006).

ARMAND F. GUZZI JR., a 21-year member of the fire service, is a firefighter with the Long Branch (NJ) Fire Department and has taught for 18 years as a part-time fire academy instructor with the Monmouth County (NJ) Fire Academy. He has a master’s degree in management and undergraduate degrees in fire science, education, and business administration.

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