Oregon Working: The Two-Men Engine Company

Video of Rural/Metro engine company shows that two men can properly accomplish some of the immediate basics.

I am fortunate to have in my range of experience a wide spectrum of firefighting response. With many years in Prince George’s County I have had the luxury of leaving the station with five others in the engine with me, and the truck bringing up the rear. On the other side I also know what it is to be at the station, the house siren blowing, waiting for another one or two members to show up or deciding if I should just grab my gear and go directly to the scene.

Despite all the training subjects that nearly overwhelm us with assignments, accountability and crew management, a large number of you simply do not respond with a full compliment of personnel. For some of you, three on the engine or truck is a luxury. Others at times wish they had three. This highlights a point in our education that I hear and read of many times from suburban and rural firefighters:

‘I understand the material, but it just doesn’t realistically apply to my area and my staffing.’

That appears to be the biggest hurdle for many when trying to transition from the Firehouse Expo, FDIC, FireRescue International experience to the reality of home response and varied, quality staffing. The middle America firefighter can understand the guiding factors and required efforts behind stretching the 400′ line and the rack, or performing VES from the porch roof while the interior truck team makes their way up the stairs. The speed bump on the path to practical application is that the middle America firefighter has to fight fire with two other firefighters until the mutual aid company arrives. The supporting complaint, or excuse rather, to this is that due to this reality the few firefighters on the scene only have to do ‘whatever it takes’ to get things done. The discipline of adhering to some type of riding assignment, some form of initial SOP, some sense of organization is given up for reaction to what lies in front. You pull up, see fire, don the blinders and gravitate to what your mind fixates on. The big picture becomes the eye of the needle

I disagree with that excuse.

The actions in the videos below may seem like common sense to some of us, but they reinforce the argument that regardless your lack of staffing you can still safely and effectively fight fire – offensively or defensively – and be disciplined.

Take a look for yourself:

Properly Dressed, SCBA Donned
Wheels Chocked
Good Hoseline Stretch (although I personally would have stretched up the dirt lane)
Line Properly Bled, Pattern Checked
Attack Started Using Reach of Stream (Lineman wasn’t trying to get “salty”)
Second Line Stretched After First Line is Filled
Good Communication (notice not a lot of yelling and scurrying back and forth)
Crew Integrity

Is is a perfect fire? No, there is not such thing. Yes, it’s not much of a fire, a camper that was long gone before the first engine arrived. However, how many of you have noticed fully staffed fire companies showing up and doing the exact opposite?

I thought so.

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  • Bob Davis says:

    No glove or SCBA on App. Op. yet he backed-up the nozzle. I know it was a no-entry fire. What if it were an occupied single family dwelling, not fully involved? They may be correct in the tasks they preformed they just would not be able to fulfil the “rescue task” as needed for lack of personnel. No two in two out, granted in rescue mode the 2 by 2 rule may be set aside, however, it is not safe to have the only two on scene go in without someone outside. Or would they only send one in and the other out?
    How long before additional help arrives?

  • Steve N says:

    Was this an effective attack? Yes. Was this a safe operation? Well, no one got hurt. Is this ideal? No. Several components of a safe operation where omitted due to the lack of initial response. Was there a 360 of the emergency scene? Did someone address the arching power lines on the B/C corner? Were there additional hazards present? i.e.: propane tanks, fuel cans etc. The glaring safety concern was the lack of PPE by the nozzle person and there back up. Fire produces many hazardous gasses; the only protection is your SCBA. I get it, the tactic was defensive. They were outside, they didn’t make entry. A career of such practices will certainly shorten the life span of responders. WEAR YOUR PPE. The bottom line is can one/two/three people effect a positive change? Yes. But, there is always a but, it comes down to discipline. Are your responders disciplined enough to ensure they are affecting the most amount of positive change without compromising safety? And is someone completing the “additional” tasks associated with a command structure when appropriate resources arrive?

  • Bill Carey says:

    Bob, Steve, thank you for your comments. Let’s take a look at each make sure we’re not nitpicking as well as ‘missing the forest for the trees.’

    As stated, I’m aware this is not a perfect fire, nor is there such a thing. Perfect is only as good as we get away with. Could there have been tasks done better? Yes, however I believe that while we look at the fireground with a very critical eye these days, we should recognize simple human behavior; no perfect fireground.

    “What if it were an occupied single family dwelling, not fully involved? They may be correct in the tasks they preformed they just would not be able to fulfil the “rescue task” as needed for lack of personnel.”

    – True, yet this comparison is apples to dog food. In theory the basic priorities of engine company operations (proper stretch; stretch lines in series not parallel) applies, however you’re comparing a long gone trailer, with reports that no one is inside to a private dwelling with rescue. Could the same two firefighters affect a rescue during a fire in a private dwelling? I say yes, as long as – depending on the amount of fire – their first act is to stretch that hoseline. A notable fire in Maryland involved the rescue of infants at a house fire where the first engine had only three personnel. Instead of stretching the hoseline first, they went for the rescue, became briefly trapped and burned. This reinforces that fact that by stretching the hoseline and attacking the fire, we are affecting the rescue in a greater manner.

    “Several components of a safe operation where omitted due to the lack of initial response.”

    – Prove it. I don’t mean this as a juvenile snide comment, but how do you know this if you were not there or have not heard the fireground audio and what of the initial response contributed? Sometimes, with our highly critical eye we need to take certain acts, or lack of, at face value. As I write this reply, I notice that at the royal wedding there are no visible scout/sniper teams on roof tops along the procession route. Can I legitimately say that they simply do not exist or have not been addressed because they are not visible to my limited viewing? We can assume, and hope, that the first arriving firefighter (black PPE according to video information) did the sizeup, 360, etc. Then again we didn’t hear it so can we say whether or not it was done?

    You are correct that PPE will help lengthen our lifespan when properly worn. I’m not dismissing any carelessness or slight of mind due to their limited staffing, but am reinforcing that while this is not a perfect fire attack, it does illustrate that some very basic disciplines can be adhered to regardless of staffing shortages. Just as our highly critical eye picks up every flaw from 100 yards away, we should also highlight those acts which are known to be safe and effective when we see them.

    Bill Carey

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