Dedicated to the Traditions of Science and Trucknology
Author: Fred Malven
Malven Fire Tool Works [MalvenWorks] specializes in the design and production of fire and emergency service tools. Its work is focused on refined tool solutions for the most common, day-to-day fire service functions, with an emphasis on ladder company and rescue company operations. Owner/designer Fred Malven has been a firefighter/fire officer with fire departments in Connecticut, Maryland and Iowa, where he is currently Assistant Chief (Training) with the Nevada [IA] Community Fire Department. He has also served as an Adjunct Instructor for the National Fire Academy, serving on course development and delivery teams for several resident and field courses, including NFA’s multi-part building construction, safety and fire-safe building design programs.
THE INCIDENT MANAGEMENT TRIANGLE. Most successful fire department operations require an “Incident Management Triangle” made up of three functions or operations: Coordination, Control, and Support .
“Coordination,” the first side of the Triangle, involves the management and integration of the resources needed to stabilize an incident. This is most often the responsibility of the Fire Chief or other officer, but may, in some cases, have to be done by the senior firefighter on the first unit.
“Control,” the second side, is the action required to handle the major threat to life and/or property. If fire is the major threat, Control generally involves use of water or other extinguishing agent by an engine company; if the threat is a spilled chemical, Control may be confinement, etc. Whatever the major threat, Control crews should be able to devote their undivided attention to its management.
“Support” operations form the third side of the Incident Management Triangle. These are the activities necessary to achieve two important goals:
Assist “Control” Crews— Complete tasks which, make the activities of the control crews safer and more efficient (even if those tasks have no direct effect control of the primary threat(s)).
Handle Secondary Threats— Complete tasks which will control a variety of secondary threats (electrical hazards, traffic, potential collapse or explosion, etc.).
Protect Lives and Property— Perform activities, as necessary, to safeguard people (including firefighters) and property from all kinds of threats.
FIREGROUND SUPPORT OPERATIONS? Even for the most experienced and involved members of the fire service community, the term “fireground support operations” may not be well understood or even familiar. Simply put, it refers to all fireground functions other than incident command and fire suppression, i.e., most of the fireground functions performed by ladder, rescue, and squad companies, other than direct fire attack. It was a title coined by the Fire Safety Group (now Hook and Ladder University) in the early 1980s for their course on truck company operations, targeted at general fire protection audiences, whether they operated a truck company or not. Needless to say, the term evoked a great deal of discussion– some favorable, some highly critical. But, in the end, there was enough positive sentiment to warrant the formation of an Internatioanl Fire Service Training Association (IFSTA) committee on the subject and, soon thereafter, a manual published under that title.
As noted earlier, though, historically, these were called the “truck company” functions, because they were normally performed by “Hook & Ladder” or “Truck” company crews. They can be quickly recalled using the traditional acronym “LOVERS PLUS:”
Laddering & Elevated Operations
Salvage (Property Conservation)
Utility & Environmental Control
Special Other Operations
Why not just stick with the title/term fireground “truck company operations” (or “squad company” or “rescue company” operations)? Two reasons are offered in defense. First, support operations is intended to be an umbrella term used to spotlight the commonalities among ladder, truck, squad and rescue operations, without demeaning their unique contributions. It is similar to referring collectively to the functions of a football team’s offensive line, without downplaying the unique identities and contributions of the “center,” “offensive guard,” and “offensive tackle.” Secondly, it is valuable to reinforce the idea that emergency operations of all types will benefit from clearly defined primary and secondary (supportive) crews. Like any refinement in day-to-day functioning, awareness of this division of labor is well served by regular reference to “control” and “support” assignments. Calling these “Support” rather than “Truck Company” functions, acknowledges that departments should be prepared to perform them whether they have a ladder truck or not.
THE SMITHIT CONCEPT.Back in one of the very first posts on this site, in a write-up entitled “Truck 15’s House– Baltimore, MD” (under Stations and Places of Note), it was mentioned in passing that when Baltimore City Firefighter Jerry Smith (a very good friend, now with Rescue 1) was riding as acting officer on T15, he would throw a 3# rock hammer into his coat pocket! Why? Well, Balto City truck officers often find themselves responsible for doing forcible entry single-handedly and Jerry thought that if he was going to be doing it solo, he’d rather give up a little striking weight for more precision. Wallah(!): the rock hammer! OK, maybe being a little skeptical, several of us gave it a try– on entry props, car fires (under-hood access), residential calls, etc., and for these and for 90% (or more) of the stuff we do, the results were very impressive:
Tight quarters work is significantly enhanced.
