The all-in engine company: Making it work with 3 members

Outlining the roles of firefighter, driver and officer and the tasks to prioritize


A great disparity in staffing levels exists at departments across the country face. While some departments are strong in numbers, many more experience staffing shortages or situations in which only a couple members can respond. The following article poses a scenario in which three members arrive on scene. The OSHA two-in/two-out policy is still a mandate except for situations in which there is an imminent threat to life.

By Jeffrey Bryant Jr.

When I think about the phrase “all-in engine company,” I think of a crew in which everyone can do it all – because they have to do it all. But how does it all come together, and how can they make it work with limited resources?

3-person crew and the 3 S’s

It’s imperative for fire companies to train for any potential staffing scenarios. (Photo/Second Alarm Fire Photography)
It’s imperative for fire companies to train for any potential staffing scenarios. (Photo/Second Alarm Fire Photography)

Let’s assume that the average engine company rolls out the door with three personnel – the officer, driver and a firefighter. With that being said, these tasks can always be divided if the crew is fewer than three, and additional tasks can be added if there's more than three personnel.

An engine company, in most cities across the United States, will be the first-arriving unit on scene. Whether they will be alone on scene for seconds or several minutes is dependent upon staffing, automatic- and mutual-aid agreements, time of day, and many other factors.

Due to the unknown length of time that this company will be by themselves, they will be tasked with multiple objectives:

  1. Save lives
  2. Stabilize the incident
  3. Protect property

Considering these three vital strategic goals, there are three Ss that should be accomplished to support that mission:

  1. Search (save lives)
  2. Suppression (incident stabilization)
  3. Supply (protect property)

Let’s break down who will be undertaking each of these tasks to succeed in the overall mission.

Officer: search and suppress

This position will have the tasks of both search and suppression. The officer will be the workhorse, as search and suppression would be nearly impossible to accomplish without their efforts.

A 360 and size-up is the top priority. This will help determine where bedrooms and other rooms of priority are located. The officer should perform any immediate searches at windows if needed or direct crew to make those grabs.

They need to ensure that they have tools for forcible entry as well. Since the firefighter’s priority is stretching the initial hoseline, the officer will be responsible for gaining entry to the structure. After addressing forcible entry concerns, the officer can assist the firefighter in flaking out hose, if necessary.

Once inside, the officer wears many hats. This position will not only assist in advancing the line into the structure for suppression, but they must also ensure that they are performing a primary search while moving through the building. Suppression and search can ultimately occur at the same time, as long as the crew is well in tune with one other. Conditions should always be monitored while performing the primary search.

Make sure this position stays in contact with the firefighter at all times. Doors, especially those to the bedrooms, should also be closed, as searches are completed to further assist in limiting fire spread.

Driver: search, suppress, supply

The driver has all three tasks on their plate. There’s a reason many say the driver is the most important position on the fireground inside of the first 5 minutes.

The first priority for the driver is to assist with suppression (unless circumstances dictate otherwise). The driver must ensure that the hose clears the bed, that the line gets charged, and that the correct pump discharge pressure is established.

Once that is completed, the driver must make a judgement call on whether to move on to establishing a water supply or assisting in a search. That should be based on when the next apparatus will arrive and the water supply situation (municipal vs. rural water).

When the driver picks supply, they should ensure that it’s done efficiently and always err on the side that they’ll need more water than less. When hydrants are available, this means considering tapping into the 2.5-inch outlets as well as the steamer.

When it comes to search, the driver this can be the unsung hero. If a victim is present at a window, the driver could make their first priority be search. If no victims are present and it’s unknown if parties are trapped inside, search will be either second or third priority for the driver. Whether it’s second or third, the tasks associated with assisting the search must still be addressed. The driver should throw available ladders to key windows. They can also force the rear door(s) and do a quick sweep. If the driver does force any doors, they will need to remember to pull the door shut again in order to control the flow path.

Firefighter: suppress and (some) search

The firefighter will have the task of suppression and, a small amount of, search as well. Specifically, the firefighter ensures the line is pulled correctly and is staged at the door. They will bleed the line once charged and assist with forcible entry when needed. The main goal of this position is to draw a line between potential victims and the fire as fast as possible.

Searching can be done by the firefighter once the line is properly positioned and when the officer may be delayed feeding the hoseline during the advance. The firefighter can never abandon the nozzle. Instead, sweeps can be made with hands and/or feet while remaining in contact with the hoseline.

Additional considerations: Two-in/two-out

With regard to the two-in/two-out policy that mandates that there be two firefighters outside the hazard area to initiate a rescue of the firefighters inside, should they become in trouble, during the initial stages of the incident where only one crew is operating in the hazard area, there are ways to account for a fourth member. For example, it is possible to use an ambulance crew that’s cross-trained or the first-arriving chief officer.

Further, if there is a confirmed rescue to be made – or a possible victim – there should be no delay in immediate search and rescue of the victim. There are many factors that affect how these decisions are made, including time of day, day of the week, vehicles at the residence, open windows and doors, and neighbors confirming people in the structure.

Train to your staffing level

Conditions dictate actions, but this is a guide that can be applied to the first-in engine company for most residential house fires.

It’s imperative for fire companies to train for any potential staffing scenarios. If you could have only having two personnel, adjust the job tasks above and train on it. The same can be accomplished with more personnel, which would allow for better results as well.

The biggest take away for the engine company is to make search a priority along with suppression. Supply can be accomplished when it's needed. It’s important to set up your policies and standard operating procedures (SOPs) and train on what will work for your department and staffing. Train all your members at all three positions.

We have to be all in and put victims first.

Editor’s Note: How does your department handle limited staffing challenges, particularly when on two or three members arrive on scene? Share your tips and stories at editor@firerescue1.com.

About the author

Jeffrey Bryant Jr. is a firefighter/paramedic with the Aurora (Illinois) Fire Department. He is a third-generation firefighter who has served in the fire service since 2007. He is a co-owner of Fire Factory LLC and part of FireNuggets Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps departments with training logistics. Bryant is an instructor for the Southern Kane County Training Association.

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