Key Skill Areas for Truck Companies

Issue 4 and Volume 9.

In the February installment of Quick Drills, I covered how important it is to evaluate your engine company’s skill sets in four basic areas: deploying hoselines, establishing a water supply, laddering the building and deploying master streams. This month, I want to do the same thing while focusing on ladder/truck company operations.

Remember: Although this list is a good starting point, you may want to create your own list based on the experience of your company, the types of fires and incidents your company responds to most often, and the type of apparatus and equipment you have at your disposal. The key is to ensure that you make a deliberate effort to measure your truck company’s performance when it comes to the essentials that lead to a successful fireground operation.

Aerial Operations

There’s no way we can cover all the aerial operations skills truck companies need to have, but I’ll touch on the major points.

It doesn’t matter what type of aerial your department has—tower ladder, straight stick, rear-mount, mid-mount or tractor-drawn aerial. Each has its place on the fireground and in your department’s operations. The key is that we use them the way they were designed.

The old saying, “Getting started is the hardest part” is very true when we talk aerial operations. Placement of the aerial in the right spot early in the operation will make all the difference in how effective the aerial will be as the operation progresses.

There a number of factors to consider when discussing initial aerial placement, including operating characteristics of the aerial, conditions and needs on arrival, and your department’s guidelines for aerial placement. Example: Your department might always want the first aerial to get the front of the fire building and cover as many sides of the building as possible from that location.

In general terms, however, the big three areas to consider in aerial placement are life safety, access and master stream operations.

The life safety aspect is based on spotting the aerial where it can best be used to reach the most points of egress from the fire building, allowing access to any real or potential victims without having to reposition the aerial. Although victims may be positioned throughout the building, those close to and above the fire should be removed first, and the aerial could be the best way to reach them.

Access is very similar to life safety; you’re positioning to assist firefighters attempting entry into the fire building for search, ventilation and extinguishment. Again, this positioning is based on the tactical priorities of the incident, such as getting to the roof or using the aerial as a means of stretching hose into areas where access is difficult.

The use of the aerial for master stream operations is especially critical when the fire has exceeded the fire flow requirements of handlines or the building has been determined to be unsafe for interior operations. We also can arrive to find a fire that has such a head start that we have to position initially for defensive operations. Initial aerial placement is important because if we don’t position properly from the start of the incident, later-arriving units may block our access. The aerial master stream is our big gun; make sure it’s available to use when you need it.

Remember: We can stretch more hose but we can’t stretch the ladder. Early placement is important.


A ladder company’s ability to make searches is fundamental. With life as our number one tactical priority, ladder company members must be able to search for and remove anyone still remaining in the fire building after they arrive.

Our search training should focus on searching the different types of structures that we would most often respond to in our area. This training should be conducted both with and without the use of a thermal imaging camera (TIC) so that the crews don’t develop a dependence on technology and are at a disadvantage if the TIC fails or is unavailable. Ensure your crew is able to effectively conduct a search both with and without a TIC.

Forcible Entry

Modern forcible entry is changing due to improvements in building security measures. When building owners make it more difficult for the criminal element to break in, it also makes it much more difficult for us to gain access. We can’t just kick down every door we face anymore, and the pickhead axe and pry bar are quickly becoming less effective.

The good news is that our forcible entry tools and the training to use them have never been better. The bad news is that with all the new information and equipment comes the need to train much harder at the company level. This means knowing your tools and equipment, so that you get off the truck with the right tools for the specific incident. Forcible entry still requires the use of some brute force, but it must be coupled with knowledge and finesse.

Ground Ladders

Every aerial ladder company should be equipped with a good assortment of ground ladders that can be quickly thrown to the fire building. Great ladder companies throw a lot of ladders and are good at getting them in place quickly.

When and where to place those ladders should be clearly outlined by your department because the pre-positioning of ground ladders is a critical fireground function. A good rule of thumb: a ladder to every level and on every side of the building. Great ladder companies throw ladders until the ground ladder bed is empty, then they find engines or other companies with ground ladders and throw those.

Back to Basics

Just as with February’s column, these are just a few areas in which to measure your aerial/ladder company’s performance. Due to space constraints, I’m unable to cover all the skills you need to consider, such as ventilation and roof operations. Customize this list as needed for your truck company, but don’t stray from the focus: Periodically evaluate your company’s ability to perform basic truck work on the fireground, identify areas for improvement, and start drilling toward perfection.