6 steps to getting the most out of your quint

Robert Avsec

In professional sports, particularly football, one frequently hears team officials speaking of "drafting the best athlete available" when asked about an upcoming player draft. Their thinking is to choose raw talent and teach the necessary skills for success.

But sometimes, the drafting strategy doesn’t pan-out; the best athlete available wasn’t able to adapt to fill any position within the team’s system.

The quint is not new to the fire service. The first quints began showing up in U.S. fire departments when American LaFrance and Seagrave started manufacturing them in the 1930s and 1940s, respectively.

The quint appears to be the fire apparatus equivalent of the best athlete available. And while many fire departments operate quints with good success, others have tried them and found they didn’t meet their needs.

Quints are designed to provide five tools – a pump, hose, water, ground ladders and aerial device – for firefighters to carry out to provide water supply and access to elevated areas.

NPFA Standard 1901, The Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus, outlines the requirements for a quint in Chapter 9 of the standard.

So why doesn’t the quint have a place in more fire departments?

Neither a round or square peg

One reason why quints have not enjoyed wide-spread use is based in our culture. The traditional roles of engines and trucks – and their very different tactical capabilities – and their firefighters’ attachment to those roles, are deeply ingrained in the culture.

Engines and trucks are round and square pegs that fit nicely in the round and square holes we’ve developed for them.

This is true even in relatively young fire departments. Which is not surprising, given that smaller and newer departments have historically looked to larger departments like FDNY, Philadelphia, Boston, Los Angeles and Phoenix to learn how they operate. They end up emulating many of their operational practices – and their culture.

Quints are neither a round nor a square peg. So, when forced to bring in a quint, by a city manager or county administrator, as a money-saving venture or by a fire chief with a different vision for the department, firefighters and officers find themselves in a conflict.

It’s a conflict between what they’ve been raised to believe a piece of fire apparatus should be (either a round or square peg) and what a piece of fire apparatus could be (a triangular peg).

So, how can you go about developing that new hole for the triangular peg in your department? Here are six steps to making your quint an integral part of your department’s operations.

1. Address the cultural issues.

Whether you currently have a quint or are thinking about making one your next apparatus purchase, you’re going to be more successful with that change by addressing cultural element head-on.

Change can be more difficult in a tradition-bound organization like the fire service. Individual motivation and commitment is important for making a quint part of the family. Keep the level of motivation for your people high by creating an atmosphere that supports individual motivation. Here are a few tips for doing that.

Provide firefighters and officers with information for the what, why, how and, if pertinent, when for making a quint part of your operations. Establishing good two-way communication so that small problems are addressed before they become big issues. And recognizing and rewarding the good efforts of those individuals, particularly the early adopters, who are working to make it work.

2. Develop an operational SOG.

The SOG should clearly outline the expectations for the use of quint as part of the response package for specific occupancies based on its order of arrival. One key point for an SOG is that the crew of the quint operates either as an engine company or as a truck company, but not both at the same time.

The SOG should also clearly state the fire officer’s responsibilities for ensuring that their personnel follow the SOG. Fire officers should also be held accountable when they don’t. Nothing undermines an SOG quicker than fire officers that don’t fulfill their management responsibilities.

Developing a SOG may be more easily be accomplished in departments that are either completely staffed with quints or have several quints in their fleet. In such departments, the SOG typically calls for the first-arriving quint to function as an engine, the second-arriving as a truck and subsequently arriving quints to function as directed by the incident commander.

The important point here is arrival sequence. Tactical deployment of a quint should be based on what’s needed to accomplish the incident commander’s action plan when the quints arrive.

Refine and improve your SOG by conducting post-incident analysis after each multi-company response. This does not have to be a laborious undertaking.

One of the best types of this analysis is to gather your company officers together on scene after the incident has been successfully concluded and ask them these three questions:

  • What worked well?
  • What didn’t work well?
  • What should we do differently if we responded to this exact same call an hour from now?

As a battalion chief, I conducted such analysis after every working multi-company call we responded to in my battalion. The insights and learning, and development of trust, that came from those 10- to 15-minute sessions were invaluable.

3. Staff your quint for success.

A common complaint heard is that crews operating on a quint lack equal proficiency for both engine and truck operations. To get around this, look for those high performers in your department and make them feel like they’re being selected to staff the quint because of their performance.

You want crews made up of self-starters who only need guidance and direction from their company officer, not a constant kick in the pants to get them to drill and train. That’s one reason why FDNY’s rescue companies are so well respected. Not everyone can qualify for a position on a rescue company; they earn it.

4. Develop a quint-specific training curriculum.

Those crews must be the most well-trained personnel in your department with a heavy emphasis on skills development and maintenance. That training and skills development should emphasize that all need to be equally proficient at both engine and truck company tactical functions.

5. Emphasize multi-company drills.

Training and drilling within their company is important for a quint crew. Just as important, is developing their abilities to work with other fire companies, whether those companies are engines, trucks, or other quints. This is especially pertinent for a department that only has a few quints.

6. Configure the quint for effectiveness and efficiency.

Locate all the equipment necessary for truck company functions on one side of the quint; place all the equipment necessary for engine company functions on the other side.

This will keep your personnel from having to make multiple trips around the apparatus to get the equipment and tools for their designated function.

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