Why 'truckies' are important to a fire department
The individuals assigned to the “truck” have some of the most dangerous jobs at a building fire
By Mick Mayers
The Truck Company is an oft-maligned team of individuals on the fireground.
The “truckie,” as a firefighter assigned to the truck company is called, is made out to be a knuckle-dragging lout, more inclined to smash a hole in a wall rather than use a door. In actuality, the individuals assigned to the “truck” have some of the most dangerous jobs at a building fire, and the technical knowledge a truckie must have to do the job well makes them suited for advancement into the “special forces” of the fire service, the Rescue Company.
What is the truck company?
The truck or ladder company is based on an aerial apparatus of some sort. These units are the big ones with the big ladder on the top. Most modern aerials have pre-piped master streams capable of delivering water at 350 gpm or more. They are also required to carry a complement of regular, or “ground” ladders and a number of tools that enable them to open roofs, force entry into buildings, control utilities, and support the engine companies, who are charged with taking the water to the fire by way of hoses. The truckies can be likened to the battleground engineers, who find ways to manage barriers or create other supports for the infantry.
The first aerial apparatus was used by the San Francisco Fire Department, built around 1868. The large aerial can be in any number of configurations. There are the standard aerial ladders, or “stick," which is simply a hydraulically-raised ladder, usually ranging from 75 to 100 feet of usable height, but there are larger ones in use. An aerial platform has a “bucket” on the end of it where firefighters can get in and be raised to their destination. There are also articulating booms, or Snorkels. They are still being used, but are becoming harder to find.
The truck company is generally charged with the functions of controlling the building, and can be summarized by the acronym, “LOVERS PLUS”:
Ladders and elevated operations
Entry (forcible entry, usually)
Utility and building controls
and Special operations
These days the truck company is expected to either do these functions, or on arrival, confirm they have been taken care of by an earlier arriving engine, squad or rescue companies.
On building fires, the truck company often splits into several teams, depending upon staffing. Personnel are required to control ventilation points- both the entrance of air into the burning building and the exit path of the hot gases and smoke. They have special tools to open up the walls or pull down ceilings to hunt for hidden fire. And they will shut off the building electric, water, and gas utilities, all of which could pose additional hazards to personnel working in the building. They'll then add generator-powered lights for work and electric for power tools.
The most important job of the truckies, however, is search and rescue. While the engine companies extend the attack lines to the seat of the fire and control fire from spreading into egress points like stairs and elevator shafts, the truckies search adjoining rooms and above the fire, either through the burning building or by raising ladders to those rooms and entering. These searches are done quickly and thus dragging a heavy hoseline around makes the job harder. With the fire below them, there is always the potential of being trapped by the spreading fire or being caught in a collapse.
These tasks require a significant amount of upper body strength and endurance. Since truckies have traditionally been larger personnel who have the physical ability to drag victims, hook down ceilings, or smash through closed, locked doors, they have also been jokingly portrayed as unibrowed neanderthals. In reality, truckies have to possess the ability to think creatively, developing solutions with a limited amount of time, tools, or materials. They have to be able to carry saws, extrication tools, or other items while also wearing their breathing apparatus and carrying the ordinary tools of the trade.
While the engine company is the basic element of all firefighting operations and not every fire department has an aerial, the job of the truckie must be done at every fire, whether it is done by that dedicated team, or others. Having a pre-identified group of people who know those responsibilities intuitively is certainly a desired trait of a good fire department.
This article, originally published January 2015, has been updated.