Low to zero visibility work is enhanced (your kinesthetic abilities let you strike on-target with amazing precision and force).**
Reduced weight and bulk = increased agility and mobility.
NOTE** At the very least, most of the people we polled found this method preferable to being hit in the ribs by their “buddy,” flailing away in the dark with a 6-8# axe.
EXPERIMENTATION WITH THE SMITHIT. The small hand sledge did a pretty good job of setting the Halligan adze or fork into the gap. However, during our experimentation, we did some testing comparing the 3# hammer with a 3-3/4# flat-head axe on a short hand sledge handle. Both showed advantages and limitations. Having a slightly wider face, we felt the hand sledge gave slightly more consistent low/zero-visibility striking. It was also better balanced (which may have accounted for more accurate strikes. On the other hand, the flat-head axe provided an ever-present (and pretty effective) wedge. And, if the Halligan has squared off shoulders on the fork end, the narrow width of flat-head privides clear advantages when striking in low or zero-visibility conditions.
ENHANCING PORTABILITY.Almost immediately we concluded that using a 3-4 pound short-handled “hammer” for striking was a superior way for an individual to perform forcible entry. At this point, several friends use the technique religiously (so to speak). However, everyone has been wondering how best to transport (carry) the small striking tool(s)?
That’s where our earlier blog post rather casually tossed in a couple of photos of methods we use to “marry” a short striking tool to a Halligan. Unfortunately, as noted by one reader– Mitchell Sowers– there wasn’t really enough detail included to be useful. So, the following is an effort to clarify the idea. So far, the best method we’ve found mates the striking to the Halligan’s forks, as shown in the photos below– for implementation, you’ll need:
a) A 3# – 4# striking tool of your choice.
b) The Halligan(s) with the thickest fork (at the crotch or bottom of the fork) that you plan to use with this method.
c) Two fender washers (wide diameter with a much smaller hole) for a 1/4″ bolt.
d) One nut, wing-nut, fiber lock-nut (my preference), or internally threaded handle (shown below) to fit the 1/4″ bolt you plan to use.
e) a light-weight coil spring, approximately 1″ long x 1/2″ diameter– not requiring too much pressure, since its strength doesn’t actually come into play.
A 1/4″ bolt long enough to thread through all of the above– with the nut in place– without compressing the spring much, if at all.
Our local experimentation with Jerry’s original idea took two different directions. The first (the most direct application of his concept) utilized Estwing’s classic “rock hammer,” a small hand sledge. Estwing’s rock hammer has a good feel and balance– and it’s easily one of the coolest tool designs on the planet.
CASE STUDIES.The following photos show some of the variations explored in developing this Halligan/Maul team of entry tools. Users who like Jerry’s original idea will undoubtedly find additional refinements to improve their compatibility.
WORK WITH IT– MAKE IT WORK. Even if you’re a forcible entry purist, he bottom line is that, if you: 1) regularly find yourself responsibile for forcible entry on your own and/or 2) carry a hook or some other non-striking tool with your Halligan, you should give the lighter-weight rook hammer or hand axe a try. And, if fact, Jerry’s original method of stuffing the rock hammer in his coat pocket works pretty well, as is. I think the Estwing version is one of the coolest designs on the planet. But, Jerry’s 3# hammer with a wood handle, is a bit lighter and enough shorter that it fits comfortably in most coat pockets. By contrast, the Estwing (also advertised as a 3-pounder) isn’t as pocketable. I find I’m always more conscious of its weight and it is enough longer that some coat pocket flaps won’t close securely around it.
CAPITAL FIRE TRAINING. If you find yourself fightin’ fire and hungry for training in the Northeastern U.S., be sure to take a look at Capital Fire Training’s web sight and schedule of class deliveries. The CFT Instructors have earned a very strong reputation for rigorous training with great attention to detail, especially in the areas of integrated engine/truck operation, up-to-date RIT and personal survival strategies, and fire officer development. Robert James (“RJ”) has been a particularly tireless supporter of our company’s efforts to get on its feet– hope you’ll help us return the favor. Contact: capitolfiretraining.com
A UNIQUE “TRUCK” HOUSE. Everybody’s got special interests in the fire service.” If your’s happens to focus on interesting “Enjine’s,” you’ve got pretty fertile territory; there’s likely to be an engine in virtually every fire station you pass– there’s got to be an interesting one every once in a while? But, those whose preferences stray a little farther afield– say, heavy rescues or squads, hazmat units, trucks, etc.– have to be more patient, occasionally finding one mixed in with one of those ubiquitous pumpers. For me, though, the real finds are those scarce single piece fire stations that house only a single, special service.
