Truck Company Functions

Question: Some departments believe that the primary truck company function on the fireground is search; others believe it is ventilation. Some departments don’t even have a truck company. What primary fireground function does your (or your closest) truck company perform?

The primary functions to be performed on the fireground would depend on the staffing. It seems as if the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) has one million firefighters. It has five- or six-person truck companies (including the officer). Can you imagine it? An entire crew you can split in half and still get things done. (It’s hard to split a three-person truck company in half without surgical intervention.) Now think about the thousands (literally) of departments that do not even have a truck in the fleet. Others have a truck in the fleet but take it out of the station only on mutual-aid calls.

If staffing is adequate on a specific apparatus and in the total number of firefighters responding to a fire, then procedure can dictate the specific function of a company. However, in my opinion, if either of those numbers is deficient or variable, then less procedure and more “audible plays” can and should be called at the line (at the fire).

The Toledo (OH) Department of Fire and Rescue generally staffs three firefighters on a truck company, which is inadequate. Truck companies generally are assigned to ventilation. An engine company generally conducts search.

—John “Skip” Coleman recently retired from the Toledo (OH) Department of Fire and Rescue as assistant chief. He is a technical editor of Fire Engineering, a member of the FDIC Educational Advisory Board, and author of Incident Management for the Street-Smart Fire Officer (Fire Engineering, 1997) and Managing Major Fires (Fire Engineering, 2000).

Bobby Shelton, firefighter,
Cincinnati (OH) Fire Department

Response: Life safety is our primary mission. In our department, four is the minimum staffing on all apparatus. On a structural assignment, we dispatch two truck companies and one rapid assistance truck (RAT). The first-in and second-in trucks each can send two members inside to effect search and rescue and two members each to perform horizontal or vertical ventilation. Should the second-in truck be delayed, we split the four members of the first-in truck into two teams. The officer and one firefighter go in to do search and rescue and try to do ventilation as they proceed. The second team consists of the fire apparatus operator and the other firefighter; they ascend to the roof for ventilation. If there is an immediate need for rescue, all four members will make that task their priority while the second-in truck does ventilation.

Another integral part of the operation is our RAT, which is proactive, not reactive. The first priority for the RAT is to throw ladders for emergency firefighter egress. The next is to remove all obstacles that could impede egress, such as boarded-up windows and security bars. When performing their tasks, they, too, can perform ventilation, but they are not to be committed to the firefighting effort. They are to perform these outside tasks and remain available for rescue should a Mayday be transmitted.

Thomas Dunne, deputy chief,
Fire Department of New York

Response: Preservation of life is the main goal of the fire service. Based on this principle, search and rescue can be viewed as the prime mission of our ladder companies. However, this task will be accomplished ineffectively, or even dangerously, without the support of the other truck functions.

Our department has 141 ladder units, each staffed by an officer and five firefighters. Specific personnel are assigned to force entry into a building and to initiate an interior search. Their search will be more aggressive and less physically punishing if it is coordinated with properly timed ventilation by truck firefighters operating on the roof, a ladder, or the fire escape.

It is difficult to isolate one primary task for our trucks, since all of their tasks are interrelated. The search function is absolutely vital but should be viewed as the tip of a triangle. The bottom of that triangle requires substantial support, and ventilation tactics provide a significant part of that support.

It also bears mentioning that a well-positioned and effectively operated hoseline probably makes up an even broader part of that triangle. As a former truck officer and firefighter, I know I felt a lot more confident doing a primary search while an aggressive engine company confined the fire and covered my back.

As an FDNY incident commander, I can count on a quick and efficient search from our ladder companies. But, at the same time, the goal is an operation where the various truck and engine functions are properly orchestrated.

Rick Lasky, chief,
Lewisville (TX) Fire Department

Response: When discussing truck company operations on the fireground, probably the most important point to make is that truck operations and the tasks associated with them must be performed at every working fire—whether you have a truck or not. For years, nationally recognized speaker and FDIC instructor Chicago (IL) Fire Department Battalion Chief (Ret.) Ray Hoff has taught “Truck Work Without a Truck,” which emphasizes the point that regardless of whether you have a ladder truck or not, these tasks have to be performed by personnel on the fireground if you are to be successful in your fire attack.

