What is a “combat ready” engine company?

Tim Linke from Lincoln, NE sent me this basic but thought provoking inquiry.  We all talk about being “combat ready”.  Weather you use that particular term or not, if you’re reading this you’re probably interested in being your best, A+ performances all the time, etc…

So for those of us in an engine company – WHAT IS COMBAT READY?

dcfd  dsc02735

This is quite an extensive topic, so here are a few of my first thoughts.  I’m sure this will lead to a few more posts expanding on these thoughts, and hopefully some comments from everyone else on what they think a “combat ready” crew should focus on.

First – EVERY ALARM IS THE “FIRE OF YOUR CAREER” UNTIL YOU PROVE OTHERWISE, ACT ACCORDINGLY.  There are babies trapped, everyone’s counting on you, you’re actions will make or break this fire.  If you take every action with these thoughts in mind, it doesn’t matter if they’re true or not – you’ll be performing at your best.

A quality engine is nothing without a quality crew.  It seems like an obvious statement, but the rig doesn’t put out the fire – you do.  So what are the essential skills for an engine crew?

Come off dressed, with firefighting gloves on.  I see guys getting off with no gloves, leather gloves, or rescue gloves.  What are you going to do with that?  Any fire worth anything is going to burn the hell out of you if you’re not wearing the correct gloves.  Oh, you’ll put them on when it’s time?  As stupid as it sounds – putting a pair of gloves on can take up to 30 seconds. Try telling the father in the front yard who’s screaming about his trapped kids to “hang on a sec”…  You had that whole response time to get dressed, NOW is not the time for it.

In my opninon, when you come off the rig it is TIME TO WORK.   Your hands will be pulling line, maybe forcing a door, whatever.  If you rip you fingernail off, cut your wrist, or break your finger because you didn’t have gloves on, YOU ARE OUT OF THE GAME.  


Nobody wants to wait for you.  Be ready!

Nobody wants to wait for you. Be ready!

Oh you can’t work well in your gloves?  Poor dexterity?  SUCK IT UP.  Practice.  Get different gloves.  Soak your gloves and let them dry on your hands.  Whatever you need to do – it is not impossible to mask up, tie nots, or do anything else wearing firefighting gloves.  If you can’t, its because you haven’t tried/practiced hard enough.

Mask up at the fire entrance quickly.  I am NOT a fan of coming off the rig with your face piece on.  After my tirade about gloves, you may wonder why. When you’re stretching lines, you need to be able to see where you are going.  At night, in poor weather, or when stretching over long distances the face mask reduces your vision – even more so if it starts fogging up.  You may not know the obstacles you’ll encounter during your stretch until you encounter them, so you need to be able to see.


When we encounter smoke, it’s time to mask up.  A “combat ready” crew should be able to do this in under 30 seconds.

The firefighter in that video is a probationer with about 5 months in the fire service, no prior experience, no other training than the academy.  After about 10 minutes of mentoring, as you can see, he can go from dressed to masked-up in about 15 seconds.  Trust me, if HE can do it – so can YOU… PRACTICE.

Setup the rig for your first due.  Your engine should be setup to reflect your typical manpower and the buildings & challenges in your first due area.  Many departments operate with the same setup they had 50 years ago, “just because”, or emulate the setups of other fire departments.  Borrowing ideas from other places is great – IF THAT IDEA FITS YOUR FIRST-DUE.  But if you’re running a pumper/tanker setup in an area with McMansions, what a FDNY engine in the Bronx has on it is probably irrelevant to you.

Attack lines should be quick/easy to pull and VERSATILE.  Attack lines should ideally be at shoulder height on the rig.  I shouldn’t have to climb a ladder to pull a crosslay.  We should know how to use the limited lines we have to accomplish multiple evolutions such as extending lines, covering long distances, well stretches, window stretches, etc…

Establish a water supply every time.  If you’re responding to a reported structural fire, PUT HOSE BETWEEN YOUR WATER SUPPLY & YOUR RIG EVERYTIME.  “Nothing showing” means nothing.  That big 8-alarm fire we had in DC last march started out as “nothing showing”.  You & me both have seen plenty of places BURN DOWN due to water supply issues.  If you run out of water, GAME OVER.  If you got dispatched to a reported fire and didn’t take steps to establish a continuous water supply, sad to say, IT’S YOUR FAULT.

