Monday, August 06, 2012

Quints: Tactical Solution or Cross-Staffing Guise?

St. Louis Engine-8 -- 2nd Generation Quint

Emphasis on Rolling Stock -- Not Tactics

by: Lou Angeli

(St. Louis, MO ) - Ever since Neil Svetanics, former Chief of the St. Louis Fire Department, popularized the "Quint Concept" some 20 years ago, the nation's fire departments have gone crazy for quints. The concept that some said was a only a passing fad is still claiming new ground.

Admittedly, I'm a big buff, the perennial kid when it comes to firetrucks. But ever since March's FDIC Exhibit, with its hundreds of apparatus and machines on display, many fire officers are beginning to question where we're going -- and why.

At issue here is not the motive of fire apparatus manufacturers, the machines they build, nor their cost. After all, firefighting machines are no longer bought off the lot. We design them ourselves -- every nook and cranny -- from the ground up. But the concern for many is that in the year 2012, too much emphasis is placed on rolling stock and not enough on solid tactics.

In Neil Svetanics case, history shows that his original reason for developing the Quint was more an issue of STAFFING rather than MACHINE. When he assumed command of STLFD, members were operating what could best be described as ancient apparatus with bare bones staffing. It was a department in distress, where three-man engines and two-man ladders were the norm. So, the Quint concept was originally born out of a manning deficiency, and for Svetanics the long term plan was to enhance staffing, not limit it.

It was the late 1980's, and the fire service was begging for new ideas to increase efficiency and use existing manpower more effectively. Needless to say, Svetanics and his idea were at the right place at the right time. But some administrators abused Neil's original game plan, and Svetanics had unwittingly provided them with a way to reduce manning, in the guise of some new nationally recognized procedure.

Flexible Response 

Unfortunately, the "kid" in many of us didn't look beyond the red and chrome of those original LTI 75 footers. In fact, very few of us knew the real reason why St. Louis had initiated the Quint Concept in the first place. Many of us were blinded by the originality of this new fangled machine and the importance of the Truck or Support Company was lost in the smoke.

St. Louis dubbed their new SOP "Flexible Response", a procedure that did away with the traditional notion of Engine and Truck Companies. In essence, Neil Svetanics bucked tradition in a big way, and that's not necessarily all that bad. But in the rush to emulate St. Louis' success, many departments ordered up quintuple rigs without a solid plan as to how they were to be used on the field of streams. And that's my hand you see raised, because I sat on the apparatus committee of my own department, when we recommended the purchase a Quint.

Even after we signed the contract, and the rig was online in Wisconsin, our committee still wasn't sure how they quints would be used. As an Engine with an aerial device? Or a Ladder with a pump? Would it be the first responding machine, or the second-out piece? And most importantly, what would be the crew assignments in a volunteer organization where manning on the rig might fluctuate from three (during the day) to eight (at night).

Wilmington (DE) Fire Department -- Ladder Company-1

A Return To Basics:

In a recent article by John Mittendorf, the former LA City Battalion Chief took his exacto knife to flexible response, and cut the Quint concept to shreads. A bold response by a seasoned fire officer to a procedure that he felt was making the fire attack less efficient and more dangerous.

Mittendorf suggests that the introduction of Quint operations has caused us to neglect a very important fireground function - Truck or Support Company operations. Many believe he's right. The Engine Company cannot mount a fire attack, without the coordinated efforts of the Truck or Support Company. And that's where Quint operations fall short. Because as a first responding rig, the emphasis is exclusively on engine work.

So, before we begin making plans to build another Quint, let's step back and examine why Truck Companies were developed in the first place.

Although aerial ladders and towers exist in the fire service worldwide, the Ladder "Company" itself is a concept that is specific to North America. The origin of the Hook and Ladder Co. goes back to the early volunteer brigades of the 1700's. Back then, H&L members were responsible for separating the fuel from the blaze, and were often closest to the fire. Because they carried ground ladders, they were undeniably an integral part of the rescue operation.

