A Few Extra Hands

Let’s face the facts; in today’s fire service, career and volunteer departments are dealing with understaffed box alarm assignments. On paper; a 4 man company is "NFPA" compliant. We all know that the more manpower, the better. See the study that NIST did to see just how much more a few hands can improve operations.


Years ago, departments realized the need for extra manpower on fire scenes (even when they were riding with far more members per company than we are today). They developed Squads as companies that can get on the fire scene and reinforce the operations of the other companies on the fire ground. Many departments use Rescue Companies, Squad Companies, Rescue Engines or additional Truck Companies for this purpose.

An extra Special Service (Truck, Squad or Rescue) can be a valuable asset on the fire ground.

  • Checking Exposures
  • Checking for Fire Extension
  • Assisting with Fire Attack
  • Assisting with Ventilation
  • Assisting with the Primary/Secondary Search
  • Completing size up of the "Charlie" Side
  • Controlling Utilities
  • Ensuring smooth company operations

Any special circumstances can also be handled by this company

  • Cellar Fires
  • Underground Fires
  • High Rise Fires
  • Fires dealing with Hazardous Materials
  • Structure Fires with high potential for collapse

Checking Exposures
While all other operations on the fire ground are being taken care of, this special service can check the exposures, both exposures if the building is in the middle of the group. This can assist the Incident Commander in calling for additional resources or additional alarms, keeping him one step ahead of the game.

Checking for Fire Extension
The Company can also be used for checking fire extension on all sides of the fire. The first and/or second due truck is busy performing ventilation and searching the structure, the extra special service can be used to start opening up ceilings, walls and void spaces. This would help direct future engine company operations and determine how far advanced the fire is.

Assisting with Fire Attack
Due to most Career Departments responding with 4 man Engine Companies and most volunteer departments responding with 3 man Engine Companies, the "stretch" can be grueling. Two or three people stretching 3 or more lengths of hose is not going to go smooth with only 3 or 4 bends. An extra company can help the under staffed Engine while making the bends and just generally picking up a few feet of hose and helping advance the line. This Engine may not like you after the fire, but they will be thankful as they are making the room at the end of the hall.

Assisting with Ventilation
With the Truck Companies are searching the structure, ventilation can be delayed. A member of the extra special service can assist with Vertical ventilation and the rest of the company can assist with ventilating horizontally. This is can prolong the survivability of the building occupants and save the engine company from taking too hard of a "Beating".

Assisting with the Primary/Secondary Search
Fire Departments are here to protect life and property. Our Primary objective is to save lives, so this should be simple; a few more hands helping look for trapped occupants is a good thing.

Completing size up of the "Charlie" Side
Many departments send companies to the rear to operate. But who really stands back and gets a good size up of the rear? Most of the time the companies in the rear are checking the following: Life Safety and Hazards, Fire conditions and number of floors. We all know that size up is ongoing, this can be accomplished by having the extra special service officer keep the size up going and keeping the Incident Commander updated.

Controlling Utilities
Another important objective but it is commonly pushed off and handled last due to limited manpower. No one wants to sink their hook into a ceiling or wall and feel the electricity pass from their hook into their hands.

Ensuring smooth company operations
With each company stretched thin, attempting to accomplish each objective and every task on the fire ground, speed bumps get hit. The engine gets hung up and can’t advance the line, the ventilation is delayed, utilities aren’t controlled, no one is sizing up the rear, not enough ground ladders are being thrown, exposures aren’t being properly stretched, a few extra hands on the fire ground can make a world of difference. Imagine being an Incident Commander and having 4 extra sets of hands on the fire ground. One more person helping with the line, one more set of hands searching for victims, one more saw and axe on the roof or one more person controlling utilities and sizing up the rear of the structure.

Special circumstances
More so in Career Departments, Special Service companies are trained and specialized, are often highly experienced and used to working independently. These companies carry special equipment that can aid in fires where special circumstances arise such as; Thermal Imaging Cameras, Tag lines, Rope Rescue Equipment, Shoring, etc.

Cellar Fires
Cellar Fires are most of the most dangerous fires a fireman can go to. They are, by nature, in a confined space with limited ventilation. These Special Services can assist with the stretch of the attack line. Due to heavy fire loads found in Basements and Cellars, larger attack lines may be stretched. Limited manpower and large attack lines are a recipe for disaster. The extra manpower can be used to assist in this labor intensive operation.

Ventilation is a HUGE ISSUE at Cellar Fires, most of the time the only ventilation is the door opening that the Engine Company is using to advance their line. Mauls, axes, and saws can be used to create and enlarge ventilation openings such as basement windows, walls, and floors.

Entanglement is another issue. On August 20th, 2004 Captain John Taylor and Firefighter Rey Rubio died bravely while battling a basement fire in a residential dwelling.

( http://www.fireengineering.com/index/articles/display/226139/articles/fire-engineering/hide/2005/04/2005-courage-and-valor-award-captain-john-taylor.html )

No one can say that have a few extra men would have saved Captain Taylor and Firefighter Rubio, but I can say that if I were trapped in a basement, I know that I would want someone there with me.

Underground Fires
When I say underground fires, I don’t mean like the one still burning in Centralia, PA (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Centralia,_Pennsylvania), I mean fires in manholes, vaults, subways, tunnels and the like. These fires can be extended operations, just finding the location is a extensive and problematical task, This where the extra special service company comes in. They can get into the space and recon the location of the fire, this information will make the Engines stretch easier. This way the engine company knows where to stretch and doesn’t have to just go looking for it.

Many of these companies also carry taglines, Thermal Imaging Cameras, CO and Multi Gas meters, some even carry 60 minute or longer airpacks. These tools can also improve operations.

High Rise Fires
Some of the same points for underground fires can be translated to Hi Rise Fires. The Thermal Imaging Cameras, Taglines, longer airpacks can aid in operations. Also, a large amount of compartments in the building will have to be searched, in turn, a large amount of doors will have to be forced -Two Truck Companies will not be able to accomplish this task in any reasonable amount of time (Not when it comes to life safety).

Recon is another problem at these fires. Who is locating the fire? Who is checking for extension to upper floors? Who is controlling Elevators? Who is in charge of the staging floor? Searching the floors above? Checking for occupants who are sheltered in place? Who is controlling the other stair tower? Checking the roof for victims who have fled to higher ground? All of these objectives must be met, the extra special service can GREATLY aid in these objectives.

Fires dealing with Hazardous Materials
Very Simple. These fires are very labor and time consuming. An extra Special Service (One with Hazmat Operations or Technician level members) can assist in the control, confine and extinguishment of these types of fires. These companies may also carry hazmat equipment.

Structure Fires with high potential for collapse
Over the years and through our history, A large number of Brothers have been killed in buildings that collapsed:

Some of these buildings showed no signs of collapse. But, there are instances that tell tale signs are visible. These experienced companies could be vital is noticing these signs and alerting the rest of the units of the fire ground. Something as simple as driving an axe through the floor of a flooded level of the building and letting the water escape into the basement can make all the difference.

After reading this article, I hope that you can see how important a few extra hands can be on the fire ground. Most people fail to understand that 85% of the work on the fire ground is considered "Truck Work", while 80% of people want to focus on "Engine Work". Being assigned to a Rescue Company in a Metropolitan area, I am not confined to one place on the fire ground or on the end of the hose line, I am used to rove around the fire ground – plugging holes in other companies, and reinforcing operations. The intent of this article isn’t to insist that you have a Rescue Company on a box, but maybe just request or change your running cards to include an extra Truck or Special Service. They can be your eyes and ears. In this age of "NFPA Compliance", we need all the help we can get.

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