If it’s an interior attack, it’s an AGRESSIVE interior attack.  There are two options in interior firefighting: winning & losing.  There is no such thing as “holding it”.  When you open the line, work the ceiling, work the walls, sweep the floor, and MOVE IN – repeat.  If you’re not moving, you’re losing.   

Back-up firefighters make or break the operation.  The nozzleman is the glory-guy, but he’s basically got the easiest job.  If the back-up FF’s don’t feed the line and move it around obstacles, the nozzleman get’s nowhere and the company fails as a whole.


The nozzle FF only has fun because the backup FF GETS HIM TO THE FIRE.

The nozzle FF only has fun because the backup FF GETS HIM TO THE FIRE.

These are just a VERY FEW of my first thoughts regarding a combat ready engine company.  What are yours?

Happy Holidays,



14 Responses

  1. Just like you said, any call could be the big one. I have seen nuisance fire alarms that happen every week turn into working fires that no one is prepared for. They seem to put people into the mind set of “oh its another fire alarm, no need to hurry or gear up, the chief should recall it anytime now.” We need to treat every one like a working fire…..and if you ask my opinion that means pulling lines and throwing ladders on even the B/S calls. This will serve two purposes. One it will obviously have you prepared in case it turns into something, and two it keeps your crew refreshed on how to pull and pack lines, throw ladders, estimate stretches, etc. There is no better training than doing all of this at different locations in your local.

  2. Dan you’re absolutely right. As you may know, the predominant policy for most metro-DC area departments (including volunteer) is that at EVERY reported structural fire (even with NOTHING SHOWING) the following get completed:

    1) Supply lines laid from hydrant to fire. For us, 1st & 2nd due engines lay from independent hydrants to front & rear of building, respectively.

    2) Attack lines are pulled to reported fire area and floor above (dry lines). Typically this is 4 lines – primary & back-up.

    3) Basement check radioed to Chief.

    4) Trucks ladder roof and provide roof report, prepare to place ground ladders.

    I know it may sound like a lot, but when it’s nothing (and we have the same percentage of NOTHING as everyone else), we pick it all up and go home in a matter of MINUTES.

    I can name a hundred times where if we didn’t do what we do, we’d have been caught with our pants down.

    My opinion is, when you came to the firehouse for the run – you better have been willing to lay lines & throw ladders if it WAS a fire. As a result, your obligated to do the same UNTIL YOU KNOW IT ISN’T.

    Happy Holidays….

  3. Great topic of which the caliber of writers/readers of this blog will be able to contribute alot. I would like to add a slightly different perspective which is a daily challenge to my department.

    In many companies the people making up the combat ready crew are folks who live, breath and pee fire department. But for others, the people riding behind me are not those gifted individuals who I would die for as a hose crew. The crew I am frequently dealt, come from varied backgrounds and possiblely no life/mechanical skills to speak of. My task is to shape/train/mentor these first timers into a basic engine company with moderate expectations.

    I am sure I sound whiney, but my point is the task of developing a combat ready company is soooo much easiler with all-star players. That being said, any and all of the techniques that Nick and others present here are some of the most valuable tips that can be past on.

    The Engine Company in my mind is one born out of training and preparedness with flawless execution. Narrowing the gap between my expectations and the crews performance is the goal. When the gap is gone, then we are ready.


  4. Very well said gentlemen, the post and the comments where thought provoking.

    I myself agree with all that has been said and would like to take it a little further in regards to training and preparedness. All to often I see engine company’s who can not adapt and ovre come a situation when faced with it on the fire ground. Combat Ready engine companies are ready to handle just about anybody’s role in the crew if a member goes down. How well are they prepared if a hoseline burst. What happens when the bale on the nozzle breaks when they are fighting fire. Basically have they trained for the oh shits that can happen on the fire ground. Greg I don’t believe that you are whining just being realistic but just remember one thing it is our responsibility as veteran firefighters to make those guys all star players like someone did for us I have enjoyed the comments and appreciate the opportunity to comment. Happy Holidays to all.

    Fire Student

  5. Today’s engine company in some departments has become, somewhat against their will, a jack-of-all-trades. Incorporated with the mentality of a decreasing number of fires we have to now operate as a ALS company, a hazardous materials support company, a technical operations support company, and a customer service company. Piled into our bed is a myriad of equipment, some of which will may never use in an actual emergency. Meanwhile, we are still expected to teach and make “bread and butter” sandwiches with the personnel we have assigned to us.