Before we can answer the question of whether the primary fireground function of a truck company is search or ventilation, we need to address and consider the following points:

  1. After proper positioning of the apparatus on arrival, we need to be thinking about forcible entry so the engine team can get in and make its attack.
  2. Ventilation efforts should be conducted at this time as well.
  3. Search and rescue should be initiated in an attempt to search for the fire and any potential victims.

If I had to choose between ventilation or search for my truck company and I could do only one of the two, it would be to vent the building. My engine team will be aided greatly in its efforts to locate the seat of the fire and make its attack, and any possible victims would stand a better chance for survival. When I choose to search first and wait for ventilation to be handled by a later-arriving company, I stand a chance of taking a worse beating on the inside. Addressing life safety can often be accomplished by putting the fire out and venting the building to remove the by-products of combustion. If I had the best of all worlds, I would rather attack the fire and have my truck company vent the building and commence with search and rescue all at the same time.

After the above task, we can look at salvage and overhaul and checking for extension, not necessarily in that order.

Below are the assignments and tasks for the truck company in Lewisville:

  • Captain and his jumpseat firefighter—forcible entry and search and rescue.
  • Driver operator and his jumpseat firefighter—ventilation.
  • The fifth firefighter—outside vent man and the tasks associated with that role.

Truck operations are an absolute necessity for a successful fire attack—again, whether you have a ladder truck or not.

Jeffrey Schwering, lieutenant,
Crestwood (MO) Department of Fire Services

Response: Our closest truck company is an automatic-aid quint company that normally arrives third due. This company is used as the situation dictates, not necessarily as a truck company.

In our department, with our two engines arriving together, the first company starts fire attack and the second-due engine search. The truck company will assist in filling in the pieces of the fireground puzzle on its arrival. On a residential fire, the quint crew does everything from ventilation to backing up the initial fire attack crews.

Our first alarms receive our two engines and three automatic-aid companies (one truck and two engines), from different departments, depending on the location in our city. Our department’s running cards ensure the closest companies respond to every working incident. Every effort is made to place the truck company in front of the structure; however, that is not always possible on our small residential streets.

On a commercial fire, however, the truck company is placed in front of the building and performs truck work. The truck company vents and is assisted by the incoming engine companies in accomplishing all tasks assigned to it. All companies work and train together regularly. This interagency training helps to protect our firefighters and citizens alike.

John O’Neal, chief, Manassas Park (VA) Fire Department

Response: In our system of automatic mutual-aid and regional responses, our policies assign the first-due truck company to the front of the structure in the most strategic location, to allow rapid placement of ladders and entry into the building for the crew with the general assignments of forcible entry, if needed; search; ventilation; and placement of aerial or ground ladders. Naturally, the priority of the assignments is based on the conditions found and the tactical assignments of the initial incident commander (IC).

Life safety—civilian and firefighter—is always the first strategic priority. Depending on the fire conditions and situation found, the first-arriving truck will be given the assignment to search or ventilate to maximize life safety and saving efforts. As we know, at times the best actions may be a coordinated fire attack with early ventilation to maximize life safety efforts; at other times, the conditions and situation found may necessitate the directed and pointed search for viable victims. The first-due rescue company or second-due truck may be assigned to assist the first-due truck as needed, depending on the situation and conditions to achieve the strategic and tactical goals of the incident.

Nick Morgan, firefighter, St. Louis (MO) Fire Department

Response: Our “traditional” truck companies were done away with in 1987 when the department changed over to an all-quint system. Today, our department has 30 “quint-engine companies,” each with a 75-foot aerial ladder and four “quint hook and ladder companies,” two with 125-foot “straight-stick” aerials and two with 100-foot platforms. All of our quint companies have four-person crews. The second-due engine company is usually assigned to operate as a truck company. Our department believes that search and ventilation are necessary on any offensive fire scene. According to our standard operating procedures (SOPs), the company doing “truck work” assigns two firefighters to perform forcible entry and search with the engine company and two to put up ground ladders to provide secondary egress for firefighters operating inside the structure and outside horizontal ventilation by opening or breaking windows, if necessary, to assist with interior search and fire suppression activities.

On all reported structure fires, the initial response includes three quint engines, one quint hook and ladder, and one battalion chief. When the hook and ladder arrives, its crew contacts the IC for any specific instructions. Otherwise, the crew on the hook and ladder assists with laddering the building and the interior primary search or “opening up” the interior of the structure to look for fire spread. Two of the crew members of this company perform roof or vertical ventilation if the IC calls for it.

