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Are You A "Truck Driver" Or Do You Just Drive The Truck

Are You A “Truck Driver” Or Do You Just Drive the Truck?


By: Ricky Riley

From: Art Of Firemanship Winter 2017



It’s shift change at your firehouse, or maybe you’ve come in to drive for a couple hours at the volunteer house. You grab your gear and head to the rig you’ve been assigned to drive and throw your gear in the compartment. Some of what you do next is the difference between being the person who drives the Truck and someone who is a Truck Driver…


How you got turned over to drive the apparatus is entirely up to each individual department. It could be through demonstrating driving skills coupled with the ability to operate the jacks and ladder. It could involve a task book where the skills are checked off as an instructor covers them with a student. Or if you are lucky, your Department assigns you to a real Truck Driver to run you through the paces. Ideally you become so familiar with the Truck that it begins to feel like an extension of your person. In fact, you and the Truck can get anywhere necessary and you operate the rig almost on instinct. These are some of the traits a good Truck Driver will instill in to the newest Driver. For the sake of the Department and the citizens, this is a good thing.



Becoming a Truck Driver requires a dedication to the task and a willingness to get out of the firehouse and out on the street. Usually with the delivery of a new rig, the manufacturer will provide some training to the members. A couple of hours of something along the lines of “this is what this switch does, this is where the stabilizer pins go, here is the lever to make this go up and down”, etc. Typically the training is just a quick and easy overview to provide the basics of operation. After this, it’s time to take it to the next level and make sure your Truck Drivers are operationally in the right place.


Drivers need to know the ins and outs of all the operations on the rig and the device, how each system operates and the back-up for the system in case of a failure. Do they know how to operate every piece of equipment that is carried in the compartments? And not just the basics, but how to break it down, clean it and more importantly how to put it back together. This is something that requires a commitment of time and means time lost in the recliner.


                                                                                                                                                                                                      As we move to the Driver’s seat, a commitment needs to be dedicated to this part of the process. The future Truck Driver needs to understand the feel of the apparatus, how it handles in turns, how it feels during de-acceleration and in sudden stops, how long it takes to stop at different speeds and the reaction of the weight of the rig as it maneuvers. With the sizes of newer apparatus, an understanding of where all the parts of the rig are and how to operate on the streets is crucial. The Driver needs to understand the swing-out of the rear of the truck as they take corners and move through the street. This will allow them to understand the approaches to turns on to side streets and where the rear of the truck is going to go. There are some big rear-ends on fire trucks and that swing has the potential to cause damage to civilian property, as well as the apparatus, if the Driver does not know how turning the wheel impacts the rear of the truck.


On rearmount towers, we have the concern of front overhang. The basket and aerial sticking out over the cab has clipped many a sign and tree. Drivers need to be aware of and know how to compensate for the approaches on streets that have these obstructions. Part of this knowledge comes from having familiarity with the response area and knowing the locations of all the difficult approaches. To get this knowledge means the Driver must be out on the streets they respond on… not on their iPad or virtual streets, but physically driving these streets, driving them A LOT.


Now that we have the new Truck Driver comfortable with the driving, let’s move on to positioning.  Positioning is a skill that must be taught. After having a feel of the rig driving-wise, the new Driver can work on gaining the visual knowledge of where the jacks and stabilizers are and how they look in the mirrors when lining up on the street or alley. As the Driver approaches the fire scene, they need to know when to begin slow down to get a good view of the area for positioning or where to go per a Department SOP. They need to see what’s in the way, any obstacles, wires, other apparatus and where they want to position in relation to the fire or rescue scenario.


This review of variables should be practiced on every run. Don’t let your Driver just park the rig at incident scenes; ensure they park tactically every time. This should happen regardless of whether or not you have anything showing. Practice it, practice it and practice it again.  This practice will absolutely pay off the day you pull in to a block with fire showing from the building and people hanging from the window.  This is the day all the training pays off – when all the Drivers’ skills are pressed in to service.


Each apparatus has its own unique setup and positioning criteria that allows the Driver to achieve the maximum reach and scrub surface. Understanding the relation between the proper positioning and the achievement of the best reach and scrub area is a skill that should not be undersold to a new Driver. By knowing how to position the rig and where the jacks and stabilizers are in relation to obstructions and cars, the Driver can put the rig in just the right spot to get set up for operation in the most efficient and fastest way possible. In the end game, this benefits the civilians as well as the firefighters on the scene. Let’s get that new Driver to practice this skill during their training, to build confidence in their abilities, all the while under the watchful eye of the “The Truck Driver”


Operation of the boom or ladder is another crucial skill that must be practiced.  This activity should happen without having to look at the levers each time the device is moved. Knowing which levers do what without having to constantly check will come in handy in the wee hours of the morning, when you are placing the boom in service to rescue a trapped occupant or firefighter. Smooth positioning with minimal moves only comes with practice and must be learned by a new Driver. Gaining this confidence comes with frequently operating the device, not just on drill nights or during morning checks.


Having this ability happens by setting up the rig and operating the device at every chance that comes along. It means we might be on the scene a little longer while the driver practices sticking the building or working to place the basket to the sill of the window on the top floor to rescue an imaginary occupant using the smallest number of movements of the boom. Don’t make excuses to get back to the firehouse. Use the time on incident scenes and when riding around to spot buildings and actually raise and lower the device to roofs, windows, balconies and parapets. These skills will always need to be brushed up on, regardless of your tenure or status in your Department.


So with all this said, and plenty left unsaid, there are many important techniques and training options for Truck Drivers. Please don’t be the person that just steers the truck to the fire and operates it with a high standard of mediocrity.  Strive to be that “Truck Driver”, the person who can be counted on for having the abilities and knowledge to be a premier “Truck Driver”.  It’s our job and duty to be this proficient and capable.




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