Engine companies respond to routine fires involving brush, outside rubbish, and automobiles on a daily basis. Generally, such incidents are minor in nature and require only a single-company response to control. Compared with structure tires, there may be fewer dangers involved. However, when these fires occur on or alongside a roadway, a great danger often is overlooked or underestimated: traffic.

Vehicle traffic can be very unpredictable, particularly where an emergency incident is involved. Drivers delayed in traffic behind a fire incident may grow impatient and try to go around—or squeeze by—the apparatus. Others will be rubbernecking and will not notice firefighters operating in their vicinity. High speeds increase the dangers. Likewise for operations at dawn, dusk, after dark, or in inclement weather.

At such incidents, keep in mind that members may be most at risk when they are in close proximity to the apparatus. Many firefighters have been struck by passing vehicles while returning to the engine to retrieve a tool, packing hose at the back step, or even stepping off the apparatus on arrival at the scene. Thus, members must be trained to Ux>k before stepping off the engine and to be especially cautious when working around it.

Photo by Thomas K. Wanstall.

.As king as traffic is moving, there is danger to operating firefighters. Every effort should be made by the officer on the scene to provide a traffic-free environment in which firefighters can operate safely.


Whenever the fire is on a busy avenue or highway, it is a gtxxi practice to call the police to provide traffic control. They are trained to block off streets and reroute traffic around the incident. At structure fires where the streets are congested with apparatus and hose, the police routinely are notified by the chief officer early in the incident. At single-company responses, the company officer can request them just as easily. The police often are busy with priority calls of their own, however, and are not always readily available. When they are delayed, deploy a trained firelighter to direct traffic and place flares, if manpower permits. Unfortunately, it often does not.

Another option is to dispatch a second fire company whose primary purpose will be to block off the portion of the roadway on which operations are taking place. Circumstances will dictate from which direction the second company should approach the scene. In many cases, trafficconditions will make it easier to respond from the direction opposite that from which the first-arriving units came. The second unit should locate one block from the incident at an intersection so that it can divert traffic. Once traffic has been halted in both directions, members can operate safely. The flow of traffic should not be resumed until operations are complete and companies have taken up.

The decision to send a truck or engine company as the “block” depends on the width of the road (a truck has a greater blocking span) and the situational needs: A truck would be helpful if forcible entry and overhaul assistance were required; a second engine company could provide an additional source of water should the first pumper use up its tank water. At incidents on multilane freeways, flares should be used and a two-company response should be automatic.


Use apparatus placement to your advantage. Begin by locating the apparatus a safe distance from the fire and away from smoke. This is especially important at vehicle fires, where the apparatus should be a safe distance from the vehicle. While gas tanks don’t often explode, whenever flammable vapors are present, you must always consider the possibility of an explosion. Because automobile cargo is unknown, it is a good practice not to crowd a burning vehicle.

Remember the driver/operator when you spot the apparatus. Unless the apparatus is positioned carefully, this crew member, standing in the street next to the pump panel, could be in harm’s way. Orient the pump panel away from oncoming traffic. Park the apparatus on a diagonal so it acts as a shield from oncoming traffic. This will create a traffic-free zone that protects the pump operator and crewmembers as long as they operate within it.

Followtwo simple rules when positioning the apparatus:

  • If the fire is on the opposite side of the street when you approach the scene, drive past the fire; using caution, cross into the opposite lane; and park the apparatus on a diagonal with the pump panel away from oncoming traffic.
  • If you are approaching on the sameside of the street as the fire, stop before the fire and park diagonally w-ith the pump panel away from oncoming traffic. Then stretch from the driver’s side of the apparatus, using a handline packed in a mattydale (crossbed lay) or mounted on the fender well (the flat surface above the compartments) or the front bumper, if available. Again, all members should operate within the traffic-free zone provided by the apparatus. On extinguishment, it may be advantageous in some cases to reorient the apparatus to provide more safety for members packing hose.

Remember, whenever the fire department deems it necessary to block off a thoroughfare, traffic is halted and motorists are inconvenienced. While the safety of operating forces takes precedence, you also must consider the disruption of traffic flow. Pick up tools and equipment promptly, and move the apparatus out of the way as soon as you are ready to put it back in service.

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