How many times has that occurred to you? To me? Lots!

Around the kitchen table, at seminars and other social stuff; on planes, on phones, and in the car by myself-that “little voice” that keeps you from remembering that you switched lanes.


One of the first things to come to mind is The Rescue. What is it? Today it could be a three-quarter-million-dollar, stainless-steel, six-wheel apparatus with all kinds of “secret tools” smelling from hydraulic oil, gasoline mixed with oil, rubber, wood, or embers and staffed with lots of senior personnel-all with scowls, mustaches, and suspenders. These are the members of your department you don’t see often but hope and pray are the ones looking for you when you need help.

Today the rescues are anything that is not a truck, an engine, or a chief. They can be all shapes of boxes with staffing of one through four. Mostly, they are ambulances that were tired of not being able to brag of their “bus” runs as ambulances and stole the name RESCUE. What then were we to call the unit described above that operates in the clouds, in cellars, and under water? Why, HEAVY RESCUE, of course. Nonsense! Call the rescue the rescue, and the ambulance whatever you want.

Truck officer

Next, where is the truck officer? He almost does not exist in medium and small departments today. He is the first to be replaced when we are “short” one leader. There is no seat for him in the truck; it was taken by a firefighter who helps staff a “two-man truck company”; now, the company officer is house boss of three or four apparatus at a time.

The truck officer is the key to rapid-fire tactical decisions that help bring order to the chaos caused by “not enough firefighters” responding to fires in buildings in which there may be people. He is still the most important decision maker on the fireground for the first 15 minutes after reflex time of the first three units. It is just that we now “command” the fires to be under control and thank God we have enough of those. If we had more dedicated and knowledgeable truck officers, we wouldn’t need as many outside teams (RIT, FAST, FIT, NIT) to try to figure out what went wrong inside the building on fire.


This is a rule for industrial firefighters forming a brigade. For us, it is translated into “Not enough firefighters inside with training and experience, watched by not enough firefighters outside who, other than for running the pump, have not a clue about what to do when the ‘stuff hits the fan.’ ”

Put all in on one tactic-hose stretching-and use and call for (at least) adequate help! Two people inside a burning building watched by two people outside a burning building is a system waiting to break down. All in and operating as a unit under the direction of a competent and dedicated decision-making officer is a firefighting machine. Someone should say it!


Cutting peaked roofs on two-story private dwellings that are platform construction on arrival is a waste of manpower, ladders, lives, and personnel.

We are operating on the flimsiest construction allowed by code in America-the sheathing and support of a roof of a private dwelling. We are using most of our truck personnel and all of our best portable ladders that would lead us to the second floor of these structures for alternate (outside) entry and search.

Eighty percent of our civilians who die trapped in burning buildings are in these structures. The key to life safety for these folks is for us to provide for simultaneous entry from inside and from outside to every survivable compartment of the private dwelling. That is rapid use of aerial devices (properly placed) and portable ladders to the room that is not accessible to the aerial. Get the people out, and then cut the roof if it still needs it and there are enough personnel finally on the fireground.

Extension ladder storage

Speaking of alternate entry, where on your unit are the ladders that get there the best? Do your personnel have to make mundane decisions at the most hectic time in their professional career? At a real and true rescue to be made with a portable ladder, will your team throw two useless ladders to the ground to latch hold of the one ladder that is the right size-the 24- or 28-foot extension ladder? Redesign your ladder storage brackets to take the two or three other ladders in first with the extension ladder on top or on the outside. We asked the manufacturers to do it. It was easy for them, and it worked!

Water supply

Are you working in a fire district with an adequate grid-supplied hydrant system? That means that hydrants are no more than 300 feet from each other-more likely 250 feet. If that is the case, stop depending on other units to supply constant water to your pump operator while you are advancing the handline inside of the building on fire worrying about your timing on a fixed water supply! Your own pump operator should be finishing the connections to the hydrant that is routinely in place for constant water. It is easiest to start using reverse or back stretches from the main hose storage section at the rear of the pumper and run from fire to hydrant with the pumper after the nozzle team removes adequate hose for use at the building entrance. It is nonsense to look at a hydrant and not “get its water.”

In such a district, having the second engine stretch large-diameter hose should be like hearing a Mayday. Four- and five-inch hose should take up the rear hosebeds of pumpers that serve in districts with little or no hydrant systems-and not because it is stuffing someone’s warehouse.

TOM BRENNAN has more than 35 years of fire service experience. His career spans more than 20 years with the Fire Department of New York as well as five years as chief of the Waterbury (CT) Fire Department. He was the editor of Fire Engineering for eight years and currently is a technical editor. He is co-editor of The Fire Chief’s Handbook, Fifth Edition (Fire Engineering Books, 1995). He was the recipient of the 1998 Fire Engineering Lifetime Achievement Award. Brennan is featured in the video Brennan and Bruno Unplugged (Fire Engineering/FDIC, 1999). He is a regular contributor to

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