While members of the pumper crews worked with the bucket brigades to fill pumps and extinguish the blaze, the Ladder Company performed all other necessary duties. Today, the Ladder Co. still serves much the same purpose, although dozens of generations have refined this multi-mission job. But no where else in the World is the distinction between Engine and Truck members so clear-cut as it is in the USA and Canada.

The $1 Million Quint -- Garden City, PA

As new tools and equipment are introduced, chances are they end up on the Aerial Apparatus. But how many more compartments can we fill? And at what point does the Ladder Apparatus become a burden, rather than an asset?

Examine the American LaFrance Tractor-Drawn aerial of just 25 years ago. Most equipment was carried in open bins and a few lockable compartments. The rig was lightweight, perhaps a GVW of 40,000 lbs, and could be maneuvered easily through streets and roadways. Its cost in 1974, $150,000.

But at $750,000 to $999,000, today's aerial apparatus have become Land Yachts. Most are built with six and eight man cabs, that rarely see more than four firefighters. Add a 1500 gpm pumps and 500 gallons of H2O, plus hoseline, and the NFPA allows us to call them Quints. They are the Carnival Cruise Ships of the fire service, which are used for every type of emergency -- from EMS to nuisance fires.

Many agree with former Battalion Chief John Mittendorf. The focus they say should be on the traditional function of the aerial apparatus and its crew.

Remember -- Even if your department doesn't operate a Ladder apparatus, the Truck Company function still must be addressed. In part two of this series, we'll examine the importance of the Support Company, and how some departments have enhanced their programs with the addition of Squads, Ladder Tenders, and even an old stand-by, the Quad.


Saturday, August 04, 2012

Takin' It To The Streets

Tower-Ladder 2 operating at a 3-alarm blaze along the Riverfront

Firefighters and Supporters Must Educate Citizens

Wilmington, DE -- (August 4, 2012) -- There was a time in my life when Fire Departments were set-up to handle worst-case scenarios, but unfortunately those days are long gone. Today, city administrators are content to operate with just enough resources to mitigate a single room and contents fire. They claim that the BIG blazes of the 70's and 80's are a thing of the past. So, they play a numbers game and each time a box alarm is toned out, someone at city hall is shaking his fist and rolling the dice. This drill will continue, with half of the city's current fire-rescue resources, if a certain democratic candidate wins the primary here in Wilmington, Delaware.

The general public isn't privy to this never ending, high stakes crap game.The wager? Their lives and the lives of their families, friends and neighbors. Unless the community wants to see another Scranton or Chester right here in Wilmington, firefighters and firefighter supporters MUST take their important message to the people. Share it on the radio, in the news and go DOOR-TO-DOOR.

William Montgomery -- from Google Images

Drastic cuts to the Fire Department are being recommended by Democratic candidate, William Montgomery, an administrator who is no stranger to cutting firefighters and fire-rescue services. As Mayor Jim Baker's Chief-of-Staff, Montgomery implemented "Rolling Bypass" (closure of an engine company each day) and disbanded the State's ONLY career staffed Heavy Rescue, Rescue Company-1. Montgomery makes no bones about his disdain for firefighters -- and one can assume that a Montgomery administration would bring hard times to Wilmington's Bravest. One plan is to cut the WFD by 50% -- to a 3-Engine, 1-Ladder Department. That would leave 16 firefighters - citywide - to protect a daytime population of 100,000. Another idea places 2 engines out of service, and converts the existing Ladder Companies to multi-purpose Quints.

Montgomery and his mission must be discredited publicly if the Wilmington Fire Department is to remain at its current strength -- 6 engines and 2 ladders -- which is 2 companies short as is. There are just a few weeks remaining until the Democratic primary -- and there a lot of neighborhoods for firefighters to canvas. 

For Wilmington firefighters, this is the MOST IMPORTANT election of their careers. With cutbacks of 50% awaiting Wilmington firefighters, and under a Monty Administration, there will be mass layoffs, dozens of demotions and a once proud department will lay in ruins.

Keep the Wilmington Fire Department a mufti-faceted, well staffed emergency agency -- That's the message that needs to be taken to the streets and shared with the citizens of Wilmington!

Lou Angeli