|(1) With the quint concept, the basic fireground priorities and SOPs don’t change. The first-due company assumes the role of first-in engine, secures an initial water supply, and begins fire attack. The second-due engine will still secure a backup water supply for the first-due company and stretch a backup or second attack line if needed. (Photos courtesy of the author.)|
|(2) Under the quint concept, the second-arriving quint would position in front of the fire building to make best use of its aerial device and assume truck company duties unless the crew is on a reserve with no working aerial device.|
|(3) With the most recent apparatus fleet, any quint can be an engine, but any engine can’t be a quint because the department has replaced many front-line quints with straight engines.|
What happens when a large metropolitan fire department decides to deviate from more than 100 years of tradition in the manner of the types of apparatus that respond to fires? St. Louis, Missouri, sought to find this out back in the mid 1980s. This article is about that experience.
St. Louis is like many older urban cities that have experienced shrinking populations, loss of industry, and the resulting loss of tax revenue, which often strains city budgets and leads to cuts or reductions in the amount of funds available for the necessities of public safety. St. Louis faced this crisis in the mid 1980s with an aging fleet of fire apparatus that needed to be replaced. In 1986, the St. Louis (MO) Fire Department consisted of 30 engine companies, 10 truck companies, and two heavy rescue squads in six battalions or districts. The department was staffed by more than 700 uniformed personnel. St. Louis had experienced significant reductions in companies and staffing in the department during the previous three decades, but now it was reaching a crisis point. Chief Neil J. Svetanics, who was appointed chief of the fire department in 1986, sought a new and innovative solution to this seemingly never-ending problem.
The Quint Concept
From the beginning of his time as chief, Svetanics decided to respond to the city’s demand for cuts in apparatus and staffing by replacing the then-current fleet of 40 apparatus with a fleet of 34 new quints. By doing this, all 30 fire stations would remain open, and each company would receive a new piece of apparatus. However, the primary motive behind this idea was to figure out how to eliminate six companies, cut staffing through attrition, and actually increase the department’s ability to effectively and efficiently handle fires and the other myriad emergencies to which modern urban fire departments are called.
Like anything new, this approach to firefighting had never been attempted in a major metropolitan city on the scale that Svetanics was planning. This experiment would be called “The Total Quint Concept” (TQC).
The concept would virtually eliminate the traditional practice of having separate engine and truck companies, where each carries out distinct operations at fires. The TQC would create engines that could do truck work and trucks capable of engine work.
The first generation of the TQC apparatus consisted of 30 quint engine companies (15 with 50-foot Telesqurts and 15 with 75-foot aerial devices) and four quint hook-and-ladder companies (three with 110-foot aerial ladders and one with a 95-foot aerial platform). This set the stage for a new approach to urban firefighting that would mark the St. Louis Fire Department as one of the more innovative departments of its time.
Quints in Operation
The department wrote new standard operating procedures (SOPs) designating fireground priorities and tactics based on dispatch/arrival order rather than the traditional apparatus designation. For example, the first-arriving quint to a building fire would secure a primary water supply and begin fire attack. The second-arriving quint would position itself to use the aerial ladder at the fire building and carry out additional truck company duties such as forcible entry, primary search, and ventilation. The third-arriving quint would assume the “second engine” position by securing a secondary water supply for the first quint and stretching additional attack lines if needed. If the fire required a full first-alarm assignment, then a fourth quint engine and one of the hook-and-ladder companies would also respond. The hook-and-ladder quint would try to position itself to use its aerial device and would primarily perform traditional truck company duties unless needed for something else. The fourth-arriving quint would either be used for additional staffing or, if the fire scene became a defensive operation, to reverse lay out and secure a water supply for the hook-and-ladder company, so its aerial device could be used as a master stream. A heavy rescue squad with one officer and five firefighters would also respond to first-alarm fires to provide staffing and equipment to be used as the scene required.
Theory vs. Reality
It was a fairly simple system in theory, but in the day-to-day reality of urban firefighting, it frequently required creative thinking and ingenuity on the part of the company officers and battalion chiefs to make the concept function efficiently on the fireground. Other than the normal growing pains that come with any type of significant change in operation, the two most common obstacles to the smooth functioning of the TCQ were:
1. Companies would arrive in a different order than the given dispatch order.
2. Companies that were supposed to assume the truck company position were responding with nonquint reserve engines. Because of the increased maintenance requirements and frequent breakdowns by some of the new quints, this scenario played out far more often than expected.
Another lesson the department learned involved the limitations of the Telesqurt quints. They were reliable engines, but the 50-foot length of the Telesqurt aerial proved to be inadequate to reach many of the roofs of even residential buildings in the city. However, they had a larger- capacity hosebed than their 75-foot aerial counterparts, so the department added sections of four-inch supply hose and whenever companies encountered a large fire that required aerial master stream use, the Telesqurt quints were often designated as water supply companies to supply the 75-foot aerial and hook-and-ladder quints.
These lessons factored into the specs for the second-generation TQC apparatus purchased around 2000. All 30 quint engine companies were the same model by the same manufacturer, and all had 75-foot aerial ladders. Two of the new hook-and-ladder quints had 125-foot straight-stick aerials, and one had a 105-foot aerial platform. All three of these large quints came from the same manufacturer and were basically the same model with the difference being the aerial devices. The fourth quint hook-and-ladder had already been replaced with a used 100-foot aerial platform from another manufacturer and was being used in the downtown area.
