THE HOOK + LADDER UNIVERSITY “CAMPUS.”  Hook + Ladder University isn’t a typical college and it doesn’t have a typical campus. But, we do have fire service scholars and distinguished practitioners. Our faculty pioneered the conception of “support operations” as essential (critical!) ingredients in any successful fire service organization– years before IFSTA embraced it as a legitimate field of inquiry. We’re able to look back at traditions and build on them (and the traditions of the future) as the bedrock of fire department operations today. We’re the hands-on Bookmobile of American and international support operations thinking. Our campus is the street and training ground– the fire departments and people who do “truck work,” whether they operate from a ladder truck or just rob tools off the engine to get the job done.

H+LU’S MISSION.  Ok, so no brick-and-mortar campus. But, H+LU does have a mission, modeled after the writings of Dr. Ernest L. Boyer.  In 1990, he wrote the book, “Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate.”** It [certainly] targeted at the firefighter.  But, his most significant contribution was applicable to the fire service.  He defined four important types of research or scholarship, which are interesting to think about in terms of fire protection issues:

  • Discovery: Spotlighting new, original exploration and ideas that advance the knowledge of a field.
  • Integration: Tying together existing information (often from different disciplines) in ways that amplify its value.
  • Application: Refining information in ways that enhances its relevance and practicality
  • Teaching: Exploring methods of maximizing and authenticating the communication and retention of knowledge and skill.


In its simplicity, Boyer’s model provides a useful goal structure for any one-room university of truck company operations:

  • Document and interpret the history and theory of fire service [truck, rescue and squad-related] “support operations” in the U.S. and elsewhere.
  • Make a few new discoveries and generate some new ideas here and there.

So, in the field, in print and, occasionally, in the conventional classroom, H+LU will try to:

  • Find ways that existing information and new developments– from both inside and outside of the fire service– can be reinterpreted to provide new insight.
  • Seek out and attempt to disseminate the leading-edge thinking of regional and national agencies, institutions, publications, and author/scholars.
  • Pass along a wide range of information from raw ideas to time-tested knowledge, tools, and methods as studied in some of the most prestigious schools of trucknology in the world– American firehouses. 
  • Finally, contribute to the growing body of literature and ideas aimed at enhancing commitment to and the effectiveness of training on hook and ladder functions and their safe, efficient delivery on the emergency scene.
  • It won’t offer any of the benefits of a well-groomed brick and mortar campus.  But, if you count passing along the knowledge invested in the training rooms, standard operating guidelines and day-to-day practices of fire stations everywhere as educational, it will make its contribution to the field of emergency support operations.

Every effort will be made to give fair and accurate credit to the original sources of the concepts discussed.  Corrections and alternative points of view will always be welcomed.  From time-to-time, the merits of contrasting ideas or methods will be compared.

Here, though, these are called “Support” rather than “Truck Company” functions, since a department should be prepared to perform them whether they have a ladder truck or not.

THE VALUE OF SUPPORT OPERATIONS. Fireground Command and Control are familiar to most firefighters. Like the football quarterback making a plan of attack, Command is of obvious importance. Control crews are the fireground equivalent of running backs and receivers. Their importance is equally apparent; they have a direct influence on eliminating the primary threat and therefore assume a rather glamorous and heroic image. Since efficient extinguishment is an obvious fireground necessity, virtually every fire department trains rigorously on pump operation, setting up a water supply, operating attack streams, and other water application skills. Consequently, most can take pride in their ability to perform these Control functions effectively.

But, like the offensive line of a football team, Support crews tend to work behind the scenes to protect and assist the “stars” of the fireground– the engine companies.   Since they often go unnoticed, some fire departments mistakenly view Support Operations as less important. They spend little time training on them and can’t perform them effectively, especially under critical conditions.

Just as a successful football play depends entirely on effective blocking, however, Support Operations can be among the highest fireground priorities. Laddering or entry may be required before hoselines can be advanced or occupants removed. Adverse fire conditions may prevent attack until ventilation is complete. Overhaul may be required just to find the fire. And, in extreme conditions, rescue may have to be performed instead of fire attack.

In short, safe, efficient fireground operations demand proficiency in Support Operations. The fire department that assigns equal status to these important functions will find them to be a major source of identity and pride. They will also significantly increase their effectiveness as a unit.

THE FIREGROUND SUPPORT OPERATIONS (FSO) COURSE.  In 1984, to say that there were some ladder trucks but few “truck companies” in the Midwest wasn’t much of an exaggeration.  In fact, nationally, truck companies seemed to have fallen on hard times; truck houses were being closed in major cities, the activity level in truck companies in suburban departments was sometimes so slow that they viewed (rightly or wrongly) as retirement homes.  Volunteer departments in some areas left the trucks in quarters claiming “we don’t have the manning”– the public, city administrators– even fire departments, themselves– had lost sight of the value of truck company operations and ladder trucks.

KEEP THE FAITH. “Truck work” (emergency support operations, in general) is a religion, of sorts; keep the faith.

**Boyer, E. L. (1990). Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate. Princeton, N.J: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.