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Engine Company Riding Assignments

In the following blog post I’m going to be discussing riding assignments for members of engine companies, but riding assignments overall are a good choice to aid in eliminating confusion and help streamline task completion early on in an incident. You can use riding assignments for any apparatus but the task or tool assignments would be different for each, for example, one of the seat assignments for a truck company would be the can man versus the nozzle.

Riding assignments are going to aid in organizing the chaos early. If you are waiting until you get to the fire to start telling who to get what, you’re way behind. Let’s set the scene: You arrive first due to a working fire in a single story single family dwelling, wood frame, with fire showing out two windows on the bravo side. You have a four man engine and when your two tailboard firefighters exit the apparatus they both go for the nozzle. They meet there and both have a slight bit of confusion on who is doing what and a quick discussion ensues. That discussion has just caused a delay in the first line being stretched and a lack of tools being brought to the door if forcible entry is needed. If the company officer had assigned riding assignments prior to the fire being tapped out, there would have been no confusion on who was responsible for what tasks, the line would’ve been stretched quick and clean, and the irons would’ve been brought to the door to begin single firefighter forcible entry if needed. There are different ways to assign these tasks; some departments use seat assignments and some use an assignment board somewhere in their station. When the firefighters arrive for their tour of duty they check their board and see if they’re the nozzle or irons firefighter. In another department they may use seat assignments and the person sitting behind the apparatus operator is the nozzle firefighter and the firefighter sitting behind the officer is the irons man. Let’s look at each assignment and what they’re responsible for.

The Officer

This position is responsible for several things. When the engine is arriving on scene they’re responsible for getting a scene size-up, ensuring the apparatus operator pulls past the structure and parks where they need to be, determines what actions the crew will take as far as line size, placement, and what mode the crew will be operating in. The officer is then responsible to get a complete look at the structure by doing a walk-around. They’re assessing smoke and fire conditions, ensuring there aren’t any special considerations to the building such as a basement, and checking to ensure there are no immediate threats to life such as jumpers in the rear, faces in the windows, or people pinned down on balconies. If there are people in need of immediate rescue, the first due engine’s assignment has now changed from attack mode to rescue mode and this would need to be communicated to additional units, or, one firefighter may begin to apply water from the exterior while the other firefighter and officer start rescue. Have you talked with your crew about that scenario? When the walk-around is completed and the officer meets back with his crew to begin their attack; the officer is responsible for ensuring everyone is doing what they’re supposed to be doing. When it comes to officer tools, I believe for engine companies a good pro bar is all that’s needed, plus the TIC and a working radio.

The Apparatus Operator

This person can make or break a crew. It’s a position that most think is only responsible for getting to the scene safe and pumping the apparatus, but they have a lot more on their plate than that. If they can’t get water to the nozzle then none of the other assignments mean very much. They need to know their districts, plug locations, streets, and everything about their engine. A good apparatus operator knows what nozzles are on what lines, how long their lines are, what their pump discharge pressures are for each nozzle and line, and so much more. It’s one thing to pull up and push a preset button, it’s another to actually know how to pump, read gauges, and know hydraulics. The apparatus operator is also responsible for pulling past the structure or staging the apparatus in the best location. In some instances, the AO may assist in getting the first line stretched if it’s a limited staffed crew, but in the four man case scenario as above, they would get the pump in gear, chock their wheels, and head to their pump panel to begin setting up to charge and flow water. So, the line is charged, the pressures are correct, and water is flowing; now what? In some cases, if the engine didn’t catch their own water supply, the AO can now hand jack the supply line if the plug is close enough. If your SOPs state the second due engine brings the water, what is the AO to do for the next few minutes? I’ve written a previous blog on this topic before, you can see it here. The AO needs to have a good working radio to communicate to incoming crews if needed and because they are the company officer’s eyes and ears outside once they begin their attack.  

The Nozzle Man

This is where every firefighter wants to be right? I mean, the nozzle man is up front in the heat of battle putting water on the fire and making the push. It is a fun place to be, but the nozzle man’s tasks start well before they start putting water on the fire. The nozzle man needs to know everything about their nozzle, hose load, and check them at the beginning of every shift. They need to know what the nozzle reaction feels like so when they bleed the line and check the nozzle at the door they’ll know if the stream reach, pressure, and flow is correct or not. They need to know how to properly use their nozzle, for instance, if the attack package uses a combination nozzle that doesn’t breakaway, and the nozzle clogs while making an attack, do they know what to do to try and clear the nozzle of the debris? What if the debris was in the nozzle before they got the alarm but they didn’t check their equipment at the beginning of the shift, which is where they would’ve found and eliminated the clog in the first place right? Do they know the limitations of their nozzle or hand line and body positions that aid in absorbing nozzle reaction? The nozzle man is responsible for stretching the line, selecting where they will drop their hose, and then the first fifty foot of hose; this means getting the nozzle and first coupling to the entry point. When all this is done, they need to put the nozzle between any potential victims and the fire to ensure they separate searchable spaces for the companies coming in behind them to get primaries underway.

The Irons Man

This is the firefighter that’s responsible for coming off the engine with the irons in hand, aiding in the stretch of the first line if needed, and getting the door forced once the line is stretched. If there is no forcible entry need or once the door’s opened, the irons firefighter becomes the back-up man. This isn’t the spot that most firefighters want, but it is a very important position. They need to ensure there are no kinks, the line is stretched and in-line with the entry point, attack is over supply, and begin to manage the hose. They’re responsible for never letting the nozzle man fight the line or call for more hose. They manage the friction points like corners, stairwells, and furniture. They stage hose in living spaces by loading the room or keeping a little “slack” in the line behind the nozzle man. If the nozzle man is trying to advance further to the seat of the fire but they have no hose to do so, the back-up man has failed in their assignment. How many times have you looked back to call for more hose just to see the back-up man right behind you fighting fire and the first coupling is outside hung up on the brick steps? So, the nozzle man has made the last room of fire and the back-up man has staged the hose in the hallway so when more is needed to go into the room and continue extinguishing the fire, it’s there, now what does he do? This is where he can help by staging the hose in a certain fashion to remove some of the nozzle reaction off the nozzle man or he can move up on the line and back him up closer to the nozzle. He is an extra set of eyes and ears assessing conditions during the push and can be searching off the line in the area of fire attack. They may also assist in opening walls and ceilings to check for extension once their done with line management. The overall goal for this assignment is forcing the door and managing the hose line during attack operations.  

In conclusion, you can see that assigning tasks prior to the alarm can be beneficial. This doesn't outline all the options that each person could be responsible for but it shows how a few assignments prior to the alarm can eliminate confusion, which ensures we are as quick and efficient as possible. The roles and responsibilities of each of these assignments can vary from department to department and could change due to staffing levels, but the overall goal is the same.  

Back-Up Photo: Tom Parker

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