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More than ‘just a driver’: The expanding role of the driver/operator

The engineer’s duties go far beyond the apparatus

With every call comes a fire apparatus, and with every apparatus comes a driver. Unfortunately, our drivers are often overlooked members on the scene. The reality is they do so much more than just drive the apparatus; they serve as an extremely valuable asset for the operation.

In our current climate of limited fire service staffing, every set of hands is needed to fulfill the tasks that are required. The good news: The driver/operator can fill many voids:

  • Assisting with ground ladder operations. Our video shows the operator deploying a ground ladder to the alpha side of the house up to the second story. The majority of – if not all – ground ladder work can be accomplished by a single firefighter, which can be the driver/operator.
  • Establishing water supply. Another key area drivers/operators can assist is with establishing the water supply, whether from truck to truck or from static source to truck or from pressurized source to truck. Regardless of the source, the driver/operator can look after this once they have lines charged and flowing with water from the booster tank.
  • Prepping the hoseline. Pulling the second handline can also be accomplished by the driver. Once the initial handline has been pulled and advanced into the structure, the second handline will be needed. This second line may be staffed by an incoming unit and, as they arrive on scene, they should find the second handline pulled, stretched, charged and ready to go.
  • Assisting with tactical operations. Besides working outside and around the structure, the driver can also be used to assist with other tactical operations, like applying water from the deck gun. This may be used to assist with the transitional fire attack or just for defensive purposes. If the deck gun has been set up properly with a gated valve on it prior to the nozzle or tips, the driver can charge the deck gun, increase the proper pump pressure and then open it at the top by operating the gate valve on the deck gun.
  • Acting as the accountability officer. There may be times when multiple drivers are on the scene and not with their assigned crew. They may be assisting the first-arriving truck’s driver/operator with their duties and can also fill in as the initial accountability officer prior to the arriving battalion chief or other chief officer on scene.

Regardless of the fire department type and size, the driver/operator can be utilized in many ways in addition to driving to the scene.

Training time

After watching this video and reading this article with your company, take action with your crew:

  1. Discuss what duties or tasks the driver can perform at your local station on your assigned fire apparatus.
  2. At a training facility, practice some of the identified tasks available for driver/operators on an active scene.
Video shows four ways a driver supported engine and truck crews

Mark van der Feyst has been in the fire service since 1998, currently serving as a firefighter with the Fort Gratiot Fire Department in Michigan. He is an international instructor teaching in Canada, the United States and India. He graduated from Seneca College of Applied and Technologies as a fire protection engineering technologist, and received his bachelor’s degree in fire and life safety studies from the Justice Institute of British Columbia and his master’s degree in safety, security and emergency management from Eastern Kentucky University. van der Feyst is the lead author of the book “Residential Fire Rescue” and “The Tactical Firefighter.” Connect with van der Feyst via email.