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AFA’s and Aerial’s

In some of our recent posts we have been discussing a handful of important aspects of 360’s. The first one about not being able to complete a 360 can be found here and the second one about 360’s on Automatic Fire Alarms can be found here. We started discussing the importance of utilizing the aerial during AFA’s. So now we have to ask: Do you bother using your aerial device during AFA’s?  If not, you may be missing out on a valuable street training opportunity.


As we mentioned, one of the greatest benefits found when using aerial devices during automatic fire alarms is the tremendous training it provides crews (when staffing and time permits). It is much better to practice during “insignificant calls” when adrenaline is not clouding our minds. The most important training opportunity this provides is aerial placement and set up. A majority of the time, the AFA’s from commercial buildings are unintentionally set off during normal business hours. The cause of the alarm is frequently due to brunt food in the break room or HVAC malfunctions. These AFA’s during business hours allow for us to practice positioning the ladder truck in crowded and tight streets or parking areas. Once the alarm has been handled, and the occupants allowed to return to the building is when the real training opportunity begins. The entire crew can meet back up at the rig (which is left set up) to discuss placement, reaches, scrub areas, victim rescues, etc. It can also be a great time to discuss apparatus placement with the Engine company crew as well.


We all know that outriggers can be one of the biggest challenges we run into when setting the truck up on crowded or small streets and parking lots. If you are assigned to a ladder truck that allows for short jacking, you may have a few options to overcome these challenges. For example, the truck shown here allows for short jacking. When setting up on a narrow street the tractor operator pulls to the opposite side of the street adjacent to the incident building. The tractor operator will exit the truck and place the short outrigger, often called the off side, straight down. This leaves room for the opposite outrigger, often called the working side, to be fully extended. The truck is now fully stabilized (on the building side) and ready to have the aerial placed in service. Doing this over and over creates good muscle memory for the “real emergency” when ladder placement is crucial and must be done right the first time.



Another benefit found when utilizing aerials during AFA’s is simply practicing getting off and back on the tip of aerial. Unfortunately there have been many LODD’s due to firefighters falling while getting off or on a roof from an aerial. Since AFA’s are low emergency calls, is a great time to build muscle memory at a slower pace to practice safe access to real roofs from aerials.


So whether it be during AFA’s or just drilling, get those ladder trucks out of the bay and set them up in your first due! You’ll never know the capabilities and limitations of your rig unless you use it. You may even surprise yourself on what you can learn from a non-emergency call like an AFA. Every call is a training opportunity.

Photo credit: Dennis Stevens,


AFA’s and 360’s

In our last post we discussed situations when a 360 of the fire building may be delayed or unable to be completed at all. That post can be found by clicking here.

Now we will ask some additional questions: Do you even bother to perform a 360? If so, what types of calls do you perform them on?


Most people would probably lean toward doing them more often than not, but those were really just the primer questions. The real question is this: Do you take the time to perform a 360 on “nothing showing” or “automatic fire alarms?”


If your staffing situations allow, it should be a part of your SOG’s to have a 360 done on these seemingly insignificant calls as well. For example, Winter Park has the Outside Truck crew perform a 360 on all automatic fire alarm activations. It is signified as being complete by a simple radio transition: “Outside Truck to Command, 360 all clear, standing by utilities.” It’s a great training opportunity for everyone, not just the ones tasked with completing it, but for everyone listening as well. It’s a simple way to keep the 360 on everyone’s mind.


It is important to mention that the 360 on these seemingly “insignificant calls” may be abandoned (or modified) if other tasks are required of the Outside Truck crew. For example, most buildings in Winter Park require the aerial ladder to be extended to access and investigate roof top air conditioning units (which are often to blame for our Fire Alarm activations.) Often times in this situation the 2 man Outside Team will split up, The Tractor Operator will set-up and extend the aerial for roof access, while the Tillerman performs the 360. After the 360 is complete (and announced on the radio) the Tillerman will join up with the Tractor Operator and access the roof.


Again, these recent discussions of the importance of 360’s are not being shared to delay initial operations. We are simply trying to demonstrate their importance and increase understanding of times when they should, and times when they shouldn’t (or can’t) be completed. Taking the time to standardize how and when they are completed will help set you up for success on the fireground. Also, taking the time to practice them on “insignificant calls” will help them become standard practice and part of everyone expectations.

