Just recently at a two-alarm fire, firefighters from the Virginia Beach (VA) Fire Department faced the challenge of trying to get a pair of huge platform trucks into a small parking lot that surrounded a condominium complex. As the apparatus approached the court, a firefighter jumped out, fired up a chain saw, and cut a wooden signpost at the corner level with the ground. This allowed the heavy apparatus to position in a more advantageous manner.


Note how far the apparatus had to travel up onto the grass (indicated by tire tracks) for an advantageous position.(Photos by author.)

Consider these tips at your next daily drill. Aerial apparatus should arrive on the fire scene in a slow, controlled manner. The driver and officer should be looking for overhead wires, pedestrians, and any other obstructions as they arrive. Remember your outriggers’ reach and how much room is required to deploy them.

  • Note all occupancies with potential positioning problems. Identify all the apartment/condominium complexes, commercial/industrial occupancies, and other sites in your first-due area that present very difficult access problems for heavy apparatus.
  • Prepare site maps of such occupancies, and keep them on the apparatus. Prepare maps of these complexes, and keep them in a book on each apparatus in your station. Send a copy to the assisting companies. Be sure to indicate compass directions (north, south, east, west), each apartment number, the main office with regular and after-hours contact phone numbers, number of floors, elevations, good and bad access areas, hydrants, overhead wires, underlying lawn sprinkler piping, sidewalks, soft ground (where apparatus could get bogged down), and any other relevant information.
  • Identify the tools needed to deal with potential obstructions. What kinds of obstructions can you expect at a particular site-signposts, shrubbery, and so forth? What type of blade would you use for a metal vs. a wooden signpost? Do you have the blades needed for the different materials you may encounter?
  • Determine whether close access is needed in a particular situation. Before you commit, consider whether it is necessary to get the apparatus into that court if it is not a working fire. Avoid causing unnecessary damage at the site if not absolutely necessary (e.g., underlying lawn sprinkler piping and sidewalks).


As a practical drill, using a stopwatch, have the truck company drive the apparatus around the station and stop in a predetermined area, marked with a traffic cone, and have each firefighter do the following for the best time:

  1. Step off the truck.
  2. Don full PPE (helmet, gloves, SCBA, and eye protection).
  3. Remove a chain saw or circular saw from a compartment.
  4. Walk 10 feet in front of the truck.
  5. Start/stop the chain saw.

Cutting down the sign allowed these two valuable pieces of apparatus to get closer to the fire scene.

This demonstrates how quickly firefighters can respond and adjust to a situation in which gaining access to a court is required but access is blocked by a signpost or another obstruction blocking the apparatus. It could be a small tree or even a tree blown down by high winds or an ice storm. When cutting trees, watch for overhead wires. Scene safety is always your first consideration.

MARTIN C. GRUBE is a 23-year veteran of the Virginia Beach (VA) Fire Department currently assigned to Ladder 11. He is a master firefighter, a Virginia-certified trainer, and the department historian and photographer.

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