If the pictures that flow into the offices of Fire Engineering are accurate, the next thing to change from lesson to routine operation is the position of the aerial device at structure fires. You can always find photographic evidence of a defensive aerial stream that is forced to operate on the side of the building they stopped at when the operation was offensive-that is the one with no openings in it, usually the B or D side. If the aerial stream is able to operate from ground level and you are now forced (without openings) to operate from above and down into the inferno, you have wasted a great deal of money.

It hurts to watch as all aerial streams are operating from above the fire structure through a collapsed roof area. This operation is vital for flying firebrand control-not for aggressive defensive extinguishment. If you are concerned with flying brands to exposures, make sure you can feel the wind! If it is not above 25 miles/hour, you don’t have a brand problem. Remember, the opening the fire creates or enhances through the roof to the outside is (at the most) only one-third of the area of the fire feeding it from below. Drop the aerial streams to the horizontal openings, and move around the structure. To give a fire service spin to a famous Vince Lombardi remark, “The position of an aerial device is not everything-it’s the ONLY thing.”


There are four basic truck positions on the fireground, depending on what you are expected to do at first and what the fire makes you do. (Staging level is the fifth position.)

Aggressive Attack

Aggressive firefight is the first, most popular, and assuredly most effective and successful of our mission. Do you have the customs or rules in your department necessary to ensure that position most of the time? Is the aerial device the second piece allowed into the fire block before the second and third engines or support pieces?

Fire extension position is a secondary position for the second or additional called aerial device. Can you ensure (by communication and by size-up) what side of the fire structure that is? Are the transmissions of the initial arriving size-up sufficient for all incoming units to be able to get a mental picture of their probable commitments? (Chew on that one at drill for awhile.) What about a change in strategy? Once the command function calls for strategic attack to change to defensive, do you have the most advantageous position to “win” that attack? Be prepared to take the time to reposition. Refuse to believe that the initial position the aerial device is in now is the one that it will take up from when the overhauling is over.

Collapse consideration or preparation most assuredly has most of the apparatus that arrived in harm’s way-in the imagined collapse zone.

Defensive Attack

Two defensive attacks are available for us on the fireground. The third truck position is to be able to operate as aggressive defensive-collapse is not a major factor, and horizontal, outside penetration of aerial streams at the fire-origin floor and those then above is the goal.

The fourth truck function position is collapse defensive. Outside operations have been ordered, and collapse indicators are sufficient for command to plan for collapse of the fire structure. Move the apparatus! All of it! Rule: Once collapse is a real danger on the fireground, apparatus is NEVER in the optimum position to survive or effectively operate.

Another rule to leave you with: Up to the time of strategy change to collapse defensive, you NEVER have enough firefighters on the fireground. Once collapse is a real possibility and you change to defensive, you will always have too many firefighters on the fireground. Be sure to give them a specific assignment, or send them home!

TOM BRENNAN has more than 35 years of fire service experience. His career spans more than 20 years with the Fire Department of New York as well as four years as chief of the Waterbury (CT) Fire Department. He was the editor of Fire Engineering for eight years and currently is a technical editor. He is co-editor of The Fire Chief’s Handbook, Fifth Edition (Fire Engineering Books, 1995). He was the recipient of the 1998 Fire Engineering Lifetime Achievement Award. Brennan is featured in the video Brennan and Bruno Unplugged (Fire Engineering/FDIC, 1999). He is a regular contributor to

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