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Why the Quint Works for us; The Driver

By Lou Comenale and Justin Ientilluci

A couple of posts ago we wrote how the Quint works for our department.  That really was a quick overview of our operations and training using the Quint.  If we were to dive deeper into our operations using the Quint we have to look at each position.  Many people could make an argument for the officer sitting shotgun being the most important personnel on the Quint, not that they are wrong, but the driver is just as important, and probably busier than anyone else on the fire ground.

We cannot speak for all the personnel in our department, we can only speak for how we operate and try to empower more to operate.  As drivers of a Quint we like to think we are aggressive of the fire ground.  This word, aggressive, has been thrown around lately through podcasts, blogs, articles, lectures, training, so on and so forth, and it seems only to be bestowed upon the firefighters going in and fighting the fire.  As a disclaimer, when we talk aggressive, we are not talking about driving aggressively.  We strictly are talking about fire ground operations.  

Depending on when the Quint arrives on scene, in our department, it will either be first, second, or third, will dictate how much work the driver has to do.  If the Quint is first on-scene an aggressive driver will be doing so much work that to someone who doesn’t know fire ground operations it might look like a chaotic firefighter.  With our department’s staffing, three personnel to the Quint, the driver first needs to spot the apparatus in an optimal position for hose line stretches and use of the aerial. The driver also should be cognizant of leaving enough room on the roadway for the next due apparatus.  With the Quint being first due, and our SOG’s, the Quint will operate as a “base unit.”  Once the Quint is positioned, the truck in “pump” mode, the personnel exit the apparatus and start going to work.  The driver can help pull hand lines, in many cases the diver might pull and flake out the entire pre-connect, this is done so the fire fighter and officer are free to do other tasks (a well trained firefighter should be able to pull and flake a dry 1 3/4 inch hand line).  After the hand line is in place, the driver can start getting water in the line.  Our Quint carries a 500 gallon booster tank, it also has a preset feature on the pump, with a push of the button the pump will increase the pressure gradually to 150psi.  This feature allows the driver to go on to his next task, getting the aerial in a “ready position.”  The “ready position” is both outriggers out and truck in interlock.  With predetermined tasks and firefighters training the way they fight, the jump seat firefighter should have placed the officer’s side outrigger pad before getting their hand tools, the outrigger pad is located below the hand tool compartment.  After the aerial is in the “ready position” the aerial can be operated by any firefighter that has been trained on it, if there isn’t anyone that has been trained but another pump operator is on scene the driver/operator can operate the aerial device.  Many times a volunteer firefighter shows up and takes control of the pump or operates the aerial device.  By this time multiple things could be going on, the next due apparatus is pulling up and laying a supply line or the Quint is still operating alone as the “base unit.”  If a supply line is being laid, the driver should get the supply line connected, establish a good water supply and top off the booster tank.  If the supply line hasn’t been laid or the water supply has been established, the next task the driver should do is get at least one ground ladder in place.  Many times firefighters are hesitant leaving the apparatus while the pump is in operation, my question to them is, Why?  While operating a pump a good ear can tell if the pump is operating smoothly, or if there is a problem.  An operator should also be able to tell just by the sound of the pump whether water is flowing or not, a keen eye can also tell when the hand lines are jumping around.  If you cannot rely on your sense of hearing, all fire apparatus now come with lights that you can see from a good distance.  That being said, with training and some time on the pump an operator should be confident in leaving the pump panel, to throw a ground ladder to a second story window, if there is a second story window for a ladder to be thrown too.  Our Quint carries: two 16 foot roofers, one 24 foot and 35 foot extension ladders, along with a 14 foot a-frame/combination ladder.  The one family residential homes in our district are composed of ranches, split level ranches (side or center splits), raised ranches, cape cods and colonials.  Besides the couple of colonials, which have living space in the attic, (which would be our second floor/division two) can be reached by the 16 foot roofers.  If there is not a second story, and depending on where the fire is located (‘A’ side of the structure), if man power is limited, the driver/operator has acted as outside ventilation.  This has been done with coordination and extreme discipline.  If the fire is located on the alpha side of the structure the driver/operator can vent the window once the line has reached the seat of the fire and operating, this usually only occurs on one room/room and contents fires.  

What happens when the Quint is second or third due.  In extreme cases our Quint will lay a supply line to the first in Engine, if they haven’t “made” their own water.  This is usually avoided because we are giving up four functions for one.  We also have to wait for the next incoming aerial or call for mutual aid if an aerial device is needed.  If the Quint is not laying a supply line then the Quint can operate as a Ladder Truck.  The driver operator should still spot the apparatus in an optimal position for the aerial and hand lines to be deployed.  It might be used as a secondary “base unit” for back up lines.  Second or third due the driver/operator should be ready to go to work just as if they were first due.  The driver/operator should still be getting the aerial in “ready position.”  Once the outriggers are down and the truck is in interlock the driver/operator can get some ground ladders deployed or assist the rest of the crew with their tasks.  Ground ladders, since being easily deployed, are usually the first means of gaining exterior access to the second story or roof.  Depending on the need, the aerial can be used as a second or third means of access to the second or third story and even the roof.   The driver at this point is at the whim of the incident commander and might just be integrated with the other two personnel.  

