Fire companies are the basic unit of firefighting with a crew of firefighters assigned to a particular piece of fire apparatus and station. Each fire company is organized, equipped, and trained for particular functions as outlined below. For all fire companies, life safety (search & rescue) is always the first consideration followed by incident stabilization (fire control, attack, suppression, ventilation) and property conservation (overhaul & salvage). All crew members go through extensive and continuous training that is both physically and mentally challenging in order to be able to complete the demanding functions that firefighting requires. Although each company may perform a specific duty at an incident, it is the team work and coordination of the entire responding team of companies that safely, efficiently, and effectively saves lives, stabilizes the incident, and minimizes damage to property. A typical first alarm structure fire response will include 2 engine companies, 2 ladder companies, 1 medic unit, and the command car.
Fire engines (or pumper) are the most common type of company in the City of Madison Fire Department with a total of eleven (11) engines in service on a daily basis. Engines are located at stations 1, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13. All engines are equipped with a pump, several hundred gallons of water, and large amount of hose line of various sizes for fire attack and exposure protection. Engines also carry ladders to access multiple floor structures, self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), tools used for forcible entry and extrication from vehicle accidents, first aid equipment, a variety of hose appliances and tools, and assorted other equipment. The crew of an Engine Company usually consists of an officer, apparatus engineer, and two firefighters.
The primary functions of the engine company are fire attack, life safety (search & rescue), and exposure protection. Depending on the circumstances, Engine Companies will hook up to water sources (e.g., hydrants), quickly deploy hoseline from the vehicle, and attack the fire using a water stream to extinguish the fire while minimizing the water damage to the structure. Engine companies also provide immediate life support and supply additional staff to assist paramedics during EMS incidents.
All four of the City of Madison Fire Department Ladder Companies are equipped with aerial ladders. Ladder companies are located at stations 1, 2, 6, and 8. Equipment usually consists of a full assortment of hand-raised ground ladders, self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), generators to produce power form emergency lighting and equipment, forcible entry and rescue tools, power saws, equipment for overhaul and salvage, salvage covers to protect furniture and fixtures during firefighting operations, emergency medical equipment, and an assortment of other tools and equipment. The crew of a Ladder Company usually consists of an officer, apparatus engineer, and two firefighters.
Being a crew member of a Ladder Company can be one of the most challenging and rewarding assignments on the City of Madison Fire Department. Duties, in no particular order, include forcible entry, search & rescue, laddering, ventilation, overhaul and checking for fire extension, placing and operating elevated water streams, and salvage. The type and order of the duties performed at an incident depends on the type of incident and the emergency situation at hand. However, in all cases, the safety of the crew members and any victims is the first priority at any incident. Ladder companies also provide immediate life support and supply additional staff to assist paramedics during EMS incidents, as necessary.
Fire Company Activities
In addition to responding to emergency incidents, extensive preparation, training, and community outreach is required to meet the challenges of a modern and growing city like the City of Madison. Below is a sampling of activities a company goes through each week.
- Inspection: Crews work with the Fire Prevention Unit in the inspection of businesses and apartment buildings to help eliminate fire hazards and to acquaint the firefighters with the general layout of buildings in the event a fire should occur.
- Drills: Each week, drills are conducted on firefighting operations. Drills are essential in keeping firefighter skills at the highest level of readiness. Drills include ladder work, pump operations, breathing apparatus, hose layouts, rescue techniques, emergency medical care, practice fires, and much more.
- Apparatus Maintenance: Apparatus maintenance is the continuous task of preparing fire apparatus and equipment to operate under the most adverse conditions. Inspection, cleaning, and preventative maintenance are performed daily.
- Post Incident Analysis: These involve in-depth discussions of previous fires and operations, the problems that may have occurred, and suggestions for improvement.
- Classes: During class periods, subjects for discussion range from the hazards of fire gases and chemicals to building construction. Many specialized classes dealing with fire suppression tactics, hazardous materials, emergency medical techniques, etc., are scheduled throughout the year.
- Pre-Fire Plan: A pre-fire plan involves developing the familiarity with the characteristics of a building or a business that is vital in a firefighting operation, Such characteristics include layout, content, electrical panels, sprinkler systems, standpipe location and operation, stairways, elevators, exits, false ceilings, and any special hazards that may be present.
- Community Education: In conjunction with the Community Education Unit, fire companies visit classrooms at daycares, preschools, grade schools, middle schools, and high schools to present fire safety information. They participate in community activities such as Safety Saturday and Fire Prevention Week. They conduct station tours to groups such as preschools and the Cub Scouts. All the firefighters are active in fire prevention throughout the community.