Photo credit: Dennis Stevens,

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Unable to Complete 360

A 360 of the involved structure can provide some very important information while operating on the fireground. However sometimes the 360 may not be possible. We must remember that the simple fact that you cannot complete a 360 may be just as important as what you’d see if you could. There may be any number of reasons that the 360 might not be achievable, some more prevalent ones may be:

Size of structure
Block wall fences
Immediate need for rescue (ie: victims in windows)

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The simple radio transmission “Unable to Complete 360” tells the other incoming units an important fact. It lets everyone know that we may be forced to operate without potentially valuable information. Depending the amount of radio traffic, you could even state the reason why the 360 was not able to be completed: “due to size of structure” “due to water on the Charlie and Delta sides” “due to obstructions.”

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Just because the first arriving unit cannot complete the initial 360, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be completed at all. The second arriving Chief Officer, or Safety Officer may need to be detailed complete the delayed 360. Of course, whenever possible, the RIT team should complete their own 360 to come up with the rescue plan.

The 360 can provide us with extremely valuable information. We must have a plan in place for how and when the initial 360 will be completed and announced, and more importantly, have a plan for when it can’t be done.


Cut and Force Post

Captain Chris Garniewicz from Bluffton Township (SC) Truck 375 sent in this cut and force prop that they recently put together. The idea was to create a compact prop that could be kept in the bay to used on rainy days and still be easily transported to be used at the burn building. The post is made from 6” x 6” x 6’ lumber and attached to a 4’ x 4’ base. The post can easily be removed to facilitate moving and storing the prop. Each side of the post contains a different skill station. Side one is a rebar cut tree: Side two for padlocks and chains; Side three is for cylinder pulling; and Side four is for hinge pulling.




The lock pulling side (side three) contains custom milled bronze cylinders. Bronze was chosen to prevent damaging the lock pulling tools. The hinge pulling side (side four) contains homemade hinges made from flat steel and rebar. As you can see both the lock pulling and the hinge pulling props use wooden dowels for frangible resistance. In addition, both sides also have plate steel to protect the post.





Faux Dormers

Are dormers a prevalent component of building construction in your area? If they are, are they real dormers or faux-dormers? Knowing the answer to this question is critical because they act very differently during fire situations and have totally different tactical priorities.


The presence of real dormers indicates a potentially occupied area of the structure. This area absolutely needs to be searched for potential victims. This upper floor of the structure will typically contain bedrooms, which should be very high on your search priority list. The other question that needs to be answered in this scenario is whether or not the structure is balloon frame construction as well. That certainly adds to the need to search this area immediately with an effort to open it up looking for fire that has traveled to the top floor. Finally, real dormers frequently have knee walls that can hide a tremendous amount of fire that can catch us off guard if we are not extremely familiar with the intricacies of this construction style.


Faux dormers have a totally different set of tactical concerns. Faux dormers are installed on homes to make the roof line more “interesting” and make the house look more grand. Frequently these faux dormers are built on top of the actual roof and have sheeting underneath and don’t even open into the actual attic space.


Know your area! Take the time to look around and be familiar with the construction styles found in your first due. Look for the tell tale signs of real dormers: steep roof pitch and windows in the gable ends. Smoke issuing from a real dormer potentially indicates a fire in an occupied area of the building that typically contains bedrooms. This situation requires an immediate search for life. Smoke issuing from a faux dormer potentially indicates an fire in an unoccupied area of the structure, the attic. This presents a much different situation, but it requires an immediate search for fire.


Building construction can have a dramatic impact on fire and smoke travel in a structure. We must know how two things that look so similar can behave so differently during fire conditions.

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Hook & Irons Collaboration

We are very excited to release our newest T-shirt design. This design is a collaboration with Hook and Irons Co.

Hook and Irons Co. is a firefighter owned apparel company devoted to celebrating the traditions and the history of the fire service. Their designs truly reflect all of the beauty and history of our job that result in items that we should all be proud to wear and own. We are truly humbled to have the opportunity to work on this awesome design with them. When talking about the shirt we decided to create a design that was simple and original–a badge for those who believe seconds make a difference.

The VES shirt was hand drawn, then hand painted with water color to create a faded, weathered look that can’t be duplicated using digital processes. The screen print for the shirt was created using that same water color painting. The design is printed on a lightweight tri-blend antique navy shirt.

The shirt is fitted. If you are in between two sizes, order one up.


Thank you for your continued support!

