Question: I am an engineer (chauffeur) for the Eugene (Oregon) Fire Department. Our department has ten engine companies and two truck companies with staffing of three personnel on both. The majority of our fires are single-story, wood-frame, residential fires and an occasional industrial fire. Our response assignment consists of three engines, one truck, one two-person medic unit, and one chief. Large buildings or escalating events receive the second truck and chief. My question is that with only three guys on the truck, is it prudent to leave the engineer on the controls at the base, once the truck gets set up? Our truck at our station is a new Pierce 100-foot platform. Thank you, I always enjoy reading your material. Mike Montgomery, Eugene Fire Department
Answer: To begin, you have to know that I think the tower ladder (or whatever it is called in your section of the job) is the greatest advance in firefighting since motors were put on pumps. The problem is the staffing and use and perception of use and value of this unit on the fireground. Anyone can figure out how to use it as a defensive logistic! However, its incalculable value is in its position and operation at structure fires as an offensive and aggressive apparatus to be part of and support for an interior fire attack.
Now, to your question in particular. If the tower is being used (with personnel), there is a problem that no one (sales/manufacturer) speaks of it is funnel vision. I dont care what is being done or what is the objective or the time and experience of the basket operator, funnel vision attacks the bucket person all the time.
The tower is so quick and powerful that the operator can get into trouble easily wires, walls and structure, parapets (both for access and, worse, for egress and retraction), flame extension under the operator, collapse signs or beginnings, operator injuries, exposure, control of civilians and more.
It is a wise company and a department that places a turntable-safety person at the deadman control and be ready to stop operations and take control of the basket operations.
Also if there are injuries or if the controls in the basket become inaccessible for anyone of any reason, the turntable assignment is able to take over.
Remember also that most controls in the basket are electric switches for servos to hydraulic valves. They cannot make the finest of movements that the hydraulic/electric controls can at the turntable, so routine operations can require cooperation between bucket and turntable also.
Like all subjects on which I have an opinion, Mike, I give reasons and, more importantly, alternatives. Your department has seriously understaffed its (your) half- to three-quarter million-dollar investment in equipment, the tower ladder. You should recommend the adoption of some department action or guideline to assure the training and use of additional personnel assigned to the tower on their arrival, as a matter of response policy at least until you can get some sanity into marketing your department and its commitment to the community.
my recommended alternatives:
Now, with all that said, I hope that your SOP does not put all three of your team members into the bucket. Aggressive outside operations require training and critique experience but not a lot of people certainly not the truck officer.
If the aerial device is to be used, it should be in the hands of the chauffeur and one assigned firefighter. The officer (or actor) should be gathering other players to provide the one or two truck functions that they can perform based on a pretty accurate size-up of where the fire is, where it is going, and what is in its way.
Remember, there are at least five immediate tasks or tactics that are known as truck work that must be ongoing immediately at every aggressive interior attack at a fire in a structure that is or may be occupied. Todays criminal staffing has prevented us from making the building behave all at once, and we are forced to make rapid-fire alternate decisions on arrival at these infernos.
I hope I have given you some insight and support and direction to use your imagination to get it done. Some departments have chosen to do nothing about it and have mothballed the best unit in the department until call-in (or back-up or whatever) personnel respond to staff and bring the tower ladder to the scene for a water tower. What a waste!
Write again, brother.
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Write if you agree or dont agree or on anything. Tbrennan@firenuggets.com