There's no doubt that in the fire service today we all mostly have staffing complications. Since we have limited manpower it's imperative that we utilize our manpower effectively. Properly staffing and placing the first line is imperative for every fire operation that we have. There are multiple adversities that effect this including: staffing, training, equipment, and discipline.
I would say that most full-time departments across the country have roughly three firefighters assigned to each Engine Company. We still have the larger departments that have more than three, and some departments that staff less than three, even down to one! Things change as we enter the paid on call and volunteer world, as you "get what you get". In this post we will try to address a couple of different situations and ideas.
A common practice with the first line in companies that have three personnel on their Engine is that the Officer will hump hose to the nozzle firefighter until he reaches the seat. Is this wrong? No, but we could make a few things better. An Officer is meant to be exactly what's stated, an Officer. They are meant to lead, be with the men & women on the front line, make decisions, oversee the operations, and give direction.
To give you all an example of how many people to staff the first line with is to look at the FDNY, which is the largest department in the country. They use two full Engine companies to appropriately staff the first due line. That's three times as many people on the first due line than most of the country!
A quick fix for any of you that have an ambulance that assists in fire duty is to utilize them. This is one of my favorite choices. This will give you a staffed line of three firefighters and an officer. This should give you great options for corners and door control as well as having an officer that's giving direction.
Another option is to do exactly what the FDNY does but with a smaller amount. Pair up the first two due Engines and go to work. This option could give you two officers as well for the operation and a total of four to five people on the first line. A similar option as well is to grab at least one other person from the fire scene to utilize, such as the driver of the truck.
The first attack line is the most important piece to the fire suppression puzzle that you must solve. Properly staffing it and putting it in place will either mean a fast victory or a long battle. Ultimately, it's important to attempt to have a "door" person that would assist in freeing up the officer so they can survey the interior, give guidance, and search for victims.