Even though we no longer operate with the traditional engine and truck companies, our department knows that rapid and efficient truck work can mean the difference between a successful rescue and offensive fire attack and making another parking lot.

Jay Wieners, chief,
Lake Hiawatha Fire Department,Parsippany, NJ

Response: I don’t believe that a truck company can be said to have just one primary function. It is responsible for a number of fireground functions that are vital to civilian and firefighter safety as well as the successful outcome of the operation. These functions need to be addressed at every fire, regardless of whether a department has a truck or not.

As a volunteer department, our apparatus respond as they are staffed; we usually don’t have the luxury of having an engine and a truck leave the firehouse simultaneously. Our engine is first due, followed by our truck (actually a telescoping waterway equipped and used for truck company operations). Since the engine is first to respond, it will normally take care of forcible entry and limited horizontal ventilation. Once the truck company arrives, it assumes responsibility for any remaining forcible entry and horizontal ventilation tasks that need to be performed. Beyond that, the truck company is responsible for the primary search, vertical ventilation (if needed), salvage and overhaul, raising ground ladders as needed, and securing utilities.

Again, our department uses a telescoping waterway (65-foot) as our truck company. This is all the ladder we need for our primary response area. The point is that departments should assign truck company operations to someone. Who that someone is will depend on the size and resources available to the department as well as the needs of the area served. But these functions need to be assigned ahead of time, not as an afterthought.

Jeff Goins, captain,br>Dekalb County (GA) Fire Rescue

Response: The truck company’s primary objective depends on the type of structure that’s burning. At a structure fire involving a “normally occupied” structure, a truck company has to address life safety as its primary objective. This can be done several ways. If civilians are within sight, they should be quickly asked if occupants are still in the building. If the answer is that everyone is out and accounted for, truck companies should still be the first to search the building to confirm this fact, but they can move at a slower and more cautious pace.

If people are still inside, it’s time to perform the most dangerous task a firefighter will ever perform. It may include searching on the same floor as the fire, going above the fire to search, or throwing ladders to effect a rescue. This is done simultaneously with the engine companies’ getting first water on the seat of the fire. It goes without saying that you must consider the building condition, the amount of fire, and the area where the fire is burning. This has to be a very quick evaluation; you must make a quick decision to realistically rescue occupants from a burning building. Hesitation can cost the lives of the occupants and potentially cause undue risk to firefighters. Nonetheless, truck companies should be conducting primary searches at “normally occupied” structures.

At fires involving closed businesses, vacant dwellings of any sort, or even establishments open for business with adequate warning devices (smoke detectors and fire alarms), take a more cautious, deliberate approach with regard to life safety. Consider these occupancies “normally unoccupied,” and a truck’s first priority here could certainly be ventilation or forcible entry, depending on the needs of the incident.

Business fires are risky for everyone on the fireground, not just truck companies. We lose firefighters every year in this country in commercial buildings when nothing is to be gained from interior firefighting operations. The only thing you’ll find inside a McDonald’s restaurant at 3 a.m. is uncooked food, drink dispensers, a big freezer, and in some cases a basement with an almost hidden stairwell. In other words, there’s nothing to find. Open the holes and dump enough water on the fire to control it from a safe position; then, very cautiously, inspect the structural stability of the building before allowing entry for overhaul (truck work).

Boarded vacant buildings require the same extreme caution. A truck’s job should be first to remove all window and door coverings. This will allow the fire to show itself, making the engine’s job much easier. Another reason for using extreme caution at vacant buildings is that vagrants and sometimes construction workers remove wall coverings (gypsum board or plaster), ceiling coverings, and floor coverings. This allows the fire to extend quickly to the building’s structure, eliminating the old 20 minutes of interior firefighting in wood-frame structures.

For buildings under construction, use the same extreme cautious approach. They are usually easy to identify and normally present a very low life safety risk. The only exception would be confirmation of workers trapped, which would still require an extremely cautious approach. An exact location or last-known location of an occupant would greatly assist in a successful rescue. All in all, the best form of rescue at this incident may be effective and quick fire control.

These are just a few examples of what I consider truck work, which obviously differs from fire to fire. The dynamics of truck work remains one of the attractions that draws people away from engine work. In my opinion, a truck’s first priority at any fire is to address life safety issues and act accordingly. The truck should also control utilities, place ladders if needed, and perform salvage and overhaul at every fire. Truck company members must be able to transition from building destruction to building preservation quickly.

