Recall Robert De Niro’s famous lines in Backdraft when he explains fire to a new recruit: “It’s a living thing, it breathes–the only way to beat it is to think like it.” In reality, it’s a laboratory setting–not a Hollywood set–that provides research as to how fire eats, breathes and grows. The interesting thing is that De Niro’s statement was right on, and research supports it.
In previous columns we’ve discussed the importance of incorporating research into training, SOPs and firefighting; we’ve explained how the term “flow path” is quickly entering our vocabularies and after-action reviews; and we’ve dedicated a lot of ink to introducing SLICERS as a new paradigm to guide fireground action. In this installment, we discuss the importance of truck company operations. Just as with engine company operations, new research doesn’t equal extinction for truck work. The fact is truck work is essential to fireground success, and we’ve been doing most things right. Now is the time to push the modern evolution to the other side of the house and “Keep on truckin’.”
Recipe for Success
Success on the fireground requires competent and balanced engine, truck and rescue operations under the guidance of a knowledgeable incident commander. The importance of truck work, whether completed by a dedicated truck company or not, is integral to successful operations. Truck company functions occur on every fire incident, and are performed more often than not without the benefit of a dedicated truck company or aerial device. A dedicated truck company can make some functions easier and more efficient, but truck company duties are necessary throughout any incident to support the safe and effective control of the fire.
The new paradigm of firefighting includes a keen awareness of flow path and the importance of cooling the atmosphere prior to entry. Now more than ever, synchronizing your engine and truck company operations is paramount. The integration of these operations must be coordinated by the incident commander and communicated between company officers. Only a handful of departments in the country have the ability to deliver a large number of firefighters and apparatus to the scene within the first few minutes of an incident. When resources are limited, it is especially important to observe the sequential process of the fireground order model SLICERS. Following SLICERS, the Size-up sets the stage for the following steps of Locating the fire, Identifying flow path, Cooling the atmosphere, then Extinguishing the fire. Taking any of these initial steps out of order can jeopardize the effectiveness of the operation. Only Rescue and Salvage are items of opportunity that may be completed at any time based on opportunity and need.
Larger departments can often complete many of the SLICERS tasks simultaneously by using members who’ve had consistent training on the same set of SOPs. But large or small, the department cannot delay having its engine company put water on the fire and reduce the heat from a safe distance. Cooling vastly improves firefighter safety and extends the window of survival for trapped occupants.
SLICERS & LOVERS U
SLICERS is well and good for engine companies, but what does this new engine jargon mean to the truck company officer, or in the case of most U.S. departments, the firefighters and officers performing truck work without the benefit of a dedicated truck company?
Enter LOVERS U, a helpful way of outlining the tasks of a truck company. LOVERS U stands for Ladder-Overhaul-Ventilation-Egress/Entry-Rescue-Salvage-Utilities (see sidebar). Unlike SLICERS, it is not meant to be sequential or order-driven–the tasks are all actions of opportunity. If this acronym were to be completed in order, Rescue falls much too late and perhaps beyond the savable window for occupants. Completing rescue is a top priority and the first consideration of both truck and engine companies. Remember that SLICERS also directs us to regard Rescue as an item of opportunity, to be performed at any time in the order of operations.
You can think of LOVERS U as a shopping list to remind us what the truck is responsible for. Just as every trip to the market is different, every fire is different. Truck company operations are often intertwined throughout the fireground operation, implemented when the time is right to enhance the safety of firefighters and improve the survival potential for trapped occupants. LOVERS U helps to itemize truck tasks and keep them on hand as the opportunities and needs of each incident evolve.
Tweaking the Acronym
A few things must change in the modern firefight to adapt the legacy truck functions into the new paradigm. Many existing fireground videos feature aggressive truck companies taking out every door and window on the ground floor, or taking out above-grade windows with ground ladders or aerials. We now understand that this creates flow paths that help an under-ventilated fire grow exponentially and uncontrollably. We probably always sensed that this happens; now we have research to confirm it,1 along with a new vocabulary to assist in training new firefighters and updating the knowledge, skills, and abilities of our experienced members.
While rapid and dramatic ventilation by a truck company may momentarily improve visibility and reduce heat, it does so by allowing fresh cool air to rush inside and lean-out the fire. Improved conditions only last a short time before the environment becomes worse than it was prior to ventilation. The environment quickly becomes un-survivable for advancing firefighters or trapped occupants unless temperatures are reduced. But the probability of having all the adequate and appropriate resources at the right place in this collapsing window of time ultimately makes this legacy tactic risky. In the modern firefight, ventilation may need to be delayed, or limited through anti-ventilation techniques such as closing doors, until water is applied to superheated areas approaching flashover (see p. 44 for more on anti-ventilation).
So what about Vent, Enter, Search (VES), a standard tactic imbedded in the very DNA of the American truckie? On the modern fireground, the updated tactic of opportunity of VEIS (Vent, Enter, Isolate, Search) should be used in situations where it’s highly likely that an occupant is inside or when sound incident recon indicates that occupants are trapped in a specific area. The importance of quickly closing the interior door and isolating the search room is critical, and supported by the research.2 Coming back to the “I” in SLICERS, Identifying a potential flow path created by VEIS becomes the hinge pin for proper use of this tactic. Venting and entering without the ability to isolate the search crew from the flow path created by the operation can be a fatal mistake. Size-up for this tactic will include locating windows that are not fully darkened by deadly and flammable smoke. It’s no coincidence these rooms will also have a higher occupant survivability profile.
Once the engine aggressively does its job, the truck company functions of ventilation, overhaul, salvage and completion of primary and secondary search can be done more safely. The truck company provides key actions of opportunity by laddering for possible VEIS operations, and making entrance and egress paths for engine companies who will cool the heated environment and extinguish the fire.
In sum: the importance of truck company tasks, namely LOVERS U, has never been more important on the fireground than it is today. What has changed is how we execute these tasks in concert with SLICERS. Size-up is the gateway to success. Life safety remains our top priority, and this item of opportunity must find its way into operations quickly if the size-up identifies a survivability profile conducive to occupant survival. If VEIS is determined to be appropriate by locating the fire and identifying the flow path, execute it with a keen awareness of the new flow paths being created.
If entry is appropriate from another avenue, give yourself the best opportunity for success by having the engine company cool the atmosphere prior to entry. Cooling from a safe location also supports aggressive truck work by expanding operational time. Extinguishment completes the final sequential steps in SLICERS, and as Andy Fredricks reminds us, most of our problems go away once we achieve this benchmark.
Embrace the Updates
Research is not an assault on our traditions or on LOVERS U. Rather, it is a call to action. As the trainer of your crew, your battalion, or your department, you have an increased responsibility in this new truck paradigm. Embrace SLICERS as evolution, a point of operational integration and a way to improve your margin of safety. Coordinated and competent truck work is complementary to engine work on the evolved fire attack. So for increased success and survivability, remember to Keep on truckin’.
1. Kerber S. Study of the Effectiveness of Fire Service Vertical Ventilation and Suppression Tactics in Single Family Homes. UL, 2013. Retrieved Feb. 26, 2014 from http://ulfirefightersafety.com/category/projects/effectiveness-of-fire-service-vertical-ventilation-and-suppression-tactics/
2. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Governors Island Experiments. 2013. Retrieved Feb. 26, 2014 from http://www.nist.gov/fire/fwdgi.cfm
Sidebar – LOVERS U