By Michael N. Ciampo
Did you ever pull up to a scene with an immediate need to “get to work” and have to run to the rear ladder compartment to retrieve a hook so you could start performing your tactic?
Or, maybe you’ve pulled up on the engine with a few bags of rubbish burning right next to a parked car and you’re running to the rear of the rig to grab a hook so you can run back and pull the bags away from the auto while another firefighter is stretching the trash line. With some of the newer engines that boast large water tanks or high side compartments, we might even have to climb the “jungle gym” back step to reach the hooks mounted up out of arm’s reach. Many firefighters have run into these scenarios and realized they’ve lost precious seconds circling or climbing up on the rig trying to retrieve a hook.
When it comes to making an apparatus firefighter-friendly, many firefighters polled answered that they’d like quick and unimpeded access to primary hooks and, in some cases, other hand tools such as the irons (ax and halligan tool) when disembarking the cab. Many times, the irons will be either secured in holding brackets in the crew cab or on the floor, but many apparatus without raised roofs can’t accommodate a six-foot hook mounted vertically in it. For busy urban areas, firefighters get off the rig on each run with a clear mindset of what their primary tool assignment is. Many times, they might be able to step out of the crew cab with a hand tool but must get a hook off the outside of the rig. Having the hooks mounted in close proximity to the crew cab helps firefighters get their tools and get to work quicker. Since many cities have chosen to outfit apparatus in this manner, we’re starting to see a spill-over to other fire departments following in this direction. For the most part, we often are using some of the “dead space” on the apparatus to mount these hooks.
Probably one of the best spots outside the apparatus to mount hooks is just behind the rear cab door on the back wall of the crew cab. Usually with engines, the pump panel is located on one side and discharges on the other. There is an indentation area where hook brackets can be mounted on the cab wall. In most instances, the hooks mounted there will not impede any crosslays or hose deployment from either side of the apparatus. Having a hook on either side allows easy access for a firefighter to retrieve immediately upon exiting the apparatus. There’s often a debate that “We’re the engine—we don’t need to get our hooks that fast,” and “We’re stretching hose, not overhauling.” Well, if you use the scenario above with the rubbish next to the car, you might be able to prevent fire extension or more damage to the car quicker with a hook stored in this location. Another engine tactic might be to stretch an additional line to the fire floor or above via the exterior of the building. By using a fire escape stretch, the engine can quickly stretch upward using a hook. The nozzle is attached to the hook’s head, and the hook is raised vertically (with the hook’s head pointing toward the ground) to a member from floor to floor. Again, quick access to the hook can allow this stretch to be performed rapidly so the engine can get fast water on the fire.
On many midmount aerial or tower ladders, the cab also has an indentation between it and the first compartment, allowing for hook placement. Since truck company firefighters often go by the motto “two hands/two tools,” there might be a need to place more than one hook in this location, if there is enough space, so each firefighter on the rig can grab a hook. Depending on the staffing on the apparatus—larger cities running with four members in the crew cab vs. a volunteer department not knowing how many firefighters may be riding on each run—having additional hooks here allows all firefighters to retrieve their tools quicker. This also allows the firefighters to proceed to the structure as a team with the officer and maintain unit integrity. Another benefit of the hooks stored here is a firefighter does not have to walk to the back of the apparatus, reducing the chances of him being struck by a distracted driver, especially at nighttime operations.
On many rescue trucks, rescue-engines with high side compartments, and rear-mounted aerial ladders or tower ladders, you will also find vertical hook storage on the outside of the apparatus just behind the crew cab. In most instances, the hooks are mounted onto the rear body portion of the apparatus but close to the cab for easy retrieval. Metal brackets can be installed on the body or on one of the compartment doors to hold the hooks. Normally, there will be an upper and lower bracket with a restrainer or compression clip holding onto and securing the hook to the apparatus. Sometimes the top bracket will be a manual locking device, or a “U” shaped bracket can be permanently attached to accept the hook so it stays secured to the apparatus and doesn’t tilt out of the bottom bracket when the apparatus hits a bump in the road. One thing to remember if retrofitting an apparatus or purchasing an apparatus with this type of storage bracket is to protect the rig’s body by adding protective coverings to the body so the hook doesn’t scratch, scrape, or dent the rig. Some apparatus have aluminum diamond plate or a piece of stainless steel mounted to the rig to prevent damage and blemishes.
