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Skamania (WA) Fire District 1 Toyne Engine
Skamania (WA) Fire District #1 Toyne Engine 11
Short staffing is a reality fire departments across the nation struggle with daily. Today, fire apparatus are being designed with short staffing levels in mind to make them as easy to use as possible. This month, we asked Bill Adams and Ricky Riley: How can a pumper be set up to operate efficiently with two or three firefighters?”

Efficient Pumper Setup for Two or Three Firefighters

An unfortunate sign of the times is when fire departments attempt to be efficient with inadequate staffing. Being efficient means being well-organized, capable, and effective. Pumpers can be well-organized. Firefighters can be well-trained and capable, but if there aren’t enough of them riding the load, the pumper’s effectiveness as an engine company is debatable.

Being a career, volunteer, or combination department is irrelevant. Why there is a lack of firefighters is equally immaterial. Doing more with fewer people will be commonplace in the future. I do not endorse or agree with running with two or three on a pumper.

Despite staffing being addressed by entities such as the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Insurance Services Office (ISO), and professional groups such as the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), many pumpers regularly respond with limited crews. That’s life. Don’t blame the troops.

The well-known “two-in and two-out” procedure is defined on the Web: “In firefighting, the policy of two-in, two-out refers to United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration policy 29 CFR 1910.134 that mandates that firefighters never go into a dangerous situation in a fire or rescue incident alone and that there be two firefighters outside the hazard area to initiate a rescue of the firefighters inside, should they become in trouble, during the initial stages of the incident where only one crew is operating in the hazard area.” Two- or three-person engine companies cannot follow that policy. Many short-staffed companies “will do what they have to do,” and I will not pass judgment on any such decision.

A “well-organized” pumper can be specifically designed and purchased for limited staffing. Or, an existing rig can be modified to be efficient for the crew size. Efficiency is in the eyes of the beholder. There’s no quantifiable way to measure it. A reprehensible description is, “The job was accomplished, and nobody got hurt.”

A pumper’s primary and secondary objectives and follow-up tasks should be defined. That’s the fire department’s job—not a commentator’s. Setting one up to operate short-staffed is easily done with a new purchase provided there are adequate funding and a willingness to do so. Never underestimate the ingenuity and creativity of rank-and-file firefighters in their ability to “tweak” existing rigs to make them work better and make their jobs easier. Following are a few ways to set up short-staffed pumpers. They are not necessarily in any order of importance.

  • Eliminate the relief valve. Pump pressure governors or the new all-inclusive electronic pump controllers will enable the pump operator to “help more” on the fireground.
  • Crosslays were firefighter-invented in Mattydale, New York. Other departments loaded attack lines on running boards and preconnected them to side discharges. Others raised ground ladders and suction hoses hung on body side sheets, enabling similarly preconnected hose storage on top of low-side compartments.
  • The bungee cord is one of the handiest tools ever invented—probably by a firefighter! Bungees have secured snow shovels on rear steps during the winter and grass fire brooms in the summer. It probably wasn’t a degreed mechanical engineer who thought to hang a bucket or canvas bag on the tailboard to hold hydrant makeups.
  • Years ago, some pumpers carried 2½-inch or 3-inch suction hose in addition to the size required to draft capacity. One firefighter should be able to handle the smaller suction when drafting—although the rig will be limited to around 250 or 300 gpm. Two auxiliary suctions or a suction siamese on a steamer might double the flow. An alternative is to stand around hoping the mailman or local sheriff shows up and is willing to help.
  • Hose reels fell out of favor when booster hose was replaced by flat hose. Don’t discount using reels to store attack hose regardless of if it’s preconnected. Naysayers will bemoan having to pull off all a reel’s preconnected hose before charging it. Ask the whiners if they only pull out half a crosslay’s preconnected hose load before charging it? They can’t have it both ways.
  • Not enough people on a pumper to throw an extension ladder? Buy longer roof ladders; they might work.
  • Short-staffed crews probably can effectively flow more water on large fires from the exterior than on an interior room-and-contents job. Remote controlled deck guns and preconnected ground monitors can knock down a lot of fire—of course with an adequate water supply.
  • Consider piping and valving on new rigs for preconnected hard suction hose: short lengths on the front bumper or rear step for portable tank use. Preconnected “squirrel tails” off the sides or rear could still work today.
  • Think about repacking hose. Specify a walkway in the main hosebed. Add pull-out steps under running boards for reloading midship- mounted crosslays.
  • Slide-out trays and swing-out tool boards as well as pull-out and tilt-down drawers might make equipment easy to retrieve. Just remember: You need people to use them.
  • I forever preach if firefighters have to climb onto their rigs to retrieve a primary piece of equipment, someone did a lousy job of designing the apparatus. Crews—short staffed or not—should be able to walk up to the rig, grab what they need, and move off.

BILL ADAMS is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment Editorial Advisory Board, a former fire apparatus salesman, and a past chief of the East Rochester (NY) Fire Department. He has 50 years of experience in the volunteer fire service.


Setting Up a Pumper to Operate Efficiently with Two or Three Firefighters

Unlike in most urban and many suburban departments, this staffing level is rather common across the country. Regardless of if your department is career or volunteer, this staffing level is what a number of departments base their operations on when developing standard operating procedures for their firegrounds.

The engine company is the basis of fire protection for any city, town, or jurisdiction. With the staffing level being two to three firefighters, there are a number of things we can do when building the apparatus and setting them up to function with this staffing complement.

One of the pieces of this puzzle is just how much the rig has to do. Most departments are required to perform a number of functions with one rig. So, all the equipment that this engine might have to carry will drive the size of the body, axles, brakes, engine, length, and wheelbase of the apparatus. All of these are valid concerns, and all come with an associated cost to the apparatus. So, once the mission is defined, we can start building the rig.

An item I feel would enhance the apparatus and the staffing matrix would be any chance to improve the ergonomics of the engine. We have to look at the way we do our business on these engines and engineer the units to improve the function and ease of operation for the shorthanded crew. The height of the hosbed in the rear immediately comes to mind. With staffing at a minimum, the chances of firefighters in full personal protective equipment (PPE) pulling supply line or attack lines off the rear of the apparatus are greatly increased. Making it so no one has to climb up on the back step or, even worse, scale the back of the engine to pull off supply line or pull attack lines while in full PPE reduces effort and energy, keeps firefighters from injury, and is a great option for our short-staffed engine. The same goes for a department that opts to have crosslays. Making crosslays close to the ground so there is no need to expend effort stepping up to get them reduces the chance of injury and saves energy for the firefight.

While discharging water on the fire is crucial, so is water supply to the engine. How a department chooses to provide this intake of water is an operational option for that department. There are not enough ways for water to enter an engine for me. All four sides of the rig need to have an intake and a preconnected section of hose to make connections to hydrants, dry hydrants, or rural water supply and should be ready for easy deployment by the driver of the engine. The driver should not have to retrieve things from the rear hosebed or compartments or make up a line to supply the engine with water. Although I am a keep-it-simple type kind of guy and nonelectronic as much as I can be, electric valves at these intakes might be easier on the driver when making these connections.

The deck gun up on top of the rig might use an electronic valve and deploy electronically. This does not require a firefighter to climb on top of the apparatus to operate the monitor, and it can easily be operated by one firefighter through a remote control.

Equipment positioning is very important on these rigs. We have to figure out what we use the most and make it easily accessible without much effort by the crew. Equipment that is stored in the cab should be mounted in such a way that the PPE-wearing firefighter does not have to climb in and out of the cab to retrieve it—hopefully low enough that the firefighter can just open the cab door and reach in to gather the equipment needed. Any heavy equipment in the compartments should be placed on roll-out trays to make the lifting process more in line with the best lifting techniques out there.

Using the front bumper for attack lines and intakes keeps these all at waist level or below, creating an easy way to deploy both these lines in a very ergonomic fashion, once again reducing the chance for injury to firefighters. A number of recent deliveries to the St. Louis (MO) Fire Department use the rear bumper of the apparatus to deploy handlines, just another example of ergonomic thinking by departments.

Although I am not sold on them yet, and it will take a lot of convincing, the technology is out there with pump panel controls on a small screen that can be placed all around the apparatus. These allow the pump operator to control flow and pressure from all sides of the apparatus without having to run back to the pump panel. There is also technology that will greatly assist the operator with delivering the right flow and pressure almost automatically, even taking into account any incoming pressure from a hydrant or water source, once again reducing the size of the pump panel controls and allowing for remote function. It is all cool stuff that will need to be proven out on the streets.

Ground ladders on short-staffed engines need to be low on the side of the apparatus or on ladder racks that can put them down at waist level. This is heavy and cumbersome equipment that is important on the fireground for firefighter safety and civilian rescue. If your engine company is short staffed, I cannot imagine what a truck company is going to show up with, so the engine crews should be able to throw these ladders with ease.

Is there a lot more we can do to set our rigs up for success with low staffing? Yes is the answer, but these are just the few that immediately came to mind. Please feel free to share any ideas you might have with us on Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment social media platforms so we can see what ideas you have for this question.

RICKY RILEY is the president of Traditions Training, LLC. He previously served as the operations chief for Clearwater (FL) Fire & Rescue and as a firefighter for Fairfax County (VA) Fire & Rescue. He is a firefighter with the Kentland (MD) Volunteer Fire Department. He also is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment Editorial Advisory Board.

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