Competence creates safety
By Joe Ostendorf
Often, we hear about the first-due engine company getting hoselines in operation, getting water on the fire, or establishing a water supply. Other times we hear about forcible entry, search, ladders, and ventilation. But how do all of these come together for the first-arriving truck company?
It all starts with well-laid out expectations from the company officer to the crew, and from the crew to the company officer. Regarding going to fires, it starts with riding assignments. Riding assignments are vitally important to the integrity of the crew. Riding assignments lay out the expectation of each member in each seat. For example, where I’m from we are fortunate to have four-firefighter staffing on all our fire apparatus. The A seat (front passenger seat) is the company officer, a captain on our truck companies. The B seat (directly behind the A seat facing forward) is assigned to the irons. The C seat (directly behind the driver facing forward) is assigned to the hook and can. The D seat is the driver. Each seat on the truck has a well-defined role at each scene. It is their responsibility to perform the task assigned to their seat.
Furthermore, riding assignments provide crews with accountability. Knowing what each member is doing and when in the incident they should be doing it gives company officers the flexibility to operate on scene without having to micromanage their crews. These riding assignments directly correlate with the functions and the responsibilities of the first-due truck company or any company for that matter. If we do not have expectations and we do not have predetermined riding assignments, how will we be able to perform our jobs effectively and competently? Do we know what is expected of us on the fireground? Jobs will not just get done on the scene if there is not an expectation to do so. All of this directly affects the overall safety of those operating on the scene. When command knows where firefighters should be and what they should be doing, we will minimize radio communications, drastically reduce freelancing, and dramatically improve safety.
Assignments may change slightly, depending on the type of building we are responding to and whether we are first-, second-, third-due, etc. For the purposes of this article, we will assume we are responding to a two-story residential house fire. Here is an example of the riding assignments for the first-due truck company:
The A Seat, the Truck Captain
He is responsible for a size-up on arrival. This size-up sets the stage for the scene and all incoming crews. He speaks clearly and calmly over the radio to give the scene size-up (i.e., Two-story wood-frame, smoke showing from the B/C corner”). This is a very simple picture of the scene given over the radio. This gives the incoming crews a mental picture of what to expect on their arrival.
As the officer gets off the truck, typically carrying one hand tool and a thermal imaging camera (TIC), he performs a 360 and then meets the crew at the entry point. He then assumes interior command and is responsible for all operations inside the fire building. The truck officer will coordinate all operations occurring inside through the chief officer, who is in charge of the overall scene on the outside.
Some situations dictate where the officer will be in the fire building. For example, if it is a vent-enter-search (VES) scenario, the truck company officer will be the third member up the ladder and will use the TIC to help the B and C seats coordinate their search. A six-sided scan (four walls, ceiling, floor) will help the truck officer maintain visual contact on members inside the room and can help locate the fire. Most importantly, the officer can direct them to possible victim locations via heat signatures on the TIC. The truck company does this as a crew, putting search and removal of a victim as the utmost priority. Keep in mind, extra help may still be needed should a victim be located. One of the most important things the truck company officer can do on the fireground is trust the crew to get the job done.
The B Seat, the Irons Firefighter
He is responsible for forcible entry, typically carrying the irons (flathead axe and halligan) and a six-foot NY hook. On the truck’s approach, depending on which side the fire is on, the irons firefighter is doing his own size-up of the fire building. Is it boarded up? Door and window guard systems (DAWGS) and vacant property security systems (VPSS) are heavy metal panels placed over windows and doors for security reasons. Do we have a known occupant and are we thinking VES? The irons firefighter should be formulating a plan based on what he sees. If he sees a house boarded up, then he grabs the saws. Conventional forcible entry, including board ups, is typically the go-to; some boards are secured in a manner that using a chain saw is more efficient and much quicker. If DAWGS or VPSS are on the fire building, the circular saw with a diamond blade is going to be the best option.
For a VES scenario, the B seat firefighter is still responsible for the irons. The irons firefighter will be the one to climb the ladder placed by the driver, take out the window glass, clear the sash, and make entry. You can use the six-foot hook to hook the window frame and use it as a reference point. If none of the previous apply, the irons firefighter will get a three-sided view exiting the truck and choose the point of entry, commonly the front door. To quickly establish a three-sided view, visualize the side of the house you arrive on, the front, and the opposing side. On approach to any door, the firefighter, regardless of seat assignment, should be doing a size-up of the door. Is it inward or outward swinging? It is a wood door in a wood frame? Is it a metal door in a steel frame? Once the door is forced and entry is made, the B seat and the C seat will perform a primary search. The truck officer may assist with the search, depending on conditions. If the door is forced prior to masking up, perform a quick search of the entryway, including behind the door.
