P2 ~ Fire Apparatus: Positioning Apparatus for Maximum Efficiency and Safety

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Aerial Reach

Aerial reach is also an important consideration. The two common types of aerials are the mid-ship and the rear-mount ladder, or platform, which are manufactured in a variety of configurations. Articulating booms are also available, but they are not addressed in this article. Determine what part of the building your aerial can reach and scrub. Aerial reach is generally rated and advertised as the maximum vertical reach at the 75° climbing angle.

Per IFSTA’s Aerial Apparatus, the acronym RECEO stands for Rescue, Exposures, Confinement, Extinguish, and Overhaul, all of which are fireground priorities. An aerial arriving at a fire should be used to support the operation. Overall strategy and tactics at every structure fire should include proper placement and use of the aerial. Preplanning and SOPs must include the key concepts of aerial placement and operation based on occupancy and construction type.

Regardless of the arrival order, each unit, not just the truck, needs to be positioned with consideration for the other. The first-arriving units of departments that do not have an aerial responding on the initial alarm must consider aerial placement; otherwise, an aerial requested later may not be able to access the fire.

Arrival order should also dictate the tasks or functions the crew will perform. For the aerial to support the tasks, it must be properly positioned. The first-arriving aerial should be positioned for rescue. If rescue is not an issue because the fire is too far advanced and the IC is operating in a defensive mode, focus aerial placement on aerial stream deployment and exposure protection, with the aerial outside the collapse zone. In many cases, a pumper is the first unit to arrive and go to work. Unless SOPs dictate otherwise, it is common for the pumper to arrive just ahead of the aerial, even when both units respond at the same time from the same quarters.

Commercial Structures: Strip Malls

Many single-story strip malls extend horizontally for hundreds of feet. Newer strip malls tend to have extremely tall parapets on the front or false storefronts. In these situations, position the aerial to cover two sides of the building so firefighters can access the roof safely and, if needed, can put a master stream in service rather quickly.

There is a tendency for both newer and older strip malls to have a traffic lane immediately in front of the stores. This can cause firefighters and officers to position the aerial too close and within the collapse zone. It’s always a good idea to position 1½ times the height of the building to ensure your unit is out of the collapse zone. It can also trap apparatus and prevent repositioning because of fleeing customers and their private autos attempting to leave the parking area.

Preplanning by first-due companies should focus on where companies should position to meet their needs while in a safe location. Older strip malls may have limited parking in the front and may be relatively close to the street. In these cases, it may be best to have the aerial (and perhaps the engine) position on the street, provided the aerial can reach the structure. Again, preplanning is key.

The success of the first-arriving truck company is contingent on a number of factors: The crew should be properly equipped, well trained, and adequately staffed and should respond using the safest and most efficient path of travel from the station to the incident scene. From there, the initial spotting of the apparatus is a critical point in the company’s capabilities to carry out the four primary truck company functions on arrival: primary search, rescue, ventilation, and forcible entry. Allowing the proper access to the best vantage point for the truck will assist in these functions.

Additional Arriving Nonsuppression Units

Every fireground scene will require a certain number of suppression units, but what about the nonsuppression units such as chief officers, rescue units (medical ambulances), and the squad? These units are mostly support units, but they play an important role on the fireground. When positioning comes to mind, spot these support units in a safe position that will provide the most effective treatment of fire victims and firefighting personnel while not blocking the movement of other apparatus or interfering with firefighting operations.

Rescue units must also provide for ambulance access to the treatment area in situations involving patient transportation. Position command vehicles to allow the IC the maximum visibility of the fire building and surrounding area and the general effect of the companies operating on the fire. The command vehicle position should be easy and logical to find and should not restrict the movement of other apparatus.

Unfortunately, police vehicles often end up where we don’t want them. In Fort Lauderdale, they usually are the first to arrive. Often, they restrict our access or block a hydrant. This is just another hindrance we have to deal with when operating on the fireground.

The above is not intended to change what is working for you but to provide additional thoughts on establishing and delivering water. It all comes down to the best way to provide an efficient, effective, and safe supply of moving water in your jurisdiction.

Placement for Motor Vehicle Accidents

When placing apparatus for motor vehicle accidents, you must seriously consider firefighter safety. Every year, firefighters are injured and killed while operating at vehicle accidents and fires on public roadways. Several placement methods can help avoid such tragedies. They include diagonally blocking lanes with apparatus and having the police stop all traffic until the scene has been stabilized. We don’t need cars driving by at 50 miles per hour as we try to extinguish a vehicle fire on the side of the road. In today’s technology-driven society, many motorists are on their phones, texting while driving, and taking photos as they approach the accident scene. Most are not paying attention to what they are doing and they end up causing an additional accident that could have been avoided. Don’t rely solely on warning lights and traffic directing arrows. Some drivers are drawn to all the excitement.

One theory proposes positioning the apparatus at an angle toward the middle (left side) of the highway (Figure 1). The best reason is that the direction in which the truck is pointing supposedly tells the motorists the direction in which we want them to merge when they go around the scene. We can then put all our road rescue tools on the side of the accident where they are safely accessible. The apparatus, in turn, will be a barrier between oncoming traffic and the crews working on scene. Finally, driving away when clearing is usually easier for the operator. Most roads are open with shoulders and medians unless you are working on a major highway.

Figure 1. Positioning Apparatus for Safety on a Roadway
Figure 1

Your crew on scene is your first priority. The patients and other traffic are secondary. Park to protect your crew; point away from the scene, and use caution when dismounting. The pump operator needs to use caution when working at the panel. If someone hits the apparatus, the damage is more recoverable than if they hit you or another firefighter working on scene.

Whenever possible, try to angle your rig to prevent personnel from exiting the apparatus with exposure to the traffic lane. The number of lanes and whether the accident is in the center divider, off to the shoulder, or in the middle of the highway dictate whether you have to close the highway and divert traffic.

In Fort Lauderdale, we will take an extra lane if it means more protection for our crews working on scene. A typical response profile on vehicle extrications will bring two additional engines and a ladder company. The additional units will position themselves on scene to block fire working crews from the flow of traffic.

No accident is worth a firefighter’s getting hurt or killed. Engine companies weigh a lot. Let the drunk driver hit the back of your engine instead of you, the involved vehicles, the ambulance, or the patrol car. Use your engine to protect yourself.

Positioning fire apparatus at the emergency scene is not difficult, but it does take some common sense and experience. You must consider the current situation on scene, what is needed immediately, and what will happen as the scene progresses. Making a positioning mistake with your company can severely delay your ability and that of additional apparatus to perform. This can create ongoing difficulties at an emergency scene. To avoid these and other issues, take some time with your crew to walk the target hazards in your area, preplan your first- and second-due territories, and talk with other experienced engineers about the most effective operating locations.


Gustin, Bill, “Positioning Apparatus for Maximum Efficiency and Safety,” Fire Engineering, February 2010.

“Apparatus Operations,” Homewood (FL) Fire Department standard operating procedure, Aug. 1, 2002.

Robertson, Homer, “Proper Aerial Placement on the Fire Ground,” FireRescue, 3/21/13.

Norman, John, Fire Officer’s Handbook of Tactics. Fire Engineering Oct. 1, 2004.

Mark Rossi, a 14-year veteran of the fire service, is the driver/engineer on Engine 8 assigned to A-shift in the Fort Lauderdale (FL) Fire Department, where he has served for the past nine years. He is a fire instructor for Coral Springs Fire Academy, teaching driver-engineer and hydraulics, firefighter survival, minimum standards, and live fire training. He has a bachelor’s degree in finance and a master’s degree in business from the University of Florida. He is pursuing a Ph.D. in emergency management.

Additional Links

Firefighter Training Drill: Outside-the-Box Apparatus Positioning

Positioning Apparatus for Maximum Efficiency and Safety


Positioning Aerial Apparatus When You’re Not First Due

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