One of the reasons we are unable to make advances in manning levels within the paid sector is that the budgeteer has little or no understanding of the value of the functions performed on the foreground. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the sometimes criminal manning levels of our aerial devices. In many cases, aerial devices are no more than an expensive way to transport personnel from the station to the fire scene to man more hoselines. Whose fault is it? Many times, we are unable to communicate to those responsible for providing funding the many functions, duties, and responsibilities that must be in place to support actual extinguishment. The relatively simple process of driving the ladder tmck to the scene does not provide the firefighters to perform extinguishment support services effectively and safely— truck work. Therefore, from time to time on this page I’d like to share comments on the duties, functions, and responsibilities of those assigned to ladder companies.

I was once asked what I thought was the difference between engine and truck operations. I answered that engine work was certainly more rewarding on a regular basis, that putting the wet stuff on the red stuff was more fun, and that the only thing the chief wanted to know from his engine officer was the progress of the firefight and if the fire was out or not. (And if the chief was as good as he was supposed to be, he should be able to tell that from the conditions on the outside of the structure.) Every thing else, he asks of the truck officer. Where are the ladders? Are you into the fire area yet? How’s the primary’ search going? What’s the condition of vertical ventilation? Did you start a secondary search? Overhauling? Utilities? Victim condition? Clear the stairs, the street. Pick up the fire escape drop ladder. Help the engine pick up the hose. Don’t forget to wash your tools when you get back.

A lot to do, a lot to know.

What qualities should the firefighter who is assigned to or who gravitates to truck work possess?

Well trained. As can be seen from above, he should know the job of the engine company and the supportive functions of the ladder company. Then he must know at least one (hopefully more than one) way to perform all the duties that may be required. He must also have a thorough knowledge of the tools and equipment that are available to fulfill those responsibilities. He must be familiar with the procedures and techniques (tricks) that will assure success at any of the many tasks that truck companies must perform at every fire or emergency operation.

Capable of making decisions. Firefighters performing truck functions must constantly make individual decisions based on an ongoing size-up and valid risk analysis. As the firefighter arrives at the fire scene, initial commands may indeed have central focus in the officer. However, after he enters the building, where to search, what pattern to follow, what windows to vent, where to cut the roof at a top-floor fire, and what to do second, third,… sixth are just a few of the rapid-fire, individual decisions that he must make. If the individual is not capable of such decision making, he’s not ready or adequately prepared for truck functions.

Aggressive. Operating in the truck mode is, by its nature, aggressive. We cannot be stopped at an occupied structure fire by high heat, flame impingement, missing staircases, and locked or blocked entrances. If the conditions are impossible to mitigate rapidly or to reverse, we must go another way. To be able to force or breach entry, entry from above by rope or below by portable ladder or fire escape requires stamina, determination, and aggressiveness.

Alone. I know that we always operate in teams. It’s legislated! The real world is something else again. We may be separated from our searching buddy by narrow hallways, small bedrooms, or remote tasks that must be done in a coordinated effort or simultaneously. We may be forced to operate alone by rapid changes within the structure that cause “mayday” evacuation of an area or building (smoke explosion, flashover, uncontrolled explosive atmosphere, or collapse). In any case, we must be able to think and operate ALONE.

Without proper protection. We do not always operate under the protection of a handline. There are no “always” in the fire service—and this is assuredly one of the most common. The frantic pleading of a mother who tells you exactly where she left her baby in the burning building and the risky search of the floor above the fire in a private dwelling with open staircase are only a few examples of times that we can routinely operate without adequate fire extinguishment protection.

We now have our truck firefighter. In other issues we’ll share some thoughts on the functions and duties of ladder (support function) companies and how they interplay to successfully accomplish their responsibilities.

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