The C Seat, the Hook and Can Firefighter
He is responsible for assisting the irons firefighter with forcible entry and, once entry is made, the primary search. The hook and can firefighter carries a six-foot NY hook married with a halligan and the 2½-gallon pressurized water (PW) can. The can is brought with the crew throughout the entire search to protect the crew from drastic changes in fire conditions. You can set the PW can at the doorway to a room while one firefighter searches the left room and the other searches the right room. Another option is to add a short webbing loop on the can so you can shoulder it and have it with you at all times.
As with the B seat firefighter, if on arrival the C seat notices board ups, DAWGS or VPSS, it should be called out so that the B seat can grab the saws. In a VES scenario, the C seat firefighter will bring the can and be the second firefighter up the ladder and into the window. Often, the can will provide a means to enter a heated smoke-/fire-filled hallway and make the push to the next room. The B and C seat firefighters work together to go beyond the door and continue the search for victims.
The B and C seat firefighters’ top priority should be making entry and initiating a primary search for victims. A split search is often going to be our best option and will most times yield the best results. For a split search, the B seat firefighter can quickly search a single room while the C seat searches the adjacent room. The two will meet back in a common area, such as a hallway, and continue to the next rooms. Maintain voice or visual contact. A building is not vacant until it has been searched. Our quick entry provides the best opportunity for any trapped occupants to be rescued and survive when our priority is search. This also benefits the overall scene because it gives the engine company an entryway to stretch lines into the fire building and get water on the fire. Once the primary search is completed, the irons firefighter and the hook and can firefighter will assist the engine company with any task that still needs to be accomplished such as opening up walls, pulling ceiling, shutting off power, and shutting off interior utilities. After the fire is extinguished, the B and C seat firefighters will work together to expose fire that may be hidden in walls or void spaces by doing a thorough overhaul of the fire building.
The D Seat, the Driver
He is responsible for all things outside the fire building. The driver will begin a size-up at the time of dispatch. If it is a known area or building in your district, begin to think about where you are going to spot the truck. On arrival, many times the truck will take the front. That’s not always the case, depending on many factors including the size of the fire building, obstacles, trees, power lines, other equipment, setback, scrub zone, and where you want or need the aerial tip. The driver should make that decision on approach. Keep in mind, the fastest spot is not always the best spot. Ideally, the parking brake should be set one time, but if you have to make a quick adjustment, do it early. Keep in mind you have other apparatus coming to the scene, so getting your spot quickly and effectively is going to be best.
Once on scene, the truck driver will throw ground ladders to all sides of the fire building. Ground ladders on buildings three stories or less are going to give firefighters quicker access in most scenarios. The truck driver will carry a halligan with his first ladder.
The driver should be able to put all ladders carried on the truck in service without assistance. That should be the expectation. Regardless of where this ladder is placed, continue your walk around the house to gain your 360. If you find a side entry door or rear entry door (most times leading to a basement or kitchen), then force the door open and bring it back to a nearly closed position. Also, on the driver’s 360, he will be looking for outside utilities such as gas, which can be shut off at that time using the halligan. Once ground ladders are in place, the aerial goes up to a window or row of windows, depending on the building.
The aerial goes up at every fire because it can be used at any time. The time to put the aerial up is not at the moment it’s needed. Once the aerial is up and in place and all other outside duties have been achieved, the driver should consider assisting interior crews. Placing a fan near the front door is also a consideration and can be done at any point after ladders are placed. The fan is not placed in service until interior crews call for it, but it should be near the door and ready.
At any given time in the incident, the truck driver should be monitoring radio traffic and have a general idea of where crews are located inside the fire building. Doing so will allow the truck driver to take out a window or attic vent, acting as the outside vent man, allowing the heat and smoke to release as the crews make their attack. If extra help is not needed, the driver can begin getting extra cylinders out for members who will be exiting the fire building soon.
This is just one example of how designated riding assignments can, and will, benefit a single crew, company, or department. Competence creates safety; safety does NOT create competence. These riding assignments are not a one size fits all for every scene or every department. It is simply a standard that has been set forth. Remember, this is not the way; it’s just a way. If you don’t have predetermined riding assignments, sit down with your crew or your company and discuss the benefits that it brings to your crews.
Joe Ostendorf is a firefighter for the Dayton (OH) Fire Department, where he is assigned to Truck Company 13. He has served as a firefighter in the state of Ohio for 13 years and has been with Dayton for five years. He has served as an assistant instructor for the Dayton Fire Academy and is an adjunct instructor for Sinclair Community College