During the second generation of TQC, fireground operations seemed to go much smoother than at the beginning. Now that all the frontline quints had the same equipment, hose loads, and type and length of aerial device, many of the problems from the first generation went away. In addition to the changes in the new apparatus, all of the reserve apparatus were now quints, and most had aerial capability. However, a new challenge presented itself that would require changes in the future apparatus fleet.
The EMS Factor
In 1995-1996, the St. Louis Fire Department assumed control of the city’s emergency medical service (EMS), and all fire companies began responding along with EMS to medical emergencies as first responder units. This dramatically increased the city’s firefighting fleet’s run totals. Most companies doubled their run totals within two years of the change. The busiest engine in the city went from an average of 1,700 responses annually to about 3,500 responses annually by 1997. This was a significant increase for an already aging fleet of quints. During this same time period, the annual numbers of actual working fires and multiple alarm fires steadily decreased, with a corresponding increase in the number of false fire alarm activations and public service types of calls. All of these considerations factored into the design and specifications for the second-generation quints.
The new fleet of quints seemed to hold up well under the heavy workload, but the fleet of reserve quints was worn out and required extensive maintenance and repairs, making them frequently unreliable as reserve apparatus. Even though the frontline quints were sturdy and greatly improved the department’s efficiency, their weight and number of components typical of quints led to breakdowns that caused increased maintenance costs as they aged; the reliability of the reserve fleet became questionable at best.
A Change in Thinking
As the second generation of quints approached the 10-year mark, it became obvious that apparatus replacement was becoming necessary. However, this was also the beginning of the economic downturn and struggle for the whole nation, including St. Louis. Previous methods of new apparatus purchase, dating back to the mid 1970s, involved passing a bond issue and purchasing all of the new apparatus within one to two years, which meant that the whole apparatus fleet was ready to be replaced around the same time. The department decided to change this approach, as it would not be feasible in the current economic climate. Also, the new administration leading the department realized that the purchase price and maintenance costs of a whole new fleet of quint apparatus could no longer be justified financially.
Therefore, the new administration chose to modify the quint concept by purchasing nine standard engines and three new hook-and-ladder quints and to put a plan in place to refurbish the nine quints replaced by straight engine apparatus. This plan also included replacing several more quints with standard engines during the next few years and refurbishing existing quints to extend their lifetime and provide the department with reliable reserve quints.
The current five-year projection is to have 16 engine companies, 12 quint (designated “truck”) companies, six hook-and-ladder quints, and two heavy rescue squads within the department’s six districts. Of course, this plan is subject to change based on projected needs, budget constraints, demographic changes, and so on.
Along with the change in apparatus types come new changes in operations and SOPs and a new set of growing pains. The department’s operations won’t change dramatically, because quints can still function as engine companies. The biggest change that companies will have to get used to is that of fewer apparatus with aerial capability. All quints can be engines but not all engines can be quints. Under the TQC, the second-arriving quint would position in front of the fire building to make best use of its aerial device and assume truck company duties unless the crew is on a reserve with no working aerial device.
Under the new procedure, if the second-arriving company is a standard engine, that company must leave the front of the fire building open for either the next-arriving quint or hook-and-ladder and assume the “backup water supply” and second-due engine company function on the fire scene. The next-arriving quint company must assume the first-due truck position on the fireground, with its officer as the initial incident commander (IC) until the first-due battalion chief arrives.
Of course, the basic fireground priorities and SOPs won’t change. The first-due company assumes the role of first-in engine, secures an initial water supply, and begins fire attack. The first quint assuming truck duties will still position for best use of the aerial device and will accomplish forcible entry, primary search, and initial ventilation. The second-due engine will still secure a backup water supply for the first-due company and stretch a backup or second attack line if needed. The hook-and-ladder quint will still position for best use of its larger aerial device and perform additional truck functions such as laddering the building, vertical ventilation, primary and secondary search, and control of utilities as needed. The rescue squad and subsequent arriving companies will perform either engine or truck company duties as determined by the IC.
In addition, for large defensive or multiple-alarm fires, quint and hook-and-ladder apparatus will seek the best possible positions near the fire building, including protecting exposures and staying clear of collapse zones while using their aerial master streams. Standard engine companies will reverse lay from these companies to the closest available hydrants and provide ample water supply for the quints to effectively control and extinguish the fire. The one unchanging beauty of quint apparatus is their ability to put lots of water on large fires and control them more quickly provided they have an adequate water supply.
Overall, the St. Louis experience with quints has been very good. The department took a concept that had never been tried before, was considered radical and highly controversial, and made it work. It learned much in the process and has gained a certain amount of national fame as a result. No system is perfect, and each department must study, plan, and experiment to find out what works best for it. Any significant change in operations and apparatus types will involve growing pains no matter how well thought out. Glitches and unforeseen circumstances are inevitable. But the real test of the innovative spirit and ingenuity of any fire department is how it responds to these circumstances and strives to continue to provide the best possible fire and life safety protection for its citizens. And, based on that criterion, I believe the St. Louis Fire Department has passed this test well and is justifiably proud.
NICHOLAS MORGAN is a 27-year veteran of the fire service and has had previous experience as a volunteer and a U.S. Air Force firefighter. He is a captain with the St. Louis (MO) Fire Department, where he has worked since 1991 and is assigned to Engine 28. He is an adjunct instructor for the St. Louis County Fire Academy and the Highlander Fire Academy at the St. Louis Community College. He is a member of the International Society of Fire Service Instructors, is a Missouri-certified fire service instructor II, and is enrolled in the fire science program with Columbia Southern University.