    The “combat ready” engine company is far more unique than many people think. If you look seriously into the amount of training your department plans and conducts, how much is based on what Nick Martin and the commentators have presented? Basic engine company operations; first-due familiarity; personal member actions and preparedness; problem solving hypothetical what-if’s? In many departments these subjects are initially taught in a member’s initial fire department training and then left to the company to continue with. Likewise, in some companies this is not even done. I’ve known quite a few who wanted to go from the No. 3 platoon to the No. 2 platooon, only because that group of individuals made a point to get out on the street and drill, every tour. The others stayed on the couch.

    A second point that makes the “combat ready” engine company unique is that many new members, and some senior, do not truly understand the concept of an engine “company”. The trucks and squads have responsibilities that are inherent in them that emphasize the individual. While they still function as a company ideally, their tasks are individual based and support each other individually. There is no team for roof ventilation. It is either a Roof firefighter or the tillerman. There is no OVM team, but a firefighter assigned to that task. It is true that corporately each individual supports the whole, but with trucks and squads, the focus of the tasks are individual based; we rely on the Roofman to open the bulkhead, not the whole truck company. Not so with the engine company. With the engine company, each individual task is focused on one company/unit level specific; selecting, stretching, advancing and operating the correct size and length line as close to the seat of the fire as possible. When the Ladders firefighter has done his job, he falls back on a secondary or other assigned function. When the Barman is done with opening up, he falls back on other subsequent duties. In the engine company, the Backup man is the Backup man, is the Backup man, is the Backup man, until the fire goes out, he is injured or the company is relieved. His responsibilities and that of the Officer, Lineman, and Layout are one; “combat”, kill the fire.

    This is hard for some to grasp and be comfortable with. Everyone wants to see the fire, to be in the fire room. This is why some members transfer around chasing fire, or move across the floor to the truck. It is as true as it is old (see the Smithsonian Folklife, DCFD study) that the best battalion chiefs come from busy truck companies, due to experience. However, there is something to be said about the officers and members who invest their time in a company, particularly the engine, and the single-house at that, where they spend their time honing their craft. That same study of the “job” also reveals that there are such companies that can perform at a high standard, routinely (think of the companies in Anacostia, or elsewhere, where ladder companies are few, and the driver is performing truck work secondary to getting water). Such companies are reflected by what is written above, not to be better than another, but because they see it as their “job”.

    The “combat ready” engine company is generally found to have members who are of a tighter knit, a stronger support of one another and a better working relationship, because they understand their objective, work together and continually train together so that they do not fail. They are continually aware that no matter what unique catchphrase tactic is introduced and no matter how less frequently fires occur, there is a reason why there is hose and a tank on their rig. That job will never go away despite technology and invention. Other companies are simply people riding the engine for that tour.

  6. Excellent topic! Being combat ready, at least in my mind or lack their of, is more of a state of mind. I work, run, volunteer, or whatever you want to call it with every end of the spectrum. We have very aggressive firemen, who are always reaady to go to work, know where they are going, why there going there, etc. We also run with some guys that seem to throughly enjoy taking a 6′ hook and an air pack for a walk.

    Being battle ready is one of the biggest things we took away from the Engine Company Operations Class that was hosted by Longwood. Not to kiss anyones ass here but we thought we had our act together, until we took that class. That class seriously changed the way we think, operate, and the way we work. No one gets off the rig without tools anymore, no one gets out not ready to go to work. We try and turn out the same way for every run, obviously we have our good days and not so good days but generally speaking our guys are combat ready.

    Keep doing teaching what you’re teaching, it works wonders!!!!!!

    One of my biggest pet peeves is the yard shepards, the ones that throughly enjoy taking a 6′ Hook and an air pack for a walk…..Any thoughts on how to eliminate this problem? I just have a hard time understanding them or why they would take up space on the fire ground……

  7. Chris,

    First I am thrilled with the caliber of all the comments made on this topic. It’s refreshing to see it’s NOT a dead concept in the fire service – just perhaps needs to be brought to the front a little more often.

    As far as yard shepards, and don’t take this as defeatist, but I think you’re always going to have them. Hopefully it’s few rather than many but I think you’re best to focused on having your game on and thus inspiring others.

    Remember, better to be an “outstanding” fireman then a “fireman” who’s outside, standing.


