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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.[Native Advertisement]
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.
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.
Michael M. Dugan
Michael M. Dugan is a 38-year veteran of the fire service and a 26-year veteran of the New York City Fire Department (FDNY), currently serving as captain of Ladder Company 123 in Brooklyn. As a firefighter in Ladder Company 43, Dugan received the James Gordon Bennett medal in 1992 and the Harry M. Archer Medal in 1993, the FDNY’s highest award for bravery. He was an instructor at the inception of the FDNY’s Annual Education Day and has developed programs currently taught to all FDNY members during the annual event. Dugan is a member of the IAFC Safety, Health & Survival Section. He serves as a HOT instructor at Firehouse Expo and FDIC, and is a regular contributor to fire service magazines. He also lectures at various events around the country on topics dealing with truck company operations, building construction, scene size-up and today’s fire service.
Responding to a structure fire can be the easiest or the most challenging assignment a rural fire department deals with. Location, weather conditions, size of building and volume of fire are just a few of many conditions the officer must be prepared to consider.
The most important aspect of any rural response: staffing. Success or failure of operations depends largely on staffing—and not just the number of personnel available. Training, experience, attitude and abilities are some of the factors that combine to determine the outcome of the response.
Let’s consider one way of limiting variables in staffing at your rural response: seating assignments.
Who Does What?
Responses in the rural areas of North America are as varied and challenging as any. Although we may not be climbing up high-rises or diving into subway incidents, the rural environment offers firefighters many different types of alarms that our city brothers and sisters might not even imagine. Just like the large-city fire department, we must be ready to react to whatever the situation is.
Job assignments can be determined in many different ways. Career fire departments typically have job assignments predetermined before response. The tasks or title and the individual personnel on duty in a career fire department usually determine riding positions: those personnel who are assigned to a station or a company, the tasks that will need to be accomplished upon arrival and/or the position on the apparatus where these personnel ride.[Native Advertisement]
Volunteer fire departments, however, often don’t know who will respond to any specific alarm. This creates a challenge for determining who will do what tasks.
Many volunteer fire departments overcome at least part of this challenge with assigned-duty crews, which stand by or stay at the fire station for a given period. This guarantees the number of personnel that will be responding to any alarm in this period. It also allows the chief or company officer to assign people to specific functions or tasks prior to the response.
Anyone involved in the fire service for more than a few alarms knows the safest and most efficient operations occur when trained, experienced firefighters and officers respond to and perform at an emergency. Although we’re involved in one of the most dangerous occupations on the planet, we can certainly put some more of the odds in our favor with proper planning. Prearranging seating and assignments is one of those things we can control—and it costs almost nothing to implement.
Assigned seating on fire apparatus simply determines what actions a firefighter will likely perform on the fireground. Obviously, there has to be some flexibility in the assignments. But if a person is riding on an engine as the “supply line” person, they know there’s a likelihood that they’ll be getting off of the apparatus to lay a supply line. Firefighters assigned as the “attack crew” have a pretty good chance of stretching the first preconnect into a building fire.
Because fire apparatus seating differs by manufacturer, cab style and department preference, and because all fire departments, alarms and regions are slightly different, these assignments or titles may—and should—vary across the fire service.
Before You Begin
Assigned riding positions can be accomplished many ways. Most fire departments that employ this method usually look at their typical responses for a given period of time, say 3 to 5 years. By reviewing fire reports for such a period, they are able to assess what types of alarms they typically respond to, what tasks were performed and what positions or assignments might accomplish these tasks in the most safe and efficient manner.
For example, every rural firefighter expects to respond to a structure fire at which water will be applied. But have you taken the time to determine how many structure fires you actually responded to in a 1-year period? How about a 5-year period? What types of structures did the responses involve and what challenges did they pose? What hoselays and attack procedures were employed? Were there more motor vehicle accidents and vehicle fires than structure fires? Would this justify modifying assignments on your apparatus?
Use this data to reevaluate your protocols. You may find, for example, that the seat dedicated to ladder raises is less useful to your day-to-day operations if you respond more often to vehicular incidents than to structure fires.