Once truck company members have properly performed forcible entry, ventilation, and search for hidden fire, they should immediately begin to think about what they can do to salvage and protect the occupants’ belongings. They also need to limit the amount of structural damage. As a captain, it’s my job to pull back the reins on the horses and change the mode of operation; but through ongoing training and the constant awareness of my expectations, I’ve found my crew doing this on their own.

David DeStefano, lieutenant,
North Providence (RI) Fire Department

Response: Ladder companies are organized to be multifunction units and must be staffed accordingly. Realizing that the staffing we would like isn’t always the staffing we have, departments must plan to execute the basic ladder company duties by whatever means are necessary. Those functions include search and rescue, forcible entry, ventilation, and salvage and overhaul. Whether we arrive on a truck with an aerial or a tower or we assemble into task teams arriving on several engines, the IC must know in advance that he will have at least four members arriving on the first alarm to handle basic truck functions at single-family dwellings, small multiple dwellings, or small commercial buildings.

The initial basic tasks at our bread-and-butter jobs will quickly engage the first four truck members (or acting truck members). Simple roof jobs can usually be accomplished with no more than two firefighters. The company officer and forcible entry firefighter can handle quick outside vent and limited light-duty forcible entry. After gaining entry, these members begin the primary search on the fire floor, beginning by locating the seat of the fire, directing the first-due engine to the fire, and then searching for victims while venting as they go (provided an adequate line is moving in on the seat of the fire).

When the roof team has completed its task and given a radio report of conditions to the IC, it moves inside to help complete the primary search if needed or help pull (overhaul) for the engine. Obviously, tactical priorities guide our tasks. If the first-in truck company is confronted with victims in need of immediate rescue at upper-floor windows, the vertical ventilation task becomes secondary.

The first-in truck can be expected to meet the basic tasks at most fires. The second-in truck (or acting truck) must pick up the slack with coverage of the rear of the building with its device (if equipped), also providing help to the roof if needed, including officer supervision on complicated jobs. The second truck will typically search the floor above and throw ground ladders as required for access or egress.

These tasks are also subject to change based on tactical priorities. For instance, the second truck may be tasked strictly with removing boarded-over windows during operations in vacant buildings or gaining secondary access to cellar fires by way of bulkheads.

In short, all truck work, whether first or second due in large or small cities, revolves around gaining access, search and rescue, ventilation, and overhaul. Ancillary functions associated with ladder companies, such as salvage work, utility control, and scene lighting, may need to be assigned to units or task groups acting as ladder companies when actual ladder companies (with aerial devices) are in short supply.

Joe Solecki, firefighter,
West Chester (PA) Fire Department

Response: As the ladder rescue company, I would say our primary objective once we get to a scene is to conduct a primary search and throw ground ladders. Why a primary search? To save any possible victims and to throw ground ladders for help in rescue efforts, entrance and exits for hose teams, or a bailout situation. The way we accomplish this is by having riding assignments. We do something called the “Fame Ladder Split,” where the officer and two members on the right side of the engine compartment who are wearing SCBAs do a primary search and start ventilation, once the hose team has started working. While doing that, the driver, the extra firefighter in the front of the cab, and two firefighters on the driver’s side who are wearing SCBAs throw ground ladders. After that function is done, the exterior crew will do anything else needed such as roof ventilation, utilities, secondary search, or whatever else has not been done by any other apparatus.

Tony Tricarico, captain,
Fire Department of New York

Response: It is stated in our firefighting procedures, “Saving life is the primary function of ladder companies.” There are many ways to save lives on the fireground. Searching for the fire and confining it can save lives as well as retard extension. Ventilation may also save lives if done in a discriminatory manner. Yet, any immediate but limited ventilation is justified if it is coordinated between the inside and outside teams.

In our department, we have a minimum staffing clause that requires five firefighters and an officer on every truck company. This enables us to use a two-pronged attack, hence the inside and the outside team. This type of strategy necessitates tactical coordination between the inside and outside teams and the engine company, accomplished by radio with discipline.

Vertical ventilation entails opening the upper portions of the building—such as the bulkhead, scuttle, or skylights—to relieve the building of heat, smoke, and gases. This allows a more thorough examination above the fire and aids the escaping occupants. Additionally, it allows for an aggressive attack and creates a vertical draft, limiting horizontal extension.

