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.
There is a simple, basic and easily remembered acronym you can use to set your positioning right, the first time. I know, I know you must be thinking, just what the fire service needs, another acronym. But think this one out: S. L. O. W. That's right, SLOW is the acronym you need to help proper positioning every time.
First, the S. That easy, S for SLOW.
Second, the L which stands for LADDERS HAVE PRIORITY. Not just the aerial, but the ground ladders as well. In this day of limited staffing on our ladder companies, giving ladders priority on the fireground makes everything work better, not to mention safer.
Third, the O that stands for OBSERVE ALL CONDITIONS. Be observant of all the conditions while you approach the fireground. Not just the fire itself, but exposures, vehicles blocking egress, power lines, falling debris, and most of all, the collapse zone. Remember to get out of the rig!
Last, the W which stands for water supply. Where is the best for this fire? Not the closest necessarily, but the one which allows you to leave the fire front of the structure open for the truck.
There, that's pretty easy, even for firefighters. SLOW. Think SLOW when you get close next time and I'm sure you will find it allows for more efficient positioning.
Let's review some of the basics:
Single Family dwelling: position well past the involved structure, looking at as many sides as possible on the approach. If you are stopping to lay out, and the truck is close, let them go by and get the best position. This will have to be pre-planned so both officers can anticipate this maneuver. One note of caution, don't let the truck officer give an on-scene report. It only allows for confusion to the next arriving engine, they will assume you have not arrived and could possibly think they need to take the first arriving position. Again, simple. But don't just position well past, pull over to the side, in another driveway, on the grass, whatever it takes. Just leave the road as open as possible for the truck.
Townhouse/Garden apartments: Probably the call we have to pay the most attention on, the problem here is usually parked cars and narrow driving aisles. Again, position to take advantage of the best water supply, maybe not the closest. There needs to be room at the front and rear for trucks here. That's why we have those leader lines, remember them? When was the last time your company trained on deploying and advancing this line?
Strip Malls: For the engine company, positioning at these calls requires the most discipline. It is critical on these structures to position in the parking aisles, well away from the front driving area. With the parked cars and narrow alleys, there is little room for error. Obtaining a water supply for these is a challenge also. Typically having the next in engine reverse lay to the hydrant after dropping a line at the entrance to where you are parked will be the most efficient or if the water is near the front driving area, use two three-inch lines instead of the soft sleeve. For the third arriving engines, don't just pull down the rear alley, stop well short, at least until the truck and/or rescue company gets positioned.
High rise: This one is a no-brainer. Park away from the building, everyone gets dressed (Yes, make sure your driver remembers how!) and go on in. Just be sure you don't park too far away, you really need to conserve your energy for this one. BUT, leave all access to the immediate driving area around the building open.
Positioning should be a part of every tactics drill. Concentrate on the first two engines and the first truck. Unless this is a commercial fire, most every vehicle after that is a transport. Leave them as far away as functional. Rescue Squads, Ambulances, other engines, canteens (well?.) park them away.
This is not a new subject, it usually gets lumped in with size-up or hose line placement, but it is really a stand-alone function on the fireground. The one that will set the tone for the incident, good or bad.
You only get one opportunity to place them right, after that you are committed. Good or bad, positioning will dictate your fireground.