What the Seats Will Say
The person behind the wheel of the apparatus is, of course, responsible for driving the apparatus to and from the alarm. But what are the other responsibilities of the driver/operator? On a truck company, they may be part of the outside team. On a rural response to a single-family dwelling fire, the driver may be assigned to assist with raising and placing ground ladders in the event of rescue. On an engine company, the driver is typically expected to operate at the pump panel, as well as to hook up the supply line to a predetermined intake connection if the engine made a forward hoselay. Generally speaking, engine company riding assignments involve the driver doing pump operations and possible hoseline connections.
The officer’s riding position is almost always assigned to the seat beside the driver in the cab so the officer is able to listen to and speak over the radio, see the emergency as they approach and make a size-up based on the available information. They may be expected to do many different things in a rural response, but the officer is almost always assigned the overall safety of the crew, regardless the type of alarm.
Consider assigning the two seats behind the driver and officer or two seats in the center of the rear seats as the attack crew or first line. Ideal staffing would permit at least two firefighters to stretch the first preconnect to a structure fire. On other calls, these two seats might still be expected to stretch the first attack line.
Another seat may determine which person will be responsible for getting off the apparatus and performing the tasks associated with a forward or reverse hose lay with the engine. This firefighter may stay with the hoseline as the engine moves to or away from the fire.
Remember: There is no single seating assignment to suit all departments or every vehicle. Focus on safe operations based on the number of people riding on a specific piece of apparatus as you create assignments.
If seats are unoccupied during a response, it must be determined who will perform those tasks or whether those tasks can go undone. Once again, a great deal of flexibility must be permitted, but written standard operating guidelines (SOGs) and extensive training on seating assignments will establish safe and proficient operations at an emergency.
Volunteer departments might on occasion have members riding in a position with which they are not extremely familiar. Many volunteer departments therefore place a tag or sign at each seat or seating area with the title and functions of that seat. This assists the firefighter who may not have been in this position recently or who may not be as active as others who typically ride in any position.
Assignments on other rural pieces of apparatus are as simple as the functions required by that equipment. A person riding beside the driver of a tanker in the officer’s position may not have a lot of decisions to make if the tanker is involved in hauling water during a tanker shuttle. On the other hand, this position might be assigned to spot the driver/operator as they back up to a fill or dump site. This position might even be vacated by SOG if the fire department doesn’t feel that someone needs to ride with the driver when staffing is critically short.
Final determinations of the riding position titles, tasks and expectations should be made collectively by your fire department after due diligence. Review alarms, changes in responses and past performances and allow these findings to determine the assignments. Put them down in writing and ensure each member of your department is familiar with what is expected of them.
The next critical step is training. Each member must understand the roles required by each piece of apparatus and where precisely they fit in. Safe and efficient operations in rural fire department responses are the product of forethought and lots of training. Stay safe!
Sample Assigned Seating Arrangement
Engine Company--Typical 6-Seat Cab
Drives, positions apparatus per officer, chocks wheels, operates pump, may hook up supply or other hoselines, helps with scene safety and lighting, assists crew as available
Verifies everyone is seatbelted, performs continual size-up, gives an on-scene report, establishes command, gives orders, verifies water supply, enters with crew, carries tools, maintains crew safety and accountability
ATTACK CREW (3):
Along with position 4 FF, stretches first attack line, dons SCBA and enters (if interior operation), reports to officer or command about conditions and progress, uses situational awareness, works safely
ATTACK CREW (4):
Along with position 3 FF, stretches first attack line, dons SCBA and enters (if interior operation), reports to officer or command about conditions and progress, uses situational awareness, works safely
WATER SUPPLY (5):
Gets off of apparatus with supply line, wraps hydrant or object on forward lay, hooks to hydrant or supply engine, joins position 6 FF and helps stretch second attack line or set ground ladder
Makes intake connection to engine on forward lay, discharge connection if reverse lay, joins position 5 FF and helps stretch second attack line or set ground ladder
Patrick Pauly has spent 40 years in the fire service. He is employed full time as a fire service education specialist at the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy, teaching on-campus classes and coordinating other training programs. He is also chief of the West Granville Fire Co., located in Granville Township in Mifflin County, Pa. Pauly is nationally certified at several levels and is a Pennsylvania state-certified EMT. He holds an associate’s degree in computer science technology.