BY MICHAEL J. LOPINA
Whether responding to an automatic alarm or a working structure fire, proper positioning of apparatus is critical. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a rural fire department or the busiest company in New York City. Getting the apparatus in the right place is critical to the overall success of the operation, and this cannot be stressed enough.
If vertical ventilation off an aerial ladder is needed but the truck is parked a block away, how is it going to be done? If a tanker shuttle is needed for rural operations, and if an ambulance or an engine that isn’t committed is blocking the only road to the fire structure, how are the tankers going to get their water in? Sometimes even the busiest companies make mistakes. The point is, you don’t have to be a large department to do a top-notch job when it comes to apparatus placement.
With adequate training and education, all responders can look like they position apparatus all the time and know what they’re doing. The trick is to evaluate the mission of the apparatus and to put the truck where it needs to be the first time without having to move it because it was placed in a bad spot originally.
Staging is one of the most overlooked aspects of response. What does it mean? It means placing yourself in a position to react and properly place your vehicle when it is needed. Just pulling up to a scene helter-skelter with apparatus bunched up doesn’t do anything to ensure a successful outcome of the incident. The first-in company usually takes a position near the point of entry for attack or investigation. Subsequent responding vehicles take positions close enough to get into place quickly but far enough away to not be caught in any one particular area where it might not be able to function appropriately. You should practice proper staging and vehicle placement on every call so that you automatically stage appropriately on arriving at the incident scene.
COMMITTING TO A SCENE
Once it is determined that there is a fire (or whatever the incident), companies can be assigned to take the best position for the job to be done. The incident commander, even if it is the company officer of the first-arriving unit, should assign the units to eliminate freelancing.
First, let’s look at a typical urban/suburban response to a structure fire. In most cases, it is at least two engines and a truck or squad company. The first engine takes a position just past the front of the building, allowing the truck company access (see Figure 1).
The next engine either stages out of the way or backs down to allow for an alternative water supply. This is particularly important in restricted access areas or narrow streets so as not to bunch up apparatus and render them useless. If dealing with a multifamily or mid-rise structure, it is important to leave room for any additional aerial apparatus that may be responding, should their ground ladders or aerials be needed. On one-way streets, it is essential that all apparatus follow the direction of travel. For narrow-access streets, the first-arriving company must give the direction of travel so that subsequent companies will know to follow in the same direction or that one direction is blocked by that first company (see Figure 2).
On rural responses, access to the fire may be limited to small farm roads or long, narrow driveways leading to the building. In this case, you must leave room for the tankers responding. They will need room to dump and return to the fill site as quickly as possible. Usually, the best way to do this is to have the attack pumper take a position off the main road in such a way as to facilitate fire attack but also allowing for quick water dumping by the tankers (see Figure 3). If the rural operations also include the use of aerial apparatus, extra care will be needed to allow the truck company access.
There is no one answer to every situation. All we can do is our best and return safely. There are, however, things we can do to make the operation go as smoothly as possible as often as possible. Studying and practicing proper staging and positioning will go a long way toward helping to ensure a positive outcome. As with most things in the fire service, practicing the way you play and playing the way you practice hold true here, too. Remember also that you are only as strong as your weakest link. Unfortunately, staging and positioning constitute the weakest link for many departments!
MICHAEL J. LOPINA, a 12-year veteran of the fire service, is a career firefighter/paramedic with the Lockport Township (IL) Fire District. He is an Illinois state certified Fire Officer II, Firefighter III, and Instructor III.