By Ricky Riley
Throughout my career, I have been very fortunate to work for departments with dedicated truck companies. These units are placed in geographically strategic locations and are able to provide vital services in a timely manner on the fireground. Their functions include, but are not limited to, search and rescue, forcible entry, ventilation, aerial support, and important ground ladder work. Ground ladder work is one of the functions this article will focus on.
In a number of departments across the country, truck companies arriving in a timely fashion—or even being dispatched at all to structure fires—is not reality or even an option. However, this does not mean the functions of a truck company are not performed; they simply need to be assigned to a later arriving company. The tasks and responsibilities associated with a truck company need to be performed on incident scenes regardless of whether the rig designated as a truck is on the call.
Recent apparatus deliveries seem to reflect a change in thinking by many departments. As departments continue to assess their response areas and the possibility of a truck company’s timely arrival, they have also made changes in their apparatus designs. The thought process is that departments look at their most immediate identified needs for building fires and design units able to carry out the most important functions that will need to occur upon arrival.
This means that, for an engine company, the design must still allow for ease in establishing the all important water supply and easily stretching appropriately sized hoselines to the seat of the fire. These core engine missions must be engineered into the apparatus at the beginning—not as an afterthought at the end of the process, which pushes hosebeds and attack lines higher and is not ergonomically friendly for firefighters.
Now let’s consider that your department does not have a truck company arriving on the scene in a timely manner. Apparatus committees are taking this into consideration and are addressing the function of proper ground ladder placement early in the incident into their newly designed pumpers.
One of the first examples I want to look at is a rig being built for the Erskine Lakes (NJ) Fire Department. In the design of its new engine, the department meets the goals of core engine company functions but also identified the need for ground ladders to be placed in a timely manner at house fires. In the design phase of its new engine, it identified the number and length of ground ladders it felt it needed to properly protect its firefighters and to rescue civilians. The department ended up with 111 feet of ground ladders on an engine!
The specifications called for one 35-foot ladder, two 24-foot ladders, and two 14-foot roof ladders to be mounted on the apparatus (photos 1, 2, 3, and 4). This was accomplished with a ladder rack on the officer side and a vertical ladder chute accessed from the rear of the unit on the officer side of the apparatus. The thought process, clear identification of response area challenges, and a tactical need for early ground ladder placement by this department produced a great specification and soon a highly functional rig for its community.
An engine in Faith, North Carolina, also makes great use of apparatus space and addresses response area needs with a unit adorned with dual ladder racks. One rack is mounted on each side of the rig with a 35-foot ladder and 14-foot roof ladder on one side and a 24-foot ladder and 12-foot roof ladder on the other side. Added to the ladder racks on each side is a section of hard suction hose, addressing another response area issue for this department (Photos 5 and 6).
Another unit, in Oregon Hill, North Carolina, makes use of a ladder tunnel under the hosebed to store the ladders needed for its community. The department stores a 35-foot ladder, 28-foot ladder, and a 16-foot roof ladder in the tunnel to address its ground ladder needs. Once again, an apparatus option decision was made based on assessing the needs of the department and the response area (Photo 7).
This last rig I’m going to highlight is from Allendale, New Jersey, and it is one of the rigs that got me thinking about this “one-two punch” for engine companies. The fire company recently bought an apparatus with ladders mounted on each side. This configuration reduced its equipment and tool storage capacity on the first out unit, but it was a conscious decision to make the apparatus work for the department’s first due and still be able to complete its core missions. The unit has a 35-foot ladder, 14-foot roof ladder, and a 14-foot folding ladder on the officer side. On the driver side is a 24-foot ladder, 14-foot roof ladder, and a folding 10-foot ladder. The 24-foot ladder is mounted on the outside so it is the first ladder off—another tactical decision made through apparatus design. The unit also has a 1,000-gallon water tank and a low New York style hosebed. Even with all these options, the ladders are within easy reach from the sides. All these apparatus designs were made with the intent of making the work on the fireground easier and more efficient (Photos 8, 9, and 10).
In watching some past apparatus builds, it seemed as if departments were trying to cram every function and ability into one rig. Unfortunately, this can mean you end up not making the apparatus good at any one of them. However, by making conscious operational decisions and implementing these decisions through solid apparatus specifications and builds, departments will get functional apparatus that get the job done. The importance of water delivery to a fire by the engine crew is job number one. But, companies understanding the need for ground ladder placement and designing their apparatus to deliver this function are are making solid operational decisions.
Departments should have discussions with their apparatus committees and then confer with the apparatus builder to design the right unit that meets engine company needs and some truck functions without a unit losing its true identity. Don’t settle for what the builder will give you. Push your operational needs into your apparatus design and make the rig work for your community, members, and department.
RICKY RILEY is operations chief for the Clearwater (FL) Fire & Rescue and a member of the Kentland (MD) Volunteer Fire Department, where he served as chief of department. He also served for 20 years with the Fairfax County (VA) Fire & Rescue before his retirement in 2005.