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Trainer’s Corner: Placing apparatus on scene

Placing apparatus on scene

December 7, 2007  By Ed Brouwer

edbrouwerOften, apparatus placement at the scene is limited by the order in which the responding units arrive. A late-arriving ladder truck may be blocked from a better position by an earlier-arriving apparatus. Although apparatus function should regulate placement, far too often by poor placement, we limit the options or eliminate the functions we could assign to a unit. 

The placement of all apparatus on the fireground should reflect one of the following:

  • · The standard operational procedure for first-arriving companies.
  • · A direct order from the IC.
  • · The pre-arranged staging procedure.
  • · A decision on the part of the officer assigned to that apparatus based on existing or predictable conditions.

Effective apparatus placement must begin with the arrival of first units. The placement of the first arriving units should be based on initial size-up (see sidebar for key points).

Staging apparatus
Conditions permitting, first-alarm companies follow standard operating procedures and pre-incident plans when positioning apparatus and personnel to fight fires. If an incident commander (IC), who's typically in charge of the first-in company, sizes up a situation and decides, however, that certain units aren't needed immediately, he or she can direct them to a staging area.


An important management tool, staging increases both safety and efficiency at an incident by providing a means of deploying forces to achieve tactical objectives while preventing dangerous freelancing. 

Staging areas can also keep an IC from using apparatus when they aren't really needed, which can happen and create problems if tactics change and the vehicle is needed in a different capacity or at a different location.

Repositioning an apparatus and its personnel can be difficult and very time consuming at that point.

Staging areas can also be used as holding areas for the tactical reserves