So Many Decisions

Decision Time!

This is an incident that could turn out to be very interesting.

This is going to address the use of back up lines and when they are deployed.

I had an interesting conversation about assignments, as you could tell from the previous post.

This discussion circled around the deployment of the second apparatus on the scene.  This is not a metro response where engines do engine work and so on.  Rather, this is where the second in unit is assigned upon arrival.

With this picture in mind, what does your second in unit do?  Does it backup the first in crew with a hand line?  Does it perform ventilation?  Just where do you order this second in crew and what are the tactical priorities?

I believe that there is a time and situation for using the second in unit for a back up line, but not automatically just because they are the second unit there.

What do you think and why? You gave some great insight into run procedures, so I know there will be some great conversation on this one.

Stay low and be safe.


  • Marques Bush says:

    I’ll jump on the grenade first. First unit which is probably understaffed with three. We will try and get a knock on the fire. The second due unit will complete my water supply and I’m looking for them to vent based off the volume of smoke on the picture and the color. The second line ( Backup ) is great but you have a better chance of putting the fire out or holding it in check if the dwelling is vented and you get a little heat relief. Interested to see the other responses.

  • Bill Carey says:

    A lot of these answers will depend on the staffing of the first engine. We shouldn’t realistically expect to stretch a second line, vent the structure or start the primary search if the first engine has less than four personnel. Likewise, since the parameter of the scenario takes us out of the urban/suburban setting, our own staffing brings its own limitations as well.

    If the first engine is bringing four or less personnel then the second arriving company should be concerned with the following:
    1. Water Supply. Did the first engine layout? Are they working off tank water or hydrant? If not, some of your staffing will go to complete this.
    2. Stretch lines in series not parallel. Is the first line stretched right? Do we need to chase kinks, flake out any folds dumped in the yard, porch or front room? Again, some of your staffing to fix these problems.
    3. Command. Now we have two companies on the scene; someone needs to organize us. Someone needs to do that walk-around and see one more side than the rest of us. Someone also needs to make sure No.1 and 2 are done and assign the incoming companies to the next priority. There goes your own officer.

    To address the note that the scenario isn’t company specific as far as duties, then the second company should focus, again, on the basics:
    1. First line. Does it have water? Is it stretched right?
    2. Obvious rescues. Are there any to be made? Note: ‘Obvious’ not implied.
    3. Size up. What is actually burning and where? Let’s check the rear and basement before everyone files in through the front.

    My experience is from an urban area that has assignments based on company and position due. However, there have been times when staffing has caused assignments to be altered. That brings it back to the beginning; if we don’t have the staffing to stretch the first line correctly let’s not worry about anything else until we get that fixed first.

  • Engine Captain Missouri says:

    Second engine makes sure the first line has a water supply. Second engine would be a truck, open this thing up quick or ask for some additional quints, where I’m from, might be doing that anyway. This a job that if that first line doesn’t go heavy, we’re losing this one. Granted I don’t have the whole picture, but if I’m comitting the bigger the better and hopefully that second engine or quint can change roles to operate as a truck, again this goes back to knowing your city and training!

  • dc802 says:

    Great comments and it confirms what my discussion with another guy brought up; there are many variables that we have to think about with our assignments. Staffing is huge and we need to do these scenarios with our politicians when they start talking cuts.
    But, even more important is training the right way. We expect a great deal of our officers and acting officers and the “second” decision here may be more crucial than the first, but is isn’t that cut and dry.
    Keep the comments coming and thanks for reading.

  • Nate Q. says:

    I would have to agree with Bill. I’ll go with average everyday staffing of me and mine as an example – 3 per engine and 3 per quint. As first-in engine, we’ll most likely have laid in. FF’s gonna start the stretch while I get the 360/command, and DE does the pump thing and maybe throw a ladder. If an engine shows up next, they’ll hook the hydrant and relay to us, while OCF and FF finish out the manning on the first line. If a quint shows up second in (act as truck per policy), they’ll position the truck in front…then MAN THE FIRST LINE. Simply stated, if we can’t get that in place, then why bother with any other tasks (barring people hanging out of windows)? With water supply taken care of, and the first line being placed in service properly, the 3rd-in engine can take assignments as needed by command.

    As a crew (I’m blessed with an eager, motivated one), we try to train for both staffing scenarios (we’ll sometimes have our fourth FF if nobody’s on leave). We try to perform evolutions first with four, then with three and tweak them as necessary.

  • Marques Bush says:

    I haven;t read anything I disagree. Just feeling that venting the building as early as possible will help us control things like we want to. Due to minimal staffing when we drill my driver is very efficient in making sure that our line is flaked out if the firefighter didn’t. I guess I’m blessed because they are thinking firefighter’s and our stretch is normally a good one. Really enjoying this.

  • Mike Morton says:

    Good points about staffing so far.

    I think the answer might also depend on where the fire actually is in this building. While I agree that securing a water supply is the immediate focus of the second-due on arrival, the decision to vent or secure a backup line would be based on what we know about the situation. Has the attack line found the fire yet? How far has the fire advanced?

    For instance, if we’re looking at an advanced attic fire in a single family dwelling here, my thoughts are to put ventilation aside for a bit and focus on getting the fire knocked down. The backup line can help control the fire immediately, and ventilation can then be a followup activity. [Besides, there’s a good chance the fire might vent itself if we don’t work extremely quickly on the attack.]

    On the other hand, if the fire is in the living quarters of the house and limited to one floor, and if the attack team is putting water on the fire, ventilation will likely do more to limit further fire spread and assist the interior attack than the backup line would.

    Interested to see what others say.

  • Marques Bush says:

    Mike in the few situations I have been in with attic fires we have controlled them by venting. By advance can you give a little description of what you mean. If it is what I think then yes the second handline does need to support the suppression effort. Enjoying the responses look forward to seeing more.

  • Mike Morton says:

    By advanced attic fire, Marques, I’m referring to a fire which involves the majority of the attic space. If the attic space isn’t living space, then I don’t expect to find anyone in there, so I’m thinking that an attack that produces a lot of steam wouldn’t necessarily be so bad — and thus two streams would be better than one to help smother that fire out.

    I can certainly think of attic fires I’ve worked on where ventilation was useful, but most often those were in cases where the fire had only started to get into the attic…and ventilation limited the fire spread. But once the fire owns the attic, and that downward spiral from growth phase towards fully-developed begins, I think the vent-first approach loses some effectiveness.

    Did that clear up anything, brother?

  • Marques Bush says:

    Mike I understand what you mean and agree. Makes it a little tough when you can’t see it all. I think Jason is trying to get us to use that creative side of our brain that firefighters use to trump up the great tales that get told.

  • Mike Morton says:

    Absolutely…and that’s why I enjoy these sorts of activities. It makes us think about all the possibilities and, by considering the effects of our actions, sort out what we’d do that might work best.

    Experienced guys know that there is no such thing as an “ALWAYS” on the fire ground. Any time we get used to doing something just one way and let it become habit rather than decision-based, we’re asking for trouble. While ninety-percent of our responses are probably basic in nature and don’t take a lot of reasoning to handle, that other ten percent will surely bite us in our @$$e$ if we don’t actually think about what’s going on.

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