Matching Engine Design to Operations

Fire departments and those assigned to an engine company should evaluate how their truck is designed and look to see if there are efficiencies that can be realized with some simple changes to equipment locations and hose deployment.

Chief Concerns |

Since the caveman discovered fire and found its value, most uses are good for mankind. But, like most everything, there are things that can go wrong.
Richard Marinucci

Hostile fires are a consequence of a tool that is not used in the manner intended. This resulted in the creation of fire departments to control and extinguish fires that are destructive.

Early on, it was found that water was the best extinguishing agent in almost all cases. This was based on the qualities of water and its availability. Before pumps were developed, the bucket brigade was the method of choice to deliver water to the fire—not a very practical way but the only choice. When machines took over the task, engine companies were created.

This very short recap leaves out a lot of details but is intended to show that the basic job of the fire trucks known as engines (or pumps) is to deliver water to the fire, and that has not changed since the beginning of fire department operations. It is a simple concept that needs to remain simple, but you can and should consider tweaks to maximize benefits based on current circumstances.

Recent studies have confirmed what most everyone in the fire service should know: Put water on the fire as quickly as possible, and you will get good results. The studies have also shown that it doesn’t matter from what direction the fire is attacked. Dumping enough water to overcome the British thermal units being generated extinguishes the fire. There are certainly many examples of this in videos all over the Internet. With this information, departments should be looking at ways to streamline their operations to speed up the process of water delivery. This will involve looking at fire truck design, training programs, equipment, and staffing levels.


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Fire departments and those assigned to an engine company should evaluate how their truck is designed and look to see if there are efficiencies that can be realized with some simple changes to equipment locations and hose deployment. This can be more challenging for smaller departments, where engines not only have water delivery responsibility but also must carry equipment for truck company functions. Look at the hose loads and the lengths based on likely stretches. Factor in hydrant connections and the time needed to make them. Prepiped deluge guns or similar methods to flow larger volumes of water very quickly will produce measurable positive results.

Staffing variations have the most effect on the ability to deliver water to the fire from the source to what is burning. National Fire Protection Association 1710, Standard for the Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency Medical Operations, and Special Operations to the Public by Career Fire Departments, mandates four personnel on an engine to accomplish this feat efficiently and effectively. Unfortunately, there are many (some would say an overwhelming majority of) fire departments that are not staffing according to the standard. The reasons given are cost and ability to pay (or unwillingness to pay). Studies have shown that departments staffed in accordance with the standard are able to more quickly deploy lines and apply water. Those that are not given the resources for this will need to evaluate their options and train more frequently to improve competence. It will be about the number of sets and reps necessary to be as good as you possibly can.

Too often, departments do not view their capabilities based on resources, staffing, and training. They then copy what others have done when designing and outfitting an engine. You will see a lot of things that most likely never get used because there are no humans dispatched to use them. Or, they will get used after the “moments that matter” have passed. They may ultimately have enough firefighters and can then pull hundreds of feet of hose. But the chance to really make a difference has passed. Problem solving and critical thinking should drive decision making.

There are other considerations with staffing. Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards require the use of two-in/two-out operations when entering a hazard zone. Some departments operate with one or two on an engine and must wait for additional personnel to initiate interior operations (unless a known, savable life is in the structure). Understanding the concept of fast water on the fire, these organizations need alternative methods to begin an operation. This can be with prepiped deck guns or other options. But this must be thought through.

There are those who think solely about “big fire, big water.” But, understand the staffing needs to manipulate large lines and the volume of water to push through the large lines. Connecting to a water source may make sense, but it also may delay quick water. There is an element of training and experience that allows good decision making. Getting water on the fire as fast as possible may mean a smaller line that is more manageable with the number of people available to do the work.

Train with all sizes of lines to see how long it takes to deploy and maneuver lines and put them in position with the number of firefighters you realistically will have early on. Also, study fire behavior and the ability of water to be effective on fires of various sizes with various fuel loads. If you have the chance to burn locally for training, this can provide great learning opportunities—sort of setting up your own laboratory. If not, study the countless videos on the Internet to see what works. Consider everything and learn to make decisions based on your resources.

The basic function of an engine and an engine company is to deliver water to the fire. Since not all fire departments are created equal, the vehicles and crews must adapt to maximize the potential to deliver water. This may involve “tweaking” the approach. Consider recent studies emphasizing the need to apply water as quickly as possible, regardless of the direction of the attack.

There are more than 30,000 fire departments in the United States. Each has its own unique challenges. There is not a “one size fits all” solution. It is imperative that fire departments evaluate the resources they have and the risks they face. Based on sound logic and reasoning, they should choose options that deliver the best service possible. This applies to engines/pumpers and the operations expected from these vehicles. Do your research and make the decision that works for you.

RICHARD MARINUCCI is the executive director of the Fire Department Safety Officers Association (FDSOA) and chief of the White Lake 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 and Fire Engineering 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.

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