Positioning, it sounds simple enough. Take the most advantageous position to attack the fire. There are multitudes of do's and don't regarding this most simple and yet most often misapplied function on the fireground. Of all the things officers make decisions about, positioning can make or break the scene. It is the one thing that is nearly impossible to fix if done wrong to start with.
Most manuals and textbooks written about fireground operations state size-up starts at the receipt of alarm. But how many of you think more than two seconds about positioning? Just get out of the way of the Truck Company, (If even that!) Sure, making way for the truck is important, but getting the engine positioned in the right place will enable you to attack the fire more efficiently, provide for safer operations, and perhaps most important, allow you to perform the tactics necessary for quick extinguishment of the fire. Every thing else can go to hell on the fireground, but the bottom line is, quick and efficient engine company operations (PUT OUT THE FIRE!) will make all other problems go away.
1500 hours, the radio reports state a neighbor is reporting smoke coming out of the front door of the townhouse down the street. As you look up the street, locate the hydrant, get on the right radio channel, fumble with the seat belt, and try to get completely buttoned up, are you thinking of positioning? You should be, notice the relationship of the hydrant to the address. Is it actually too close? Locate the next one; it might afford more room to operate the truck. Can you take your own water? Only if it does not block the street for everyone else! Sounds simple, but you have to really be aware or else your driver will make their own decision, all they are worried about is getting water right? They should be, but if you have drilled and table-toped this situation, your driver will know if they want to take their own water, consider using the side intakes with two three inch lines. Another simple solution to making room, but when was the last time you and your crew tried it? That should be the next drill. Okay, back to the townhouse, if the unit involved at the dead end of a court what should your position be? Don't try to pull up as far as possible, don't pull in at all! Stop well short; let the truck have the entire street to operate. We carry plenty of hose to reach.
Just make sure you pull over far enough, maybe you have to turn down the adjoining court, whatever is necessary; just don't block out the egress for the truck on this one.
Okay, I'm sure your thinking this is way too basic, right? But think about it; think of the last fireground you operated on. How could the positioning have been better? More than likely, the fire arriving engine took a position dictated by the nearest hydrant. Again, the nearest hydrant in a lot of cases is not the best one. An extra half-second to locate the best one in regards to positioning will pay off huge in efficiency.
There are many traditions in the fire service, traditions, sayings, folktales, dos, don'ts etc. While I believe in experience and tradition as much or more than the next person, there is one old saying (and a tradition) that needs to be forgotten. The one that insists you have to drive by each fire as you position, allowing the officer to "see" three sides on approach. I ask you, what the hell can you see through the windows of today's engines? Very little, compared to years ago. This saying came from the days of the open cab, passed down to us from old veteran officers that wouldn't use today's seat belt, much less try the MCT. While there are times you can drive by and see, the best thing to do is GET OUT OF THE RIG! When you stop to layout, when you stop to let the truck go by (Imagine that!) GET OUT, walk around, get a clear view.