Much of the responsibility lies on the shoulders of the driver/operator of the Quint.  The officer has the responsibility of the crew, training, and direction but without an aggressive driver/operator a lot of essential fire ground tasks will be forgotten and go undone.  It doesn’t surprise us that in many departments the driver, operator, chauffeur, is a promotion, with the amount of responsibility they have.  In our department everyone needs to be trained on operating the pump, aerial, and throw ground ladders.  Firefighters with foresight, proper training and the “right” type of aggressiveness helps us to make the Quint work.

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Comment by Rob Fisher on January 9, 2014 at 6:16pm

Lou / Justin,

Nice work brothers !!

I enjoyed reading your articles on quints and the one on not everyone is a “Big City” fire department. The two on how your department operates its quint was right on the money. You can only do so much with what you got. If we all had the resources or fire duty of FDNY, things would be much different. You do the best you can with what you have.

You rarely find anything on quint operations, as there are varying opinions on how best to operate them. Some see them as engines with aerials, while others see them as trucks hampered by a pump. Often times, those who give their perspective have a limited view...and I don't mean this as a negative thing either. Someone working on a busy truck company in Brooklyn or on a Task Force in LA City has a much different frame of reference when it comes to fireground operations. Their experience is formed from greater resources than other departments, short arrival times (proximity), multiple trucks responding, and just plan more fireground experience. This is all great, if you work there, but it does little to help you (everyone else) with your department's fireground reality.

I am an officer assigned to a ladder truck. And, yes, it is a quint. I worked on it for nearly all of my 17 years as an officer. Our department is not much different than yours. We have six stations (5 engines, 1 ladder, 1 medic unit, 1 BC) protecting a little over 70,000 citizens. We run roughly 5,600 calls per year, with EMS being 80% of the total volume. We see fire…just not enough for everyone to be happy. Some see more than others due to their assignments and station location. Our minimum staffing is three for suppression apparatus. Rarely do we have four. If we do, we never get fire.

Our ladder functions more as a truck than an engine. We almost have to as we only get one ladder on our residential fire responses. We’re fortunate to able to do this because we are supported well by three engines with short arrival times to us. If we are first due, I can expect an engine or two to arrive within a minute or so from our arrival. If we are 2nd or later, it’s no longer an issue. Usually we will not lay a supply, as our department is working hard to have our companies reverse from the attack engine to the hydrant. That wouldn’t work well for a quint, unless it’s a car fire or some small outbuilding.

Our fireground operations are somewhat basic…upon arrival of a structure fire (first-due), we position as a truck first and an engine second. The type of occupancy, its size, and location of the fire as determined from the street view will dictate our position. A fire in a one-story residential, and/or obvious attic involvement, or fire on the top floor; we force entry, anti-ventilate (isolate the fire), prepare for ventilation operations (vertical or horizontal), aerial and/or ground ladders as needed (2nd means of egress or roof access), and support the engine’s fire attack. All this is being prepared by my D/O (driver) and firefighter while I conduct a quick 360 and make contact with the homeowner or calling party. If it is determine there is no life in the structure – which is a whole other debate for another day – we keep moving forward with the plan as listed above. I will notify the first-due engine of the location of the fire (floor and sector) and assume command.  Usually, I throw a ladder or two (2nd means of egress) while my D/O and firefighter work on ventilation and the engine handles the stretch. Once the battalion chief gets there, I transfer command and meet up with my crew. This has worked well for us with our resources and demographics.

In departments like mine, I have found that it’s your position on the scene as a quint that will determine if you should operate as an engine or a truck. Here’s an example…let’s say you arrive first to a three-story apartment building with fire showing from two units on the top floor. If you position like an engine – close to the access stairwell to the fire – you’re probably too close to effectively use your aerial. If you position for roof access with the intent to cut off the fire’s horizontal spread through the attic area, you’ll be too far away for the stretch to the fire with the typical preconnect configuration. Now, granted there are other factors needing to be considered here…like arrival of other apparatus, total resources responding, rescue, etc. But, I have found it’s a good rule of thumb for an officer working on a quint. It works for the single-story residential fire as well. You will be close enough to perform the stretch because the structure is small, and you’ll probably not need your aerial. In this case, your resources will help you determine what to do. If an engine(s) is/are arriving with you (i.e. coming from drilling together), they can stretch the line while you function as a truck and support their attack. If you’re going to be on scene alone for awhile, stretch a line and soften the target.

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