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Homemade J-Tool

“Ferg” from Sacramento City (CA) Truck 2 sent in this awesome idea on how to create a simple J-tool for non-destructive forcible entry. It even gets some bonus points for being “green” since it almost counts as recycling or reusing. This idea utilizes the leftover political signs that can be found in every dumpster this time of year. The two most common types of signs have an “H” shape, and a “U” shaped galvanized wire frame. The easiest to use for this purpose are the U shape since it already has one of the required bends, but an H shaped one can also be utilized with some additional work.


Rather than throwing that “U” shaped one in the trash, tear the sign off, and take that frame over to the workbench. Place the frame in the vice, and begin bending it into shape. Before you commit to the exact size, you may want to consider what will fit in your bunker pant pocket. Use a hacksaw or saws-all to cut the excess material off. You may even want to file the edges down to make it real pro, your gear quartermaster will thank you….

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The completed tool will look like the photo below. For the discussion, we will consider the side with the extra bend the “working end.” This tool is designed for use on a double door with panic hardware. For the traditional panic bar style, you use the working end to “hook” the bar of the locking device. It simply opens by pulling the bar toward you.


Rotating the tool into place and placing the working end on the locking mechanism can also be used to manipulate the push pad style of panic hardware. Again, once the tool is in place, pulling on the tool will simulate someone pushing the pad from the inside and open the door.


A wood wedge makes a nice companion for the tool to widen the gap between some doors, or even just to keep the weather striping out of your way. While you’re out hunting for signs, keep the rest of the crew in mind. Make enough for everyone, and throw a few extras on the rig for good measure.


Like with many other non-destructive methods of forcible entry, this probably won’t be your go-to method on a working fire. However, options like this can simplify your life when chasing down sell-of-smoke type calls, and automatic fire alarm activations. With some practice, you’d be surprised how many different types of locking mechanisms can be manipulated and defeated with this tool. You simply need to take the time to Identify and Visualize what you are trying to defeat, and outsmart the locking mechanism.


Keyless Garage Door Entry

Often times we find ourselves needing to make access into a home in a quick yet non-destructive manner. This may be for well-being checks or public assist type calls. Most non-destructive methods of forcible entry simply require some creativity and a little knowledge of how a variety of different doors and locks are secured. This technique is no different, but involves a door we typically don’t take the time to defeat, the garage door.

In this video we demonstrate how to use the Keyless Garage Door Entry Tool to manipulate the emergency release rope on the automatic garage doors. This release rope is typically installed to allow the homeowner to open the door manually during a loss of power. Once we visualize how it works and know where to find it, it may be a viable option for non-destructive entry.

The tool is inserted into the gap at the top of the garage door and maneuvered into place to grab the emergency release rope. While keeping tension on the release rope, the garage door can simply be manually raised from the outside.

The one potential flaw in this method of forcible entry is if the door leading from the garage into the house is locked. Even if that is the case, and you end up having to use a traditional through the lock technique on it, once the call is over the garage door can be lowered and home can be secured.

With a little practice you can become quite proficient in using this non-destructive “forcible entry” technique.


Truck Company Operations

Join Jimm Walsh in Dublin, OH on November 13th for a full-day motivational and informative Truck Company presentation titled Truck Company Operations. This class includes portions of Jimm’s popular Truck Company programs Aggressive Truck Functions for a Safer Fireground, and Vent-Enter-Search. The class will cover the importance of aggressive truck functions and their positive impact on fireground safety and why VES is actually the safest most effective way to search. Click here to download the flyer.

Please contact us at if you would like additional information about bringing one of our classes to your location.

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Hook and Irons Company


Here are a few photos from a recent prop building day for the VES crew. The props are simple interior door-off-the-hinges simulators for our upcoming can confidence class. As much as we could talk about the props, they are actually quite simple and we’ll more than likely do a full write up on them in the future.


What this post is really about are those awesome shirts we are wearing. Those happen to be the “Keys to the City” shirts from Hook and Irons Co . Hook and Irons is run by a couple of solid dudes who happen to be fellow Floridians. Their designs truly reflect the beauty and history of our job. They only utilize high quality materials, and they feature awesome designs that typically have an actual story behind them. Check out their site and click on the descriptions of each of their shirts to read the stories behind the designs. Be sure to check out the designs tilted The Last Great Fire and Aerial Patent to see some of the back story we are talking about. Besides the quality of materials, and the stories, the coolest part about their products is how subtle the designs are. A fellow fireman would certainly recognize the design, but it doesn’t scream “HEY LOOK AT ME I’M A FIREMAN.”

Be sure to check them out and let them know how awesome their designs are. Maybe we can talk them into a working up a VES design?

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