Now, don’t think that there aren’t any issues with vertical storage. Unfortunately, there are always some issues that arise. If used daily, the retaining brackets can become worn, broken, or bent and need replacement compared with a permanently fixed bracket. Also if the rig is involved in an accident, the hooks and their brackets can be damaged and need repair or replacement. In another situation, it’s not uncommon for the hooks to get snagged on a tree branch or object if you’re passing through an overgrown alleyway, so use caution driving in those conditions. Overall, the hooks are in a great position for firefighters to retrieve quickly and make their job easier and safer.
On many midship aerial or tower ladders, there may be dead space beneath the turntable on the deck behind the crew cab or on the back outside wall of the crew cab. Often, numerous hooks are placed here in either tubular holders or tool-securing brackets since the space allows it. It is a great space to store six-foot hooks because it not only allows quick access to the hooks but also can free up space in the rear portable ladder storage compartment for other things like carrying an extra closet/scissor ladder, elevator poles, a wind-driven fire curtain, or a larger variety of longer length hooks.
For most suburban departments, hooks will be easily accessible on all their calls. But for urban areas, they may run into a problem with hooks mounted here. On narrow streets with a van, sport utility vehicle, or parked delivery truck, the six-foot hook may not be able to be slid fully out of the tubular storage bracket on a particular side. Having hooks mounted horizontally on each side will allow one to be deployed off the other side when faced with this dilemma. Another way to avoid this situation is to use securing and carrying brackets instead of using tubular holders so the hooks can be slid and lifted out of the brackets to avoid striking a parked vehicle. Remember that in urban areas with tight streets and parked cars on both sides, it’s not a simple solution to just pull the rig past the vehicle and grab the hook. The rig has to position with the outriggers between parked cars, and with all that is going on, the chauffeur’s last thought is about letting one firefighter get his hook. Another way to avoid this situation is by having a hook stored vertically on these rigs either on the outside of the apparatus or in the crew cab (if possible). Another option may be to have another hook stored parallel to the rig’s body on the side of the apparatus if room allows.
Some of the advantages of having these mounted under the turntable are: they won’t be struck by a passing vehicle; knocked off while the apparatus is passing through a tight spot; or be hit by a tree branch and cause damage to the hook, securing brackets, or apparatus. Remember also, anytime you mount tools in these areas, firefighters must use caution when stepping so that they don’t trip or get snagged on a bracket or hook and get injured.
Storing hooks on your apparatus should be researched, and serious thought should go into the many options available. Sure, the tools mounted on the outside are exposed to the elements and may require a little more cleaning and upkeep, but like anything else there will always be pros and cons. Reach out to the members of the department on their thoughts. You’ll be able to get a lot of feedback to help you make the rig more user-friendly for the working firefighter.
MICHAEL N. CIAMPO is a 32-year veteran of the fire service and a lieutenant in the Fire Department of New York. Previously, he served with the District of Columbia Fire Department. He has a bachelor’s degree in fire science from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. He is the author of “Compartment Corner” on www.fireapparatus.com. He is the lead instructor for the FDIC International Truck Essentials H.O.T. program. He wrote the Ladder chapter and co-authored the Ventilation chapter for Fire Engineering’s Handbook for Firefighter I and II (Fire Engineering, 2009) and is featured in “Training Minutes” truck company videos on www.FireEngineering.com. He writes “On Fire” (the back page) for Fire Engineering.