A frequently asked radio transmission is, “What truck companies are responding to this fire?” Well, in this age of limited staffing and multiple-use apparatus, you may not have a true truck company responding. So, as the incident commander, you must assign an incoming engine as the “truck” because truck jobs still need to be completed. What are those truck company duties? Clearly, they include search, ventilation, and forcible entry, to name a few.
As an officer of the engine assigned to perform duties that are traditionally assigned to a truck company, you must be thinking about what equipment your apparatus carries and if your company members are capable of performing truck company functions. A sad reality of today’s volunteer fire service is that not all personnel operating on the fireground have the same level of training, capabilities, or qualifications.
For example, young members may not be permitted to operate in a fire building or on its roof. Similarly, older members may no longer have the physical capability to perform arduous tasks. (Driving the ladder apparatus to the fire scene is an excellent task for older members who may no longer be physically capable of performing firefighting tasks but still may be some of the best drivers and apparatus operators on the department. If an older member can drive the “toolbox” to the fire scene, ladders and other truck company tools will be available for engine company personnel who are cross-trained in truck company operations.) And you really can’t effectively perform vertical ventilation with all outside qualified firefighters or interior search with yourself, a junior firefighter, and an exterior only firefighter acting only as a driver/operator.
I’d like to give some insight as to how an engine company can perform the duties of the truck company without the truck apparatus.
Interior primary search must be performed by two interior qualified firefighters. A vent-enter-isolate-search (VEIS) must be performed by at least two interior qualified as well. These are immediate dangerous to life or health (IDLH) tasks and must be completed quickly and proficiently. The tools needed are basic tools carried on an engine—a thermal imaging camera, a halligan, and a flathead ax and a six-foot hook. For the VEIS, add the ground ladders, normally the 14- or 24-footer carried on an engine company.
For this task, basic forcible entry tools such as the halligan and flathead ax/sledgehammer can be used for most inward and outward opening doors. Additional tools you can carry include an officer’s tool lock pulling device or K-tool for through-the-lock entry. You can also have a rotary saw with a metal cutting or diamond tip combination blade for cutting steel. A good tool for case hardened padlocks is a duckbill lock breaker and for normal padlocks a standard bolt cutter with large handles for increased leverage. When personnel are limited, an excellent labor-saving device is a hydraulic forcible entry tool for steel inward opening doors at fires in commercial and multifamily occupancies.
Tools for ventilation vary, depending on the type of ventilation to be done. Horizontal ventilation (removal of windows) is usually done with a hook, a halligan, or some other sturdy hand tool. Vertical ventilation can be done with the standard complement of engine company ground ladders and hand tools. As far as power saws, a chain saw with a carbide tip chain designed for fire/rescue work or a rotary saw with a carbide tip wood cutting wheel works well. Again, the construction of the roof will with dictate which saw to use and which blade. Positive pressure ventilation (PPV) is the norm now once the fire in knocked down. There are several PPV fan options available, but room to carry equipment on an engine apparatus may limit the choice of fans to just one or two. Depending on the room, you may want to consider a fold-up battery operated PPV fan in addition to a standard electric PPV blower. Be sure to have the capability to power the fan off a generator or house power. Gas-powered fans are good, but they are loud and produce an appreciable amount of carbon monoxide; an electric PPV fan is a better option. As always, the thermal imaging camera is a valuable tool to identify heat signatures while operating on the roof.
The previous three tasks are the core jobs of a truck company, but there are other jobs that need to be completed. Here are a few more, with some equipment you may stock.
Utility Control (gas, water, electric): Have a set of meter covers if pulling an electric meter is in your standard operating procedure. Have a residential water key to secure water to structures; the fork end of a halligan works well too.
Overhaul/Salvage: Rolls of plastic sheeting can be carried as opposed to standard salvage covers. These can be left at the scene for occupants to use and cut to the sizes needed. Also have a good sturdy slap stapler or hammer and roofing nails.
As you can see, a properly staffed and equipped engine can act as a truck company if needed. Staffing means everything; if you don’t have the right people to do the jobs, the jobs can’t be done. So, make sure your apparatus is properly staffed with at least two, preferably four, interior qualified and “truck trained” firefighters. When it comes to training, hold in-house truck-based classes, hands-on and classroom sessions. Send firefighters to truck company-based classes and have them bring what they learned back to the department to share and pass on the knowledge.
Running a truck company takes more than a ladder truck. It takes training, equipment, personnel, and the right mindset.
Greg Sellers is a firefighter with the Chesapeake (VA) Fire Department assigned to Engine 11/C shift. He is also a volunteer firefighter for the Smithfield (VA) Volunteer Fire Department. He is an instructor in engine and truck operations and a 28-year veteran of the fire service.