In this regard, it’s hard to imagine a better example than Baltimore’s former Truck 15. We were introduced to the station by a then-member of the company, Firefighter Jerry Smith, Jr. Jerry is now assigned to Rescue 1 at the Stedman mega-station. 15’s old house was a long, single-bay, turn-of-the-century station, which was, most recently, occupied by a single Seagrave tractor-drawn aerial– Truck 15. On arrival, you found a wide street, populated by fairly spartan row-houses, a Baltimore staple.
Inside the single door of the two-story station was an equally spare daytime environment. The truck was out when we first arrived. The front 2/3rds of the station which would normally be occupied by the truck was flanked by an array of old and older call-taking equipment (on the driver’s side of the truck) and rows of red-doored lockers, some of them with paneled wood doors, others the more modern louvered steel locker-room type. Hanging on the outside of many of the locker’s were the user’s personal day-to-day hand tool(s).
TOOL PARADE.This should be a tradition– a requirement– for every special ops station. Put your tools out on the table, like wild west gunslingers in a poker game. It gives visitors an immediate lay of the land, and for occupants, an open invitation for continued tall tales, discussion, debate, and ridicule. In old 15’s, for example, there were, among other tools, a Boston Rake, a cane and a so-called “Ringer” Hook from Fire Hooks Unlimited, a combination of a Halligan Hook on one end and a Boston Rake on the other. Looking back on the histories of some of the tools hanging there was probably enough to rekindle memories of many an incident or opinion of the past.
The front of the station was also totally cool in its display/utilization of FD relics. The watch desk is right out there on the floor, a gray metal thing typical of the promise of early modern communications in the 1950s. It had character in its own right but shared the spotlight with older artifacts from the turn of the century: a tally board for keeping a running account of who was out on which boxes, and an alarm gong about the size of cattle trough.
Behind the truck, at the back of the bay, was an informal, open-plan “day room” composed of a mixed bag of lived in, “all-star” furniture. And, along another outside wall, at the base of a spiral stair to the second floor (to keep the horses out of the bunk room) was a one-wall kitchen with a suspended Pompier ladder forming a very classy rack for pots and pans. VERY classy.
TOOL TIPS– A BREACHING PICKHEAD AXE FOR ROOF WORK. You can tell a lot about the culture of a special ops company by looking at their tools and apparatus. After 15’s truck was back in quarters, Jerry brought out a few tools that the company had tweaked-up. First, the tip of the 100′ stick was equipped with a very well-placed, self-leveling 500 Watt flood light, guaranteed to light up not only the contact area of the tip but also the entire roof area beyond. The crew had also machined out a rounded somewhat sharpened cut in the adze of their Halligan for lock-pulling chores– the obvious advantage of their approach was that it left a very robust leading edge on the adz, rather than the pointed “Devil’s ears” of an “A-tool” machined out of the same area– ears that you commonly see that get peened over so quickly and aren’t aligned for lock pulling when you need them. Tools needed by the operator for roof ventilation chores were appropriately mounted at the tip of the aerial fly section.
To me, the simplest, but neatest, tweak was the slightly rounded “breaking” edge (rather than a sharp cutting edge) that Truck 15 had formed on the blade of their ventilation pickhead. Although this visit substantially pre-dated the Iron Fox’s popularization of this kind of striking edge, they were clearly following the same play book.
TOOL TIPS– THE HAND MAUL. As we walked by the lockers, Jerry (at the far right in the photo below) mentioned that, on those occasions when he was riding as acting officer, he carried a 3-pound rock hammer (small, short, hand maul or sledge) in his pocket. Later, as we were about to leave, we had to ask: “Why would anyone carry that small sledge hammer in their pocket?” The explanation actually made lots of sense; in Baltimore, truck officers customary perform forcible entry, by themselves. Rather than awkwardly trying to strike and drive the Halligan bar with an axe, Jerry (and others?) did so with the rock hammer.
Nice idea. We tried it out back home. A car fire and a separate motor vehicle collision were all it took to confirm that the hand maul and Halligan are a great combination. Driving the Halligan, alone, with the hand maul is a pretty precise operation (which is more than most teams can say for the flat-head and Halligan combination). Over time, this idea has generated a lot of discussion and experimentation. So much so that separate running blog post is devoted to the topic. See “Smith-It” under the “Tools” category– we’ve dedicated the concept to Jerry.
