The Joys of Seat Assignments

Editor’s Note: Mike Dugan has written many informative Fire Attack columns for FireRescue, and starting this month, he’s taking on a new role as Truck Company Operations columnist opposite Peter Kertzie. If you have any comments or questions for Dugan, send your e-mails to frm.editor@elsevier.com.

What’s your plan when you arrive at the fire scene? There are many tasks to accomplish at any fire so it’s important to have an organized method for determining who does what and, perhaps more importantly, when it should be done—critical factors in fire extinguishment and firefighter safety.

One approach to creating this organization: instituting riding position assignments. This will prevent your team from standing around, waiting to be told what to do, while losing valuable time. If your team knows what you expect them to do based on pre-assigned seating positions, they can exit the rig and begin their tasks.

First Things First

The first and most important step to implementing riding position assignments: determine the minimum staffing with which your apparatus can respond. Regardless of whether your staffing fluctuates between four and six people, for example, you must base your standard operating guidelines (SOGs) for riding position assignments on your minimum staffing level. You can place additional firefighters in your response plan as they become available, but you must always start at the lowest number of responding members and work from there.

The next step: Determine what specific tasks you want to achieve at the fire, and prioritize them. For example, if you’re responding to a residential fire at night, a search team will be one of the most important duties assigned. If it’s a commercial fire at night in a closed and locked store, the life hazard is reduced but ventilation will be needed before entry can be made.

Assign a task to each seat on the apparatus. This is especially important for volunteer or call firefighters in which the personnel on an apparatus can change from call to call. So if you sit in seat No. 1, you’re the officer and you assume that responsibility. If you sit in the entry seat, you’re the forcible-entry firefighter and must be able to handle all associated tasks—and so on.

Note: The only change to this strategy might be if someone on the apparatus isn’t qualified or capable of carrying out the task assigned to their riding position. For example, this could be an issue if your company is responding as the rapid intervention team, and a particular member has never been in a fire building or is simply not qualified to carry out the task assigned to that riding position. In this case, the inexperienced person should avoid sitting in the seat designated for this role or, if they happen to end up in that seat, they should simply switch roles with someone else.

Specific Riding Assignments

I’ll use a six-person team—an ideal scenario—to show how duties can be allocated. But obviously, seat assignments must be flexible to accommodate variations in staffing and type of call. If you have fewer than six people, the extra duties will need to be redistributed.

The operator, or apparatus driver, must be qualified to drive, operate ladders and pump your rig as required. They should also be required to undergo annual recertification on the apparatus.

The person sitting next to the driver is the officer or senior firefighter responding as the team leader. This person is responsible for the safety of the team and apparatus. If you’re the officer or designated as the acting officer, the buck stops with you. It’s your duty to protect your team. You’re the boss and you must act like one. Anyone in this position must be aware of the capabilities and limitations of every other member riding on that rig.

These two positions are found on every apparatus. Now let’s examine the additional riding positions and duties specific to a truck company.

The first position is the forcible-entry firefighter, who is responsible for bringing a set of irons to the front door. This person should work with the officer to force entry to the building, conduct a primary search to locate the fire, and alert the engine company of the location of fire and how to best get a handline into position.

This two-person team can then begin a search for victims. They should not proceed past the fire unless there is a known life hazard and the engine crew (or extinguisher firefighter) is in position to protect them. Once the water has been applied to the fire, the team can safely pass the fire and continue the search. Note: This team should stay in constant contact with each other and with command.

The next position is the outside vent (OV) firefighter. This firefighter, who should work opposite the advancing handline, will take windows and give the engine somewhere to push the fire. This position is especially important in today’s modern buildings, considering the issues with increased fire loading and temperature and the need to quickly channel the products of combustion outside the fire building.

This position also gives command a set of eyes outside the building. Depending on the location of fire, the OV firefighter may be the first person at the rear of the fire building. If there is a known life hazard, this firefighter should be allowed to enter the building to make a rescue from that location, which might be remote from the officer and forcible-entry firefighter. Note: If the OV firefighter is entering the building to make a rescue, there must be backup from another firefighter as soon as possible. If the OV firefighter encounters a life hazard that must be attended to and therefore cannot complete their assigned duties, they must communicate this to the inside team and command, which must acknowledge the message.

The next position is the roof firefighter. Venting the roof allows the smoke and heat to escape, making it easier for the inside members to make progress on the fire. This position is dangerous and should be assigned to someone with experience. Why? This firefighter will be working above the fire and must determine whether the roof is safe. If the roof firefighter believes the roof or its support system is compromised, they should alert command and the inside members and immediately evacuate the roof. This communication should evacuate the entire structure. It’s a team effort; if we give up one part of the building, then we give up the entire structure.

The last position is the extinguisher firefighter (aka “can man”). This firefighter is a member of the inside team and can go with the officer to find the fire. This allows the forcible-entry firefighter to begin a search of the fire area as soon as entry is made.

The extinguisher firefighter carries a 2 ½-gallon extinguisher and a pike pole. The extinguisher is used to confine the fire or cover a search past the fire to try to make a rescue before a handline is in place. The pike pole can also be used to close doors, thereby confining the fire without getting too close to it. After fire knock down, the extinguisher firefighter can use the pike pole to open the ceiling and walls to look for fire extension.

But what happens if you have only four people? The officer and the forcible-entry firefighter will still go inside to facilitate the engine company’s advance on and extinguishment of the fire. The tools carried might include an axe, a Halligan and a pressurized water extinguisher. The OV firefighter will still operate opposite the fire and vent for the interior team. The apparatus operator and roof firefighter positions can be combined. Note: These are just some of the options depending on your department’s SOGs and the number of firefighters responding.

And what if there are only two firefighters and an officer on the truck? One solution: Make the driver the OV firefighter. The officer can bring the tools, and the forcible-entry firefighter can bring the pressurized-water extinguisher. It will be more difficult than when you have ideal staffing, but you can make it work.

Final Thoughts

Seat assignments and riding positions are a great way to work smarter, not harder. Everyone has a task or function to carry out. The incident commander, fireground officer and firefighters know that the job is being done and that they can move to the next task. Another benefit to riding assignments: They allow the incident commander and fire officers to establish and employ a fireground safety plan. For example, if you’re assigned the OV position and something goes wrong, we’re going to look for you outside the building. By having a fireground safety plan, freelancing is eliminated, thus providing effective accountability and reducing the potential for firefighter injury or death.

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