Horizontal ventilation entails removal of the windows in the fire area to permit rapid advancement of the attack line into the immediate fire area and reduces the chance that the fire and the heat will wrap around the attack team by allowing the expanding gases (heat and smoke) to escape out of these openings. This ventilation must be coordinated between the inside and the outside teams.

Venting for fire is normally delayed until the engine company has its line in place, has water, and is ready to move into the fire area for extinguishment. Once the engine is in place and all of these parameters are met, we then vent the fire area to facilitate the advance of the attack line.

Venting for life is used to allow the members to move into an area where there is a known or suspected life hazard. This ventilation is done with the known calculated risk of creating extension and “pulling fire” into other areas, but it is performed as part of an attempt to reach possible survivors as quickly as possible. These actions must be coordinated with all operating members inside and outside.

Brian K. Singles, firefighter,
Hampton (VA) Fire Department

Response: I am assigned to one of the two truck companies in the department. The truck company’s primary responsibility at a working structure fire is, of course, vertical ventilation when the situation arises. The IC gives the order for the truck company to ventilate, and that is all that needs to be said. The truck company goes right to the roof and does its work quickly and efficiently. We are fortunate, being a small department, to have four personnel assigned to each of the two truck companies. If we need to, we can split up into two teams and perform not only vertical ventilation but also all other necessary truck company functions in a timely manner—securing utilities, conducting primary searches, throwing ground ladders to structures two stories and higher for access and egress, performing forcible entry, taking windows, setting up smoke ejectors, whatever the situation calls for.

Both of our truck companies have pumping capabilities and can respond first due as an attack vehicle. Truck 8 is the only fire unit that responds out of its station and has to function as an engine and a truck. The personnel assigned to that truck company are very well versed in both functions and are expected to perform as such. If needed, the IC can special call Truck 1 for truck company operations if Truck 8 is doing the engine function solely. Other fire units that respond with these two trucks have the skills and knowledge to assist the truck crews.

We also have a quint (Engine 9) with a fixed 75-foot aerial that can also perform as a truck company if the other two trucks are tied up. Some of the personnel assigned to this unit have spent a portion of their time on truck companies in the fire department and have also trained the younger and less experienced firefighters in truck company operations.

Roger A. McGary, chief,
Silver Spring (MD) Fire Department

Response: Our county (Montgomery County) SOP for Safe Structural Firefighting provides specific assignments for the first-alarm units. The first-due truck is to position on Side Alpha, provide ladders for egress, force entry for the first engine, perform rapid horizontal ventilation, assist in search and rescue, and check for extension on the fire floor. The initial IC, usually the first-arriving engine company officer, has the authority to change that assignment based on conditions found on arrival. Lacking any additional information to the contrary, the assignment is to be carried out as noted.

Will Anderson, lieutenant, Euclid (OH) Fire Department

Response: The primary function of our truck company will depend on the situation at hand and where in our jurisdiction the fire is. Our department is not large enough to allow our only aerial to perform only truck functions. Our minimum staffing on an engine or ladder company is three personnel (an officer, a driver, and a firefighter), although we are able to run a four-person unit several times a year. If a fire occurs in the first-due area of our ladder company, the company will perform engine duties (i.e., attack) most of the time. This truck is equipped with a 75-foot midship ladder, 400 gallons of water, 700 feet of five-inch supply hose, three 200-foot preconnects, and another 900 feet of 1¾- and 2½-inch hose, along with a large complement of saws, hand tools, and ground ladders. We try very hard to make room for the aerial in front of or near the structure when conditions permit. One of our two engines that will respond on a full-alarm assignment will perform truck work (i.e., search/rescue, ventilation, utilities, etc.) when it arrives on-scene and use tools from the ladder truck for the assignment. Because of this, it’s very important that our members be cross-trained in engine company and truck company duties.

Jim Mason, lieutenant,
Chicago (IL) Fire Department

Response: Our first-due truck companies will vent, force entry, and search based on the size-up of the fire situation. We are able to do all of this at once because we normally staff these companies with four firefighters and an officer. The reason for this staffing is based on the needs of the fire problems found in the city. Often, heavy fire situations in every combination of construction style next to closely spaced exposures filled with civilians make the job of the truck companies responding on the first alarm difficult, even when fully staffed.

The decision to search or vent as a first-due truck is not an easy one until the situation is assessed when the fire department arrives. If we are to “always” vent, the engine can advance, but there may be civilians in need of rescue that will go without help when seconds count. On the other hand, if the search is “always” done, it is possible that the engine company cannot get water on the fire because of high-heat conditions, so other victims that could have lived may perish.

