Online Exclusive

Company Level Training: Aerial Ladder Placement

My suggestion is to find the different types of construction that you could run into where engine and truck positioning plays a major role take the time to train on the tactics.

I don't think that there is a more subjective topic than apparatus positioning. There are a few hard and fast rules, but for the most part there are going to be multiple opinions about apparatus positioning at any scenario, especially when it comes to the truck.

We all know that the first-on engine should pull past the fire, trying to provide a three-sided look for the officer. Of course this would not apply to a set of block long, three-story row houses in Baltimore. When it concerns your typical one- and two-story residential buildings, that three-sided look is a valuable tool.

Without trying to create a debate on this subject, I am going to try to focus more on how to train on this subject. The first step is to come up with some of the different construction types you have in your first alarm response area. Do you have any three-story apartments? What about any large, tilt-wall buildings? Do you have any of those dreaded multi-story row houses? What about any high-rises?

My suggestion is to find the different types of construction that you could run into where engine and truck positioning plays a major role and make contact with the building representative. Explain to them what you want to do and get permission to ladder their building. Once you have their permission and have set up a time to use their building, your next step will be to come up with some different scenarios for your guys to work out. Be prepared for some spirited debate.

The most common building type that we have in our first alarm territory, where the position of the ladder comes into play is two- and three-story apartment buildings. I made contact with the management of a three-story apartment complex and explained to them what we wanted to do and why. They were more than willing to help us out. I told them that we were not going to be getting on the roof or going to be making contact with their buildings. They were able to show us the buildings within the complex that had vacant units on the third floor. That way when we set the aerial to either the third floor balcony or window we would not have some sleepy-eyed resident waking up and opening their window blinds expecting a nice morning view and instead seeing some ugly firefighter staring them in the eye at their third floor level. Talk about a tough way to wake up.

We arrived at the complex on the morning that we had agreed on and checked in with the manager. They provided us with three different buildings that had vacant units on the third floor. With the vacant units having different locations at each building I was able to come up with different scenarios. I had a different driver or firefighter at the controls of the turntable for each scenario. It was their decision as to where to park and then where to set the aerial. I would then have discussions with the other guys on the rigs as to what they would have done. We set the aerial to balconies, windows and the roof.

Some scenarios were rescue situations, others were for defensive fire operations. Every scenario led to differing opinions. The benefit was that we were able to pre-fire plan this particular apartment complex. We were also able to come up with multiple ways to position the aerial and engine. The discussions were always spirited. Good information came from all of them.

Some of the fast and hard rules that we came up with for our construction was that positioning the truck at the corners not only provided the most protection from a collapse situation but also provided the most coverage. We were able to facilitate rescues and transition into a defensive firefighting stance from the corner position.

I agree that apparatus positioning can make or break a scene. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to reposition once you are set. With units coming in behind you and supply lines being laid, once you are set, you are there for the duration. Slowing down and giving some thought, as difficult as I know that is in reality, will provide you with some valuable time to make a decision that can steer your scene down the road to success.

Like with almost everything that I write about, you need to get out and use a hands-on approach to your training. You can draw the prettiest pictures in the world on your dry erase board in the station and it will not compare to getting out at a real site in your territory and making your crew think and make decisions on the fly. Actually setting the aerial to a window or parking the engine for the best attack on the fire is infinitely better than sitting in the station.

When the weather is nasty, making up a scenario using actual territory works better than nothing. To make that type of training even better, try pulling up Google Maps. Now you can use a real overhead satellite photo that has the proper dimensions, for your scenario. That will help add some realism to your training, and that is what it is all about.

Please send any ideas for future training drills, or suggested improvements and variations on this drill, to my e-mail: You and your department will receive credit for any ideas used in future articles.

LARRY MANASCO, a Contributing Editor, is a captain with the Fort Worth, TX, Fire Department. He was an assistant instructor for FDNY Battalion Chief Salka's "Get Out Alive" hands-on training class. He has participated in the Training & Tactics Talks podcasts on To read Larry's complete biography and view his archived articles, click here. You can reach Larry by e-mail at