Positioning Aerial Apparatus On The Fire Scene: Part 1

Michael A. Wieder discusses the placement of aerial apparatus on the fireground. Safety considerations and common hazards are addressed for the apparatus operator.


For several years now, my good friend Michael Wilbur has done an outstanding job of educating the readers of this magazine on the topic of emergency vehicle driving. Obviously, one of the most basic tenets of effective fireground operations is to actually make it to the scene … in one piece...


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Another spotting consideration is whether the aerial device is designed to be operated in either an unsupported (cantilever) or a supported (resting on a wall) position. Follow the manufacturer's recommendations for either condition. If the manufacturer recommends that its device be operated in a supported position, realize that the loading or the amount of extension must be reduced for low angles of elevation during unsupported operations. The maximum loading for any unsupported aerial device occurs when operated at angles between 70 degrees and 80 degrees from horizontal.

The amount of extension affects aerial device stress. As extension increases, aerial loading must decrease. Aerials operating at a low angle of elevation and at long extensions are at their weakest operational position. This type of operating position should be avoided if at all possible. This can be done by spotting the apparatus as close to the intended target as safely possible.

The driver/operator must be familiar with the load limitations of the aerial device when flowing water and when not flowing water. Equally as important is knowing the range of motion that is acceptable for the aerial device under both conditions.

Fire Building Conditions

The condition of the fire building, as well as other building-related concerns, must be considered when positioning the apparatus. Buildings that have been subjected to extensive fire damage or buildings in poor condition before the incidence of fire may be subject to sudden collapse. For this reason, apparatus should be parked far enough away so that they will not be in the collapse zone should a collapse occur. The collapse zone should be at least equal to 1 1/2 times the height of the building.

Realize also that even if the apparatus is not struck by falling debris that it may be subjected to higher levels of radiant heat and smoke following a collapse. This must also be considered when spotting the apparatus. In many cases, the aerial apparatus is the most expensive exposure on the fireground. Keep this in mind when positioning the apparatus. It makes little sense to damage a $500,000 piece of apparatus while fighting a fire in a $15,000 garage.

There are many indicators that a building may become unstable. Signs that a serious exterior collapse may occur include: bulging walls; sagging roofs; large cracks in the exterior; falling bricks, blocks or mortar; and interior collapses. Pre-incident planning aids in identifying buildings with a serious potential for collapse. Buildings that are old and poorly maintained should be targeted. The presence of ornamental stars or large bolts with washers at various intervals on exterior masonry walls indicates that reinforcement ties are in place to hold together otherwise unstable walls.

The intensity of the fire also dictates apparatus placement. Large hot fires require the apparatus to be spotted farther away from the fire building. Consideration must also be given to the fire's potential growth. If the fire has the potential to grow or spread to exposures, the apparatus must be placed so that it is not trapped by the advancing fire. Always leave a way out. Avoid making the apparatus an exposure hazard itself. If the apparatus is to be positioned in a dead-end access, back the apparatus into position if possible. This will make an escape faster if it becomes necessary.

Another consideration for spotting apparatus is the debris that can fall from the fire building. This is of particular concern at high-rise fire incidents. Large pieces of glass, roof-mounted signs, steel gates and other debris may be falling from many stories above street level. This can pose a serious hazard to personnel operating off the apparatus and to the apparatus itself. In these situations, the apparatus should be spotted away from the area in which debris is falling, and all personnel should be kept safe of the falling debris zone.

Conclusion

There are myriad considerations for the driver/operator when determining the best spot on the fireground to park and aerial apparatus. This article only covers part of them.

In our next installment we will look at the tactical considerations that affect aerial apparatus placement on the fire scene.


Michael A. Wieder, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is the Manager of IFSTA Projects at Fire Protection Publications in Stillwater, OK. He holds several undergraduate and graduate degrees in fire protection, safety and adult education. Wieder is the author of the recently released IFSTA Aerial Apparatus Driver/Operator Handbook.