How do we put our current resources to best use? The wild card of preassigned tasks in the strategy and tactics equation comes when we turn the corner of the block and see the fire building. In departments that staff a reduced firefighter response, it seems that preplanned size-up of different fire situations should be a well-practiced company drill, because the resources available must always be put to the best use based on what is seen on arrival. This way, the venting or search can be done effectively.

Russ Chapman, lieutenant,
Milford (CT) Fire Department

Response: The main function of our truck company is to vent. Our truck company has only two firefighters assigned (to a 100-foot ladder tower) and is supplemented by a two-person on-duty ambulance crew that may or may not be available. This means that the members on the truck have to double up on work. Senior members are usually on the truck; that is a good thing, considering that any truck company member has to think and act autonomously. Most departments in Connecticut are engine oriented, meaning that the truck’s function is a secondary thought—not by choice but because of staffing issues. Most “truck companies” in this state consist of a driver who brings the “tool box” to the fire and then picks up a hoseline with everyone else. Then when the building is half burnt down, the IC wants the ladder pipe or ladder tower/tower ladder placed in service. Then it has to get past all the large-diameter hose.

Most departments can afford only one aerial device and tend to buy the biggest and best, instead of strategically placing two or more trucks in service and purchasing less expensive apparatus. On our job, other engines by default will take up fireground support, so our operations are not as affected as some other cities. One fact that cannot be ignored is that the members of the truck are the hardest workers on the fireground. When the engines are taking up, the truck is still working. ICs need to take this situation into account and act accordingly.

Ethan Holmes, firefighter,
Wyomissing Fire Department,
Berks County, PA

Response: The primary truck company function is to conduct ventilation for life safety and search and rescue coordinated with the advancement of the initial attack lines. Truck crews should be able to operate as individual crews inside a structure to accomplish the goals desired. Venting is necessary so that the engine crews have a fighting chance of finding the seat of the fire without getting beaten down by the high heat and disoriented by the heavy smoke conditions inside. Search and rescue need to be done aggressively while maintaining safety. Searchers must be able to operate away from a hoseline to ensure a productive search. While searching for victims, they should be assisting in locating the fire and directing the engine crew to the fire.

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

Response: We operate at incident scenes in an incident-specific mode. This is driven by our apparatus, which are engines and quints. Therefore, we cannot assign an initial function to our truck (quint) companies but instead distribute assignments using the incident priorities of (1) life safety, (2) incident stabilization, and (3) property conservation. Knowing these priorities, we ensure that we conduct a primary search as soon as possible. A quint company or an engine company could conduct this, even though the function is traditionally thought of as a truck company function. Improving conditions, through proper ventilation, is another important truck function assigned based on the incident needs. Both of these tasks, associated with truck companies, are important to preserving the lives of citizens unable to evacuate the fire building. Fully training all personnel in smaller departments or departments that operate in an incident-specific mode in all fireground functions will ensure that these two important tasks are conducted quickly and efficiently. We must train and operate by the means available in our departments instead of ordering apparatus and writing policies that use traditional fire service functions, only to determine that we cannot staff or operate in this fashion.

Skip Heflin, captain,
Hall County (GA) Fire Services

Response: We have a single ladder truck that serves the entire department. We are undergoing tremendous growth, and keeping up is a huge problem for us. We are attempting to secure funding to purchase another ladder. Through an automatic- and mutual-aid agreement with another department, we can have another one available if needed, and vice versa.

Our ladder is staffed with two personnel most of the time; it does not perform what most consider “traditional” truck company work. We do not have many buildings more than two to three stories tall, so our experience with high-rises is very limited. The ladder’s function at most fires is an enhancement to a defensive fire attack in an elevated stream from the ladder pipe and roof access at commercial offensive attacks. We have experienced problems with engine companies not leaving the front of the building for the ladder to spot. Most of that again is attributed to lack of experience. All of our engines carry hydraulic extrication equipment, so the ladder doesn’t perform that function. We do train on using the ladder for special rescues, roof access, aerial streams, etc. on a regular basis.

