The Probie’s Guide to the Engine Company

The article series “The Probie’s Guide to the Engine Company” was originally planned to address topics seen on the fireground, discussed in the apparatus bays or dayroom and to enhance the fundamental training I expect a new firefighter would have. I can only go with what early initial training I received (MFRI Basic Fire) and with what I knew was being taught to new members at Hyattsville. Andy Fredericks was, and still is a big influence on me, not just about engine company operations, but about the fireground as a whole and more importantly the factors that cause us to do, or not do, certain things. He had written excellent articles for Fire Engineering and Fire Nuggets that approached the basics and he brought with his writings something that is missing in some of today’s articles: science; education; and reasoning. What made his delivery acceptable was that he was able to write in such a way that gave you college-level fact without reinventing the wheel and boring you. Anyone who has ever read “Little Drops of Water [1]” or “Father’s Day [2]” will agree that Andy was just as intellectual about the job as he was passionate. Certainly, I am no Andy Fredericks. I am far, far, far from it. But I am given an opportunity to contribute to the training content, so instead of wasting time inflating my ego while referencing war stories, the only other course is to write material that could be “Nuggets” worthy, and hopefully able to give some firefighter or officer a different look at the day to day work.

The “Probie’s Guide” is in five sections:
Where Am I Going?
What Am I Getting Into?
Lines, Lines, Lines Part I
Lines, Lines, Lines Part II

I borrowed a writing style from Vincent Dunn that always got my attention. In his early Firehouse magazine articles, when he was a FDNY chief officer, he started each of his articles with a fictional depiction of a fireground scene. Each one involved some form of fire attack or structural collapse that put a picture in your mind. From there he would lead you into the construction-specific terminology. This makes the reading easier to get into, to become interested in, and to finish. This was my intent with the probie from Engine 7. I believe this was successful, as I received emails for each article about how it reminds the reader of their own experience. However, I can’t sugarcoat what I intend to get across.

Where Am I Going?
Learn your area. Be as detailed in your mind as you can be regarding your first due area. No matter what the truckies say or do, the engine puts the fire out. Not knowing the details of your area is like coming up to bat with two strikes already against you.

Where Am I Getting Into?
Working fire experience (or the lack thereof) impacts the firefighter’s ability to make decisions. This may sound like a “no brainer” but read some of the LODD, Close Call and Near-Miss reports and you’ll realize it is a problem that affects each and every firefighter and officer year after year. I stand by a statement made from an earlier article of mine “Soldiers who have not been trained under stressful conditions do not react well when confronted with antagonistic situations. [3]” Our training needs to be more antagonistic.

Lines, Lines, Lines Part I
Estimating the stretch is a practice that can always be drilled on. But it requires you to get off the couch and out in the street.

Lines, Lines, Lines Part II
Look around in your own department or area. Who stretched short on that last fire? Who pulled the 400’ and had 200’ to spare? Who charged the bed? What was the delay in getting water to the nozzleman? No t-shirt or fancy website is going to save you now once you’ve messed up the stretch.

Just take a few seconds, gather yourself, take in what is burning and then put the fire out. It’s really that simple as long as you keep your head about you and pay attention. Work out all of the mental “kinks” during your training and don’t wait for the box alarm to handle the what-ifs.

The fire service learns by “doing”. We take books, formal instruction and practical evolutions and gain knowledge, but it isn’t until we actually put all of this to use in the street, that we learn by “doing.” There we see how it comes together, when we are away from a PowerPoint projector and our sterile, empty burn buildings. Hopefully, we don’t learn about tragedy by “doing”.

1. “Little Drops of Water,” Part 1, Fredericks, Fire Engineering, Feb. 2000 and “Little Drops of Water,” Part 2, Fredericks, Fire Engineering, Mar. 2000.
2. “Father’s Day” Fredericks, Fire Nuggets August – November 2001
3. Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences

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  • attic.rat says:

    I’d like to read what you’ve written, but I can’t do so without buying a pesky paid membership at Is there any chance that you might be willing to post the text of the articles elsewhere, so as to allow free access for your readers?

  • Bill C. says:

    Send your email address to

  • Mirela says:

    I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


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Backstep Firefighter

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