Fire Fighting in Canada

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Back to Basics: August 2009

There are many terms associated with fire service operations. One of those terms is truck company operations. What does this mean? In the Canadian fire service we rarely use this term but we involve ourselves with the operations that are associated with it.

July 27, 2009 
By Mark van der Feyst

There are many terms associated with fire service operations. One of those terms is truck company operations. What does this mean? In the Canadian fire service we rarely use this term but we involve ourselves with the operations that are associated with it. Truck companies are fire apparatus that have ground and aerial ladders but don’t have the capability to pump water. They are essentially a giant tool box on wheels. Firefighters who run on truck companies are usually seasoned veterans because of the nature of work they perform. There are 10 functions for which a truck company is responsible on the fireground:

  • Rescue;
  • Ventilation;
  • Forcible entry;
  • Reconnaissance;
  • Laddering;
  • Overhaul;
  • Elevated master streams;
  • Salvage;
  • Utility control;
  • Rapid intervention.
Photo 1: Outline of a square hole created by a Halligan tool.  
Photo 2: Preparing to pull the drywall away from the studs.  
Photo 3: A nice square opening that allows firefighters to see behind the drywall.
Photos by Mark van der Feyst


In Canada, even though we do not operate with official truck companies – we call them aerials or quints – we still perform these functions using the apparatus we do have. Every apparatus has ground ladders, equipment for rescue, equipment for salvage and overhaul and equipment for forcible entry. Quints and aerials have elevated master streams and provide elevated access.

Let’s look at the basics function of overhaul. Overhaul is often overlooked and never trained on. It is usually an afterthought at most fire ground operations. We generally associate overhaul with creating giant holes in walls and ceilings to find hidden fire. Homeowners are usually shocked when they find the interiors of their homes all opened up. I remember riding along with a fire department in Maryland to a kitchen fire. The fire was quickly knocked down and the truck company began its overhaul operations. Instead of feeling and looking for hidden fire, crew members decided to gut the entire kitchen and main floor. The homeowner was livid at the amount of damage we created for no reason except to overhaul. A firefighter friend who works  in Denver, Colo., was telling us about a captain who made his firefighters cut nice, neat, square holes with drywall saws to find the hidden fire and then made them carry all the debris outside into a neat pile. The homeowner was happy and appreciative of the care that was taken to ensure the least amount of damage was done. Square holes are easier to fix than giant holes made with Halligans or axes. The homeowner in this story was the firefighter friend of mine and it was his house.


Let’s get back to the basics of overhaul. We can make square, neat holes in walls and ceilings without having to use drywall saws. The task can be accomplished using Halligans and hooks. In photo 1, we can see an outline of a square hole created by a Halligan tool. Notice the perforation marks all the way around. These have been made with the fork end of the Halligan. This provides a template for the drywall to be pulled off in a square pattern. In photo 2, we are ready to pull the drywall away from the studs. The firefighter uses the adz end of the Halligan to pry the drywall away from the studs. The result is seen in photo 3 – a nice square opening allowing us to see behind the drywall. Another option is to use a hook to create a perforated outline in the wall. When the outline is complete, one end of the hook can be used to pull the perforated section away from the studs. These actions can be duplicated on ceilings.

We still need to use our other tools such as thermal imaging cameras and heat guns and our own sense of touch to determine where holes need to be created. Arbitrarily opening up walls and ceilings near a fire area will not suffice. We need to ensure that there is heat behind the wall before we open it up. Thermal cameras and heat guns are great tools for determining heat buildup behind walls and ceilings. Using your hand to touch and feel the wall works too.

So why is it important to use these simple techniques when conducting overhaul? First, it helps with our customer service. If homeowners see us taking time and effort to care for their homes by creating nice, square openings where needed, they will appreciate the fire service more. This kind of attention to detail is less intrusive than demolishing the entire kitchen and main floor for a small kitchen fire and   it helps with the fire investigation. Many investigators say the worst thing to do is take away all the drywall. If it has to be done, then so be it, but if it can be avoided, the debris will aid in the investigation. Burn patterns on walls and ceilings tell a story and point the investigator to the cause and origin of the fire. No walls or ceilings means no story for the investigator.

Whenever a chance arises to use an acquired structure for training, practise this technique and become familiar with it. If no access to acquired structures is available, then build a wall prop four feet high, eight feet long and nail sheets of drywall to it. The more we practice these basic techniques, the more we will increase our mastery of skills. 

Mark van der Feyst is a 10-year veteran of the fire service. He currently works for the City of Woodstock Fire Department. Mark is an international instructor teaching in Canada and the U.S. He is local level suppression instructor for the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy and an Instructor for the Justice Institute of BC. He can be contacted at

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