Matthew Zemski, assistant chief,
Washington Township (NJ) Fire Department

Response: Our department operates a 100-foot tower ladder, a 75-foot rear mount, and a heavy rescue. All three of these companies are expected to perform “truck” company functions at a working structure fire. Search and rescue becomes the primary function of these companies if there is a report or the possibility of a victim’s still being trapped in a structure. If all occupants are accounted for, the primary truck company function becomes more of a ventilation operation, whether vertical or horizontal. Our truck companies have pumps; if they arrive on location prior to the engine companies, their primary function is to operate as an engine company if the circumstances allow (life safety, etc.). The second-due truck or rescue company then assumes the tasks of the truck company.

Michael A. Reinhardt, captain,
Kitchener (CA) Fire Department

Response: We are in a community of 200,000 and have two truck companies, one in the north and one in the south of the city. On initial response to a standard fire call, we are able to have the truck arrive in approximately eight minutes or less. We usually rely on this truck with a crew of two to assist with ventilation and exterior fireground actions to support the attack companies. Rescue is usually the responsibility of the heavy rescue company. However, if the truck company is responding in the area, it will beat the heavy rescue to the call. Then the IC will decide the initial assignment of that truck company.

Paul J. Urbano, captain,
Anchorage (AK) Fire Department

Response: Our fire department has five truck companies; based on our tactical priorities (RECEO VS), rescue (primary search) is our number one priority. Often, we focus on ventilation first to facilitate the search as well as locate the fire. When ventilating, we must avoid operating on autopilot. We must not perform out of habit but ventilate purposely. We must also decide if we are venting for fire or for life. Are we going to the roof or using positive-pressure ventilation (PPV)? Is ventilation even required at this moment? Will ventilation contribute to the spread of the fire? Have we coordinated with the engine company that’s stretching the initial attack line? Have we even located the fire yet?

Since the victims don’t have much time to survive, we don’t have any time to waste. Our truck companies are charged with initiating a systematic primary search within moments of arriving on-scene. This is crucial to our success (victim survival).

As a result of our most recent in-service truck company operations training, which focused on vent-enter-search (VES), we’ve reinforced the importance of an aggressive and timely primary search. All of our truck companies use thermal imaging cameras when conducting primary searches; however, we must remember basic primary search practices to maintain our orientation.

To perform both of these critical fireground functions simultaneously, our department has added a second truck company to most structure fire responses. Unfortunately, three-person minimum staffing on our truck companies makes it tough to accomplish all the truck work (LOVERS U) in a timely manner.

Rick Mosher, lieutenant,
Merriam (KS) Fire Department

Response: We operate a 95-foot midmount tower ladder as our truck company. When the truck company is fully staffed with one officer and two firefighters, the two standard fireground functions are rescue and ventilation. It is hard, if not impossible, to perform two functions with three personnel. The officer must decide which function will have the greater positive impact on life and property. In almost all cases, rescue is our number-one priority. However, we must not forget to “vent for life.” Therefore, we will normally start some type of ventilation before entering the structure for rescue.

In some cases, because of the time of day and fire involvement of the structure, we may use VES. When possible, we try to coordinate our operations with the engine company or companies. Coordinating fireground functions is very important. When the truck company is at minimum staffing, it has one officer and one firefighter and combines with our three-person engine company on the fireground. When this occurs, rescue still remains our number-one priority. The officer must decide if rescue or a well-positioned hoseline will save more lives. In some situations, a well-positioned hoseline will save more lives than rescue alone. We train our companies extensively on VES and highly encourage the use of VES in low-staffing situations. Even if your fire department does not have an aerial ladder or if you operate a quint or multiple quints, truck company functions are vital to fireground operations. Good effective truck work helps to make an untenable environment tenable for victims and firefighters.

David Murphy, captain,
Perkins Township Fire Department,
Sandusky, OH

Response: I believe that for the majority of departments throughout the country, having a true truck company is wishful thinking. We have a 75-foot quint, but with typical station staffing of four personnel—eight overall between two stations—to say that we have a ladder/truck company would be misleading.

In most textbooks, truck company functions include search, ventilation, forcible entry, and controlling utilities. Many would say that search is the most important of these functions. However, I believe that at any given point during an incident, each of these truck functions could be the most important task. Search is no doubt what most firefighters live for—it’s every firefighter’s dream to rescue someone in need. Yet, ventilation could just as easily be the main reason a victim’s life was saved.

For most small departments, the truck company is the company that is available or next due when Command is ready to assign a truck function. These functions are not assigned based on who arrives on the ladder; they are assigned by the need at the top of Command’s priority list. If the ladder truck is first on-scene and an attack line is the first priority, the ladder crew may be assigned attack. If ventilation is the next priority, Command may assign that task to the next-in engine company. Command has to develop the plan of action based on the incident needs, and that plan will determine who is assigned to perform the truck functions.