TEAMWORK– RIDING ASSIGNMENTS. While some companies divide up chores at roll-call or prefer to do it en route to a call, Many others have chosen to develop more regularly used job descriptions for riding positions. The latter system was in effect at Truck 15, as summarized below. The most common building type in Truck 15’s first due was 2-story row houses, of “ordinary” construction (masonry walls w/ wood, floor and ceiling structure), so the assignments shown below are tailored for them– they might have been markedly different for other categories of emergencies:
The crew had made several tool-related decisions in the interests of maximizing their efficiency, including the following:
Laddering Strategy. On arrival, the “Step” and “Tillerman” work together, as necessary to ladder the building. At 3-story dwellings, 24′ and 35′ ladders are thrown– heaviest first, to use freshness and strength effectively. For 2-story buildings, 16′ and 24′ extensions were sometimes used instead, again with heaviest thrown first. So, ordinarily, the “Step” and “Tiller” threw the heavier ladder together. Then the “Step” climbed to the upper floor, while the “Tiller” threw the second ladder and started V.E.S. on the lower floor.
Pre-Mounted Roof Tools. Roof tools for the “Driver” were pre-mounted on the aerial to save time. The roof saw was secured in a diamond-plate box bolted to the transverse compartment of the tractor. An 8′ fiberglass-handled pike pole and pickhead axe were mounted on the tip of the aerial.
Distributing Other Tools. The “Step” customarily came off the rig with a 5′ Halligan Hook (or NY Roof Hook) and a Halligan Bar (for the officer). So these were within reach of the left (driver) side rear riding position. Hooks for the “Officer” and “Step” positions were laying transversely on the floor of the rear riding compartment, easily removed from either side. The “Tiller’s” Boston Rake was mounted on the upper trailer deck (as can be seen in the right-hand photo of the axe, above).
The “Step” and “Tiller” Positions (V.E.S.): At the scene (on the “A” side for the first due truck), the “Step” dismounts the truck and– if the building isn’t more than a few steps away– quickly tosses a Halligan bar toward the front porch (for the Officer) and their own 5′ Halligan Hook to a spot below or near the area they expect to be laddering. By then, the “Tiller” has dismounted and the two of them work on laddering for V.E.S., starting with the heaviest ladder (while they’re together and freshest) and working down from there. The “Step” generally takes the uppermost window, so on a two-story row house, they’re likely to be using their 5′ Halligan Hook working off of a 24″ extension ladder. In this scenario, the “Tiller” is likely to be using the roof ladder with their Boston Rake already attached, ready for use. Off they go.
The “Officer” Position (Initial Entry & Support of the Interior Team): The “Officer” gets off with a 4′ Halligan Hook, and does a quick size-up of the fire location and probable engine crew interior needs. After using the Halligan Bar, if needed, the Officer takes the Halligan Hook and starts searching and reconnoitering along the most direct route to the principal fire area, supporting the engine crew as necessary. Some officers preferred performing their search with the pickhead axe that was mounted on the right running board of the tractor.
The “Driver” Position (Roof Ventilation): The “Driver” positions the truck’s turntable for optimal access to the roof, then raises and positions the aerial for maximum roof ventilation convenience. A pickhead axe and a pike pole are already mounted at the tip so the “Driver” only has the saw to carry to the roof. If there are skylights, vents and other roof features that can be opened relatively quickly, they will do so with the hand tools, before using the saw, as needed, for larger-surface-area ventilation.
TRAINING TIPS– ON-SITE ENTRY PROPS. Besides an organized plan of action, the presence of training props is a good sign of an active, engaged company– especially those with signs of use. Truck 15’s back yard had a nice multi-purpose forcible entry prop, and stacks of replacement materials for practicing and refining the kinds of entry hurdles they are likely to encounter.
POSTSCRIPT. I visited Truck 15 in February of 2012. At the time, it was the busiest truck in Baltimore. Nevertheless, as a budget-saving measure, the city closed it and demobilized Truck 15, soon after my visit. The most popular explanation for closing that house was that, since it was surrounded by so many other trucks, it had the territory that could be most easily divided up among other companies. But the house wasn’t empty long. It was reopened in July of 2012 by Engine 33 (formerly housed with Truck 5).