By Richard Marinucci
Proper, efficient, effective, and appropriate truck company operations are essential to successful outcomes at structure fires. Although examples exist where a fire was extinguished without these functions being carried out to the degree necessary, departments need to continually review their operations to improve capabilities and outcomes.
Truck Company Operations
It may be easier to describe truck company responsibilities in relation to engine company operations. Simply put, engines deliver water and truck companies do everything else needed to support the chosen strategy, including search and rescue, entry, laddering, ventilation, overhaul, and securing utilities.
Regardless of how a department is structured or organized, these functions must be considered part of the overall operation. Urban departments and large metro organizations traditionally have separate engine and truck companies with specific apparatus needs, equipment, and training. In most cases, suburban and rural departments do not have the necessary staffing and equipment to respond in this manner and have a different approach toward providing these functions.
The changing nature of the fire service requires continual evaluation of all operations to ensure that personnel are prepared to perform their jobs. Staffing levels have changed in many organizations, there are more options regarding equipment, and the structures and their contents are different. Continual education is necessary not only to provide the best possible service but also to protect firefighters and minimize the risks they face.
Consider your staffing levels. Many traditional truck company operations require enough people arriving quickly to make a difference. Departments that do not get engine and truck companies to the scene at approximately the same time will not be able to safely and effectively perform some functions. Take roof operations and ventilation, for example. If the proper number of people is not available or the response is not fast enough, then the roof will not be opened during the necessary timeframe to support the engine company. As such, organizations must find other ways to adequately ventilate the building. Failure to do so places personnel operating inside in peril.
Staffing will affect all truck company functions. Without adequate personnel, these jobs will take longer, may not be completed, or may create too much risk for personnel. Organizations must be realistic when assessing their capabilities. This should drive strategy and tactic development. One size will not fit all. The need to enter, search, rescue, vent, ladder, overhaul, and so on remains. How each department accomplishes these functions must be determined realistically based on staffing levels. As an example, if staffing does not allow for the safe operation of certain ground ladders, then consider vehicles with booms. Although it could be argued that adequate staffing must be provided, today’s world does not have the financing for it in many communities.
Much has been discussed about the changing environment in which firefighters work. This certainly has an effect on truck company operations. Lightweight construction reduces the amount of time roofs and floors will support personnel and probably does not adequately support many roof operations that take more time than the structure will provide. Search and rescue could be affected by flimsy floor structures that may not last long because of fire compromising lightweight supports. Security measures will make entry more challenging. Security bars, plexiglass, and more secure locking devices dictate that different approaches be taken. Metal roofs for residential structures are becoming more popular. In some parts of the country, roofs may have solar energy panels. The time to figure out what will be needed is not after the building is on fire.
The contents of the structure also should change the approach of truck company operations. Recent studies by Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) provide scientific evidence that the working environment has changed to the point that some previously accepted practices are no longer the best option when selecting tactics. Personnel must consider the effect of rapid fire buildup fire to the point of flashover on search, rescue, and ventilation operations. The studies by UL and NIST seem to indicate that there may not be adequate time to perform some of these functions prior to flashover. Failure to acknowledge these studies and their findings could unnecessarily endanger firefighters. Truck company training programs must consider the changing environment, and fireground decisions must also be evaluated.
Exposure During Overhaul
Health issues to consider during overhaul operations have changed. Not too long ago, using self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) during overhaul wasn’t considered. The “old” smoke is not good to breath and the “new” smoke is even worse. Adding SCBA during overall changes the equation. Depending on staffing, firefighters who have performed other operations during suppression are probably being asked to complete overhaul. The added weight from the SCBA adds to the physical stress on firefighters, which should trigger a different perspective on the worker rehabilitation.
Tools have also changed. Although the old standbys are still around, technology, ingenuity, and necessity have produced tools to help with truck company functions. Besides halligan tools, pike poles, axes, and other basic hand tools, a growing cache of tools is available. These can be other hand tools, power tools, or even technological tools like thermal imaging cameras. Regardless, fire departments and their personnel must stay up on the advances in the tools, and training must be ongoing.
Those who will be asked to perform truck company operations must know the hazards and buildings present in their districts. For example, if elevator rescues are a potential, then elevator keys must be available for various elevator types. Crews must also know about any specialty buildings and access issues that will affect their ability to complete necessary tasks.
Truck companies and the work they do are essential for successful extinguishment. It is not just about applying water; truck company functions must be performed as well. Not all past practices can be continued without adjusting to various factors that impact a department’s capabilities. Do not get complacent. Continue to study, train, and prepare so the best possible service is delivered and no unnecessary risks are taken by firefighters performing these vital tasks.
RICHARD MARINUCCI is chief of the Northville Township (MI) Fire Department. He retired as chief of the Farmington Hills (MI) Fire Department in 2008, a position he had held since 1984. He is a Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board member, a past president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), and past chairman of the Commission on Chief Fire Officer Designation. In 1999, he served as acting chief operating officer of the U.S. Fire Administration for seven months. He has a master’s degree and three bachelor’s degrees in fire science and administration and has taught extensively.