This raises the age-old question: Is it better to have a crew designated to one function, such as a truck company, or is it better to have firefighters who are trained to do every task? For most departments, that question is answered by the personnel levels. We don’t have the luxury of a designated ladder company. We must train our personnel to perform all of the fireground duties.

Craig H. Shelley, fire protection advisor,
Dhahran, Saudi Arabia

Response: Operating in an industrial setting, our first-response apparatus are mostly pumpers. Initial search and rescue as well as exposure protection and fire attack is performed by the first-in crews as well as plant personnel. When response is made to a strictly industrial area, our ladder trucks respond only when the fire commander requests them. This would be for elevated streams used for cooling or extinguishment applications at process or tank fires or elevated rescue situations. When response is made to high-rise office structures, the aerial ladder platform would respond for rescue or water delivery situations. Most industrial departments that have aerial ladders usually will have them designed for pumping, foam delivery, and large-diameter hose delivery. Some industrial departments may also use compartment space for hazmat and rescue equipment, using the aerial ladder as a multipurpose apparatus. Although not generally used in many industrial applications, the aerial ladder is still an important piece of equipment that should be considered in the industrial fire service arsenal. This versatile apparatus may at times mean the difference between a response and a successful response. Do not overlook it when developing response protocols and justifying your budget needs.

Elby Bushong III, battalion chief,
Phoenix (AZ) Fire Department

Response: Ventilation is the ladder company’s primary function in our department. We have 14 ladder companies, all staffed with four to five members. They will be assigned to vertically vent when possible. Providing good ventilation early makes the fireground safer by preventing mushrooming. If vertical ventilation is not possible, they can vent horizontally. By opening up the building, they make it more tenable for our engine companies as well as any potential victims.

With 60 engine companies, the pumper most often will be on-scene first. The engines are staffed with a minimum of four members. Their first assignments are search, rescue, and fire suppression.

The ladder companies will perform other support functions after ventilation. They may be assigned to assist with forcing entry, search, securing utilities, salvage, lighting up the scene, and checking for fire extension. This provides our fireground commander with a company that can provide the necessary support work to make the fireground safe.

Christopher J. Weir, division chief/fire marshal,
Port Orange (FL) Department of Fire & Rescue

Response: Like a great man who recently retired as assistant chief from Toledo, Ohio, once stated, “We are an EMS service that occasionally responds to fires.” All of our engine and ladder companies are advanced life support (ALS)-capable, since 87 percent of our responses in 2006 were emergency medical-related incidents. It is not uncommon for our ALS ladder company to respond to EMS calls when the first-out ALS engine is on another call in its zone. That said, when the ladder company responds to structural fires, the crew will be assigned any or all traditional truck company operational assignments to secure utilities, force entry, ventilate the building, execute RIT/FAST objectives, or perform search and rescue.

Since our ladder company and ladder/platform companies from nearby jurisdictions of Daytona Beach and New Smyrna Beach are “quint capable,” the ladder company will stretch the appropriate attack lines and perform engine company operations if it is first on the scene. In this case, another ladder company may be called in for truck company/FAST/RIT operations, dependent on the severity of the fire.

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

Response: We do not have a truck company. We have no protocol that emphasizes one function over the other. Our incident commanders are expected to direct and use the closest truck company in the most effective manner to complete incident priorities. Although search and rescue seems like the obvious priority, we have trained our members to consider that quick and effective ventilation can greatly enhance the search and rescue and firefighting functions.

The idea of a dedicated truck company is a major paradigm shift for our suburban fire department. Having come from a fire department with dedicated truck companies, I am proud that our Lieutenant John Johnson and Firefighter Scott Corrigan have developed a keen interest in truck company functions. They have taken advantage of some advance truck company academies and shared their knowledge and skills with the rest of our members.

Our members have discussed the need for a truck company to replace the 50-foot telescoping waterway as an aerial master stream and for extended reach needed because of setbacks and height. More importantly, we would have a unit dedicated to traditional truck company functions. Without a truck company, we have to dedicate one engine company to truck company functions. Obviously, the engine company apparatus is severely limited in the equipment it can carry. Most of us have used a table knife as a screwdriver, but we all know the right tool makes the job a lot easier.

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