Recent research performed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and Underwriters Laboratories (UL) has shed a lot of light on fire behavior and the science behind fire development.
This has been enlightening and confirming. It has verified through science some things thought to be true and dispelled other beliefs that may now be considered myths. Regardless, true professionals will pay attention to these studies to look at their operations and determine if they are applying their resources in the best possible manner.
Trucks and truck company operations are critical for successful outcomes. The new view of fires from the research conducted by NIST and UL does not lessen the importance of this aspect of the job but does require that departments conduct a review to make sure they apply limited resources efficiently and effectively. Fire attack will still require forcible entry; fires will still require ventilation, although when and where may mandate more problem solving; and rescue opportunities will still arise.
Staffing greatly affects the ability of organizations to perform functions properly and at the right time. Fire departments need to be realistic when assessing their capabilities so that they can deploy the right tactics at the right time with the right people. For example, if it takes three people to properly place a 40-foot ladder and you only have two people on the truck, you won’t have this as an option. You will either have to wait for more resources to arrive or choose a different tactic.
Square Pegs, Round Holes
Too often we try to put a square peg in a round hole. We may believe the best tactic is to open a hole in the roof and will try our best regardless of what tools we have available. The thought process should change, and crews must use problem solving skills to their fullest extent. If staffing does not allow certain tasks to be completed in the time it takes for them to make a difference, move on to other options. If a crew can’t open a hole in the time needed, don’t waste time and resources that could be better used elsewhere.
Obviously there are organizations that can dispatch adequate resources that will arrive in time to coordinate the best possible attack. But, there are departments that may not be able to assemble crews quickly enough to select certain strategies and tactics. As part of a department’s regular and routine training program, training officers need to determine various options based on resources including personnel, apparatus, equipment, and training. All departments are not created equal and cannot deploy exactly the same.
Staffing levels may be the largest determinant in selecting tactics and strategies. Recent studies tell us how fire is likely to behave and what probably will occur when certain actions are taken. We can come to certain conclusions based on this information and some basic knowledge of fire science-the physics and chemistry. It would behoove fire personnel to not only pay attention to the information resulting from the studies but to also review their fire science basics. Although some believe all fires are different and therefore require different approaches, there are many similarities that are predictable. Although we an acknowledge that there are variables such as contents, weather, time of day, and others, we should be able to make an educated guess on fire development if we study what is known.
Take this scenario: A department dispatches two engines, a truck, a rescue, and a command officer. There are three personnel on each engine, two on the truck, and two on the rescue. That is 10 people plus a command officer. Assume that they are coming from different fire stations and will not all arrive simultaneously. Assume that, more than likely, the first-arriving crews will be in operation five minutes before the second station crews arrive. If we break this in half, then there will be five firefighters operating for five minutes before additional resources arrive. If one of the goals is to get water on the fire as quickly as possible, then there are few, if any, people left to work on any complicated truck functions. Roof operations may not be possible until the next crews arrive. With that staffing, they may not be able to open a roof quickly enough to make a difference. Those resources may be better used doing something else. The point is that each department should realistically look at their response and adjust policies, procedures, standard operating procedures, best practices, and training considering these issues.
The apparatus you have and the equipment you carry will affect your operation and should match your staffing levels and capabilities related to the number of personnel you have and the training they have. Although in a perfect world you may elect to do certain things, you probably are not in that perfect world. If personnel do not have the time to train on specific equipment, it would be inappropriate to try to learn during an emergency. The training needs to be more than just showing the equipment and working with it one time. There really needs to be repetition to attain a level of competence and review to maintain that particular standard.
This training is important to the command officer. To make decisions on tactics, the incident commander needs to know how long a specific task will take. If he assigns a task with the expectation that it will take five minutes and it ends up taking 10, there can be negative consequences. If a crew is prepared to make entry, and a truck company must coordinate ventilation, then it needs to perform that function in the moments that matter, not long after entry has been made. Command decisions must be based on staffing, equipment, and competence.
Preincident plans will be helpful in the discussion regarding truck company operations. Looking at various occupancies and structures in one’s primary response district will offer insight into options. This knowledge is essential, especially when used in conjunction with staffing levels and skill competence. Industrial areas can offer challenges for forcible entry when businesses are closed. High-rise buildings can be difficult to ventilate. Big-box stores may require different approaches. Personnel must know construction types, particularly in residential areas. The lightweight components and methods must be factored into tactics and strategies. Even things like the terrain and landscaping around buildings come into play, as access is critical for truck operations.
There is much more to consider, but that is best done within each department. One size does not fit all, and every organization should consider its individual capabilities based on its resources. Truck company operations are critical to successful outcomes and must be considered as part of an entire tactical and strategic package. It is pointless to try certain operations that crews cannot complete in a timely fashion because of limitations created by staffing and firefighters’ capabilities. Organizations must know what they can and cannot do and focus on things within their control. All departments are not created equal and must operate within their capabilities. Good decisions are based on knowledge, skills, and abilities. Those who focus on this will have better outcomes and minimize the risks to their personnel.
RICHARD MARINUCCI is the executive director of the Fire Department Safety Officers Association (FDSOA) and 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.