  8. What is really refreshing are the topics covered here! You all are providing the straight talk that is needed!

  9. A big thing to remember is that “Attitude” is a very big start in becoming “Combat Ready” You could work in the Busiest Engine Company in the world and If the players of the team have a poor attitude and don’t care about the job. The results will be shown on the street.

    Once you and the remainder of the members of your company are all set in the same frame of mind, the rest is very easy.

    Get out in your first due, determine what type of fire you will be fighting ( Garden Apts, Single Family Dwellings, Town / Row Homes, Commercial / Industrial)

    Determine your hose sizes and nozzle types, Fog vs Smooth Bore. Remember Don’t always think that the 200′ preconnect will reach and put out everyfire.

    Do dry runs to determine your greatest stretch. If your longest stretch is 500′, then decide if your gonna run a single 1 3/4″ line or are you gonna use a 3″ Line with a Wye.

    This is just the tip of the iceberg, I could go on forever but I will save those for another post.

    Be safe

  10. I disagree with not coming off with your mask. in the past some of the things you stated might have been true, but with todays current mask technology you have a wider view and with proper donning and mantinence of the nose cup it will not fog.

    Just as in your example of putting the gloves on a father is yelling for you to get his kid and sees you putting on a mask in the front yard….hardly ready to go to work.

    I agree with the rest of the article though good points for any engine company.

  11. Training is the theme and foundation that creates an engine comapny that is combat/battle ready. Drilling the company with frequency to perform the tasks you as the company office may order, is the way to accomplish that.

    As a basis of expectations, you have to examine what you want your engine company to be able to do. If you have a truck and/or rescue in the same house, maybe you can focus on confining and extinguishing the fire and leave the other tasks for the other companies. I like starting with this basic expectation and build out from there.

    From that simple expectation(haha), we can build our training to strive to be the best we can at the simple task. An important point is to let all members know exactly what you expect and the level you expect them to execute. What you want them to do is often the easier of the two, the level is where crews fall short.

    Fireman can carry all the cool/ate up tools with all the straps and belts to hang them on, talk a great game, and have the saltiest looking gear. Yet when observing their level of performance, it is appearent they are merely posers. The proof is always in the performance.

    I encourage my people to strive for an ‘olympic level’ of hose deployment, advancement and operation. I have used several fireground videos showing companies doing the job in an excellant manner from surrounding departments such as DCFD and PGFD. (yes I can suck up too) This shows the folks the level I am expecting and gives them something to measure where they are and where they need to be. (This saves my old but from having to step up and show them how it is done)

    Once they know what, and at what level the performance is expected, they will try their best to meet that goal and keep me off their tails. After all we all have egos and the pride to make ourselves and the company be the best we can.


  12. Robby,

    I appreciate the thought and I certainly get where you’re coming from. I think the first issue is district familiarity. If you know your district well enough to hear an address and picture the building in your mind – I think you can make the decision to mask-up on the way. As example, when I ride “the line” on the engine if I know we are first due to a SFD or a row-home and that the occupancy is located a short distance from the rig, I may choose to mask-up on the way….

    But how do you decide what you mask up on?
    – Do you mask up on AFA’s?
    – What about “smoke in the building”?
    – “respond for the smoking oven”

    Obviously if they say “house fire, people trapped” – you’re more likely to thing its a “real” job and mask-up, but what about the run that SOUNDS BS but turns out to be a good fire? I’ve gotten caught with my pants down…. Hell, DC just had a BLS ambo run that turned out to be an apartment fire with people trapped….

    So either your masking up for EVERY run (if you are, more power to you), or you also need to be able to mask-up quickly when you don’t already have your mask on.

    That being said – again, if you know you’re first due well enough to know what occupancy certain addresses are and you’re sure you know which line you’re going to have to pull & how far, I’m on the same page with you.

    Take care,

  13. Hey Nick thanks for the response and I absolutley see were you are coming from….Typically dispatched for any kind of residence fire (muliti or single) the mask is going on…if it turns into BS then you can just take it off….just like laying a line….you lay it but if its nothing you just pick it back up.

    But for other occupancies you are 100% correct that you might need to keep the mask off for a few minutes until you find what you have…and in those cases you need to be able to mask up with your gloves on and quickly just as you said….good article…..keep them comin.

  14. Nick…I like the masking up video on this blog post. Do you happen to have any vids of you guys running your lines (250 and 400?)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: