Firefighting Basics: Positioning Fire Apparatus, Part 2

Driving warning display on rear of fire apparratus

Photo by author

In a previous column we looked at the importance of positioning our fire apparatus so that firefighters can pulled ground ladders, portable water tanks, and other equipment being off the rig without any hindrance. We also highlighted the importance of positioning the apparatus when arriving on scene and pulling past the address for size-up and logistics purposes. The front of the building can be kept open for the aerial device while the engine or pumper can be located just past it.

In this column, we are going to continue our look at this topic by exploring the roadway and how we need to protect ourselves while working on it. A good number of our emergency response calls take place on the highway or roadways of our response areas. These highways are an extremely dangerous place to work as other moving vehicles become the main hazard.


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We read about too many instances of firefighters being injured and or killed while working on a highway at a motor vehicle accident or some other type of emergency taking place on the roadway. Often these incidents occur because other drivers are not paying attention to what is going on in front of them, are being distracted by mobile devices, are intoxicated, or because of just plain stupidity. The fire service has taken a proactive approach to protect the firefighters by using the fire apparatus as a defensive measure. Other items that may also be considered and enacted:

  1. Never trust the traffic.
  2. Wear high visibility reflective vests.
  3. Reduce motorists’ vision impairment by turning off headlights that face approaching traffic.
  4. Use traffic cones and flares whenever possible.
  5. Leave red emergency lights on in accordance with the Local Highway Traffic Act.
  6. Add blue emergency flashing lights on the apparatus.

Most fire departments will send a minimum two fire apparatus to respond to an emergency on a roadway with the idea of using one of the fire apparatus as a blocker truck. This blocker truck is going to be located a ways back from the incident (roughly 100 feet or 30 meters away) so as to provide an isolation zone for the work area and also as a way to deflect any vehicle that may impede onto the emergency scene. This blocker truck is the barricade between the incident work area and the hazardous roadway.

The blocker truck will be positioned on a 45-degree angle so that it can deflect traffic around the incident scene. Depending on the situation and circumstances, the blocker truck may have to completely block off the entire roadway and make traffic come to a complete stop. This is not the desired solution with the police, but for the fire service, it is the desired approach.

The space in-between the blocker truck and the work area also allow for other responding vehicles such as ambulances, police, other fire apparatus to pull in and be protected as well. When an intersection is being dealt with, the blocker truck can be positioned to direct traffic around the incident scene while still providing protection for the workers. More than one blocker truck may have to be used depending on how large an intersection you are dealing with. Police can also be used to help with this matter so long as they are willing to cooperate with the request from the incident commander; otherwise, defaulting to the use of fire department vehicles will be best.


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When dealing with a prolonged event or incident, the use of “roads department” trucks can be beneficial. These large trucks are outfitted with rear collision bumper systems, warning lights, and traffic direction indicator lights. They can warn the oncoming traffic of the need to merge either left or right and compel drivers to slow down. They are a great asset for operations on any high-speed highway.  

Most fire apparatus today are outfitted with high-visibility reflective chevron markings on the rear of the truck as well as traffic direction indicator light bars. These two safety devices are a proven asset for the protection of the firefighter while on the roadway, as they can get the attention of the driver and warn them of the situation that lies ahead.       

If there is no access to a second fire apparatus to use as a blocker truck, then the use of flares and cones is your best choice. There are many different types and styles of traffic cones available on the market that have a useful purpose, but make sure you get the ones that work best for you. High visibility is the key aspect here and sometimes traffic cones do not always offer this. Combining traffic cones with strobe lights or other flashing devices is a good way to achieve high visibility.

When placing cones or flares out on the roadway, it is recommended to follow suggested guidelines or local applicable regulations for distances placed. This will be based on the speed limit of the specified roadway. Listed below is a chart showing the recommended starting point for traffic cones or flares. 

Speed Distance
25 mph 65 feet
40 mph 105 feet
60 mph 160 feet

Parking the fire apparatus too close to the edge of the roadway or too close to the emergency scene can sometimes hinder our ability to operate. When the roadway has a steep drop on the shoulder, parking the apparatus too close to the edge will limit our access to the equipment on that one side. When we park too close into the scene, we sometimes become a part of the scene, such as in the event of becoming caught in a sinkhole in the roadway.

When arriving at the scene of a motor vehicle accident, make sure to block off the opposing or directional traffic for the protection of the firefighters working at the scene.

Mark van der Feyst

Mark van der Feyst has been in the fire service since 1999 and is a full-time firefighter in Ontario, Canada. He is an international instructor teaching in Canada, the United States, and India, and at FDIC. Van der Feyst is a local level suppression instructor for the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy. He is also the lead author of Residential Fire Rescue (Fire Engineering Books & Video).


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