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 the International Fire Service Training Association (IFSTA) embraced it as a legitimate label and 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 will be working to become 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.”** In writing it, it is highly doubtful that he ever had firefighters in mind.  But, his contributions– including is description of four types or research or scholarship– were certainly applicable to the fire service:

  • 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 relevancy 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/special operations” in the U.S. and elsewhere.
  • Make new discoveries and generate new ideas here and there.

Here, 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 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.

SUPPORT OPERATIONS. Although the term “Support Operations” may not be familiar, the individual Support activities themselves are quite common. 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 acronym “LOVERS PLUS:”

  • Laddering & Elevated Operations
  • Overhaul
  • Ventilation
  • Entry
  • Rescue
  • Salvage (Property Conservation)
  • Power Supply
  • Lighting
  • Utility & Environmental Control
  • Special Operations, such as Air Supply, Crowd/Traffic Control, Special Fire Streams

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 “TRUCK WORK” AND SUPPORT OPERATIONS IN GENERAL. 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 carelessly overlook Support Operations or mistakenly view them as less important. They spend little time training on them and aren’t prepared to 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.

FSO– 2019 Cumulative Handout

T-Shirts from the early days of FSO emphasized the connection between truck companies and the support operations role,

In this context, a group of firefighters in Iowa (yes, of all places), with strong truck company inclinations, formed what was called the Fire Safety Group– FSG:

  • Greg Mundy, Assistant Chief (Ret.), Irmo (SC) Fire District
  • Dean Hutt, Chief (Ret.), Indianola (IA) Fire Department
  • Phil Harris, Deputy Chief (Ret.), Ames (IA) Fire Department
  • Doug Baber, Former Chief, Hartford (IA) Fire Department
  • Fred Malven, Assistant Chief, Nevada (IA) Fire Department

Even though he only occasionally had the opportunity to teach the support operations class with the others, another person (and kindred spirit) was the catalyst for the whole thing, creating opportunities and making contacts:

  • Andy Levy, North-Central Regional Coordinator, Maryland Fire and Rescue Institute (Former Assistant Chief, Hyattsville (MD) Volunteer Fire Department)
H+L Originals w Andy
Core of the Fire Safety Group, instructors for national deliveries of the original “Fireground Support Operations” class; Left to Right: Phil Harris, Fred Malven, Andy Levy (in spirit), Dean Hutt, Greg Mundy.
H+L Original NFD AM
Varying combinations of local firefighters filled out the instructor ranks for regional FSO deliveries.

FSG’s sole reason for being was to develop and deliver courses at regional and state fire schools titled (and focusing on) Fireground Support Operations (FSO).  The implied sub-title was “Truck Company Operations for Departments With and Without a Ladder Truck.  While some dedicated truck companies might take exception to describing their work as “support operations,” it is used with respect.  Virtually every fire department imagines itself to deliver the most “aggressive” fire attack anywhere.  But, few can claim the kind of comprehensive truck and squad work (support operations) that turn such self-perceptions into reality.  The ideas that develop around discussions of support operations– emphasizing the importance of training and practice with hand tools, power tools, new technology, and creative problem-solving (all long-standing truck company traditions)– are the stuff of which safe, efficient fire departments are formed.  

OTHER EARLY INFLUENCES.  Iowa is not broadly viewed as the epicenter of fire service leadership and innovation.  However, that perception would be clearly justified for anyone who met Mark Farren, until recently the Chief of Colo (Iowa) Fire and Rescue.  He was a far sighted, progressive leader with an innate ability to transform adversity into opportunity, people into teams (in the best and fullest sense of the word), and the ordinary into the exceptional and memorable.  He put a smile on every project he visited, including this one.

Besides Andy, Mark and FSG colleagues, [too] rare visits with one last person were influential in shaping early beliefs concerning truck operations, fire service leadership and the whole field (as it should be):

  • Donald “Doc” Moltrup, Chief (Ret.), Hyattsville Volunteer Fire Department

Doc served the Hyattsville Volunteer Fire Department as the kind of leader one imagines every Chief to be (but, seldom finds to be the case); he has always seemed to have a huge influence on everything without ever being obtrusive.  Thanks, for everything, Doc.

SUPPORT OPERATIONS LEADERS AND LITERATURE. Of course, on a broader front, dedicated fire instructors had been doing truck company classes for years and these helped inspire many of FSG’s contributions.  Particularly noteworthy as an early influence was Harold Richman and his “Truck Company Fireground Operations” book, based on his long, active career in the Maryland fire service.

Even in its own time, the FSO class wasn’t unique.  Several individuals and groups were trying to expand attention to ladder company operations.  LAFD’s John Mittendorf was a great example.  He, along with R.R. Ramirez,  were key figures in popularizing positive pressure ventilation and attack (PPV and PPA) tactics.   Mittendorf, himself, has done hundreds of detailed truck company classes and authored his “Truck Company Operations” book.  There were always plenty of classes on individual LOVERS PLUS functions, as well.  Among others, David Moltrup and John McNeese, from Montgomery County Maryland, traveled widely with a broadly-based course on forcible entry methods– their hands-on approach had a big impact on FSG’s course cles spotlighting the important contributions of effective truck work and cautioning that the ladder company might be headed for obscurity. Finally, as noted earlier, during this general time frame, IFSTA published their first edition of “Fireground Support Operations,” a title and concept first developed by the Fire Safety Group in the mid-’80s.

THE NEW MOVEMENT– NEW INFLUENCES.  Now, a current generation of dedicated, inventive troops continues the tradition, focusing on one, several, or all of the traditional LOVERS PLUS functions.  As time permits, some examples of their activities and influences on this author will, hopefully, be summarized here.  For now, a few deserve at least name reference for having been sources of new energy and insight.

  • Tim Anderson, Firefighter, Squad 73, Philadelphia (PA) Fire Department
  • Tim Brozowski, EVD, Rescue 1 Baltimore (MD) Fire Department
  • Chad Cave, Captain, Station 31, Frederick County (MD) Fire and Rescue
  • Jason Knight, Firefighter, Los Angeles City (CA) Fire Department
  • Tim Nemmers, Captain, Station 3, Des Moines (IA) Fire Department
  • Robert James, Firefighter, Squad 3, Frederick City (MD) Fire Department
  • Trevor James, Fire Photographer, Frederick (MD)
  • Randy Jones, Captain, Engine 1, Des Moines (IA), Fire Department
  • Jerry Smith, Firefighter, Rescue 1, Baltimore (MD) Fire Department

CURRENT COURSES.  Several of the old crew have shifted their interests in other directions.  However, among other “truck company”-related classes, updated (and, frequently, more focused, specialized) versions of the original Fireground Support Operations class are still being delivered by teams including founding FSG members.  In South Carolina, retired Irmo Fire District Assistant Chief Greg Mundy and his associates still present courses evolved from the initial support operations concept.   And, in Iowa, Assistant Chief Fred Malven and other members of the Nevada Community Fire Department deliver a variety of one and two-day versions of FSO.H+L New Crew

  • Tracy Tope, EMT/Rehab. Coordinator
  • Dean Tope, Former Assistant Chief
  • Jason Corbin, Lieutenant
  • David Donnelly, Captain
  • Noah Reyman, Lieutenant

OTHER HOOK + LADDER UNIVERSITY CLASSES. While the Fireground Support Operations class continues to be the most popular, instructors have also delivered a number of other support operations-related one and two-day classes:

  • Critical Search Operations
  • Truck Basics: Ventilation, Entry, Searching for People and for Fire
  • Tools, Tactics and Teamwork
  • Tipping Point: The Fire Protection Failures of Modern Building Design and Construction

HOOK + LADDER UNIVERSITY?  A bit pretentious?  Maybe.  But, if you think of universities not as sources of wisdom, but rather as places to share, debate, refine and apply insight, it seems appropriate to the goals of this site.


KEEP THE FAITH. “Truck work” (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.

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