In the previous article, we discussed the importance and the responsibilities of the Engineer when operating the fire apparatus. Here we will be discussing the functions an Engineer should perform when operating on the fire ground. Like I stated before the Engineer has just as much if not more responsibility on the fire ground as the officer on scene. Officers, don’t get so heated on that last statement that your bugles melt, I know the importance of your job as I am one so hear me out. Let’s draw the line here. There are Engineers and then there are good Engineers. Below we will discuss water supply, exterior operations, and situational awareness and what makes you one or the other.
I understand that not all apparatus carries water but in this section, we will be going over water supply. There is an old saying that says” Engine guys put the fire out”. I take pride in being a truck guy but that saying couldn’t be truer. I’m not going to get into tactics here but it’s not rocket science when the fire goes out everything gets better, and we put the fire out by applying water to it. Who do you think is the one delivering that water? You guessed it, the Engineer. But what makes you a good Engineer? Well, let’s start with something I know most people hate. Calculations… Oh no… Did he just say math? There is no way I have time for that on an emergency scene. Here is my response. You better make time, and there is no better way to do it BEFORE the incident happens. An Engineer should know how to deliver quick water, but a good Engineer understands friction loss, a good Engineer understands sinuosity, a good Engineer understands the fire flow formula, a good Engineer knows what each size each smooth bore tip GPM delivers. If you can remember these great, but there is nothing wrong with writing these down in a notebook and keeping it in your apparatus. There is nothing wrong with posting the formulas on the inside of the Engineers compartment. You can even go as far as keeping a calculator in there. Whatever works for you. Let me just clarify one thing though. I am not opposed to using street formulas on initial arrival. The hand method and drop 10 methods are extremely effective but once you start getting further into the alarm you should be able to transition into the proper formulas. We are seeing way too many departments short-changing themselves on fire grounds by not transitioning.
So you have the first line deployed and charged, now just wait for the nozzle crew to put the fire out right? WRONG! This is where we go into being the busiest person on the fire ground; this is where we go into being a GOOD Engineer. Because the line goes into the black abyss does not mean your job is done, and last time I checked NFPA didn’t require you to be chained to the pump panel. Once we get our initial pressure set go ahead and pull that second line for the next incoming crew. If the building has 2 or more stories EVERY LADDER SHOULD BE PULLED OFF THAT UNIT and placed for egress. There is no one saying you can’t throw that first ladder. If something goes south and your crew is stuck on the second floor, they will be thanking their lucky stars that you threw that ladder. Saws, pike poles, and tools should be placed on the front lawn. The new guy who forgot his tool now doesn’t have to hike around the block to go get it, and the pike pole that snapped can easily be replaced by the one on the front lawn. Think you’re done yet? Keep dreaming because now second due just pulled up and your water supply needs to be established. Oh and did I mention some agencies have the Engineer run command until the Command unit arrives. Better keep an eye on those smoke conditions for the inside crew, is it getting better or worse? Is the roof sagging? Don’t forget to keep monitoring your pressures as well.. Are we seeing the difference here? It all comes down to this. A good Engineer is proactive and is active on the fire ground.
I just made a visit to Washington D.C and met with some guys from the 3 house there. The firefighter I spoke with was explaining how he was going to apply for their “Drivers Position”. He explained to me how they were required to know the location of every hydrant, every, FDC, and every street. Did you just hear that? Every hydrant, FDC, and street! To the men and women who work for D.C hats off to you. Nothing aggravates an officer more than a driver not knowing where he is going. The only free pass you’re going to get if it’s not anywhere near your first due. When driving around your first due, make it a habit to note these things. This situational awareness will pay dividends when that incident happens, and it will happen. Know what driveways you’re going to have to leave the supply line at the street for second due to hook up to. Know what streets and alleys your apparatus won’t make it down. Know what side of the high-rise the FDC is located at and where you are going to position your apparatus. Truck guys/gals know the reach limitations of the ladder on your aerial for each side of the building. Know that if the hydrant you opened is dead where the next nearest plug is at. It’s not the officer’s job, it’s yours. A GOOD Engineer pre plans and has excellent situational awareness.
As the Engineer you are setting the tone for fire ground operations. It can be as smooth or as rough as you want it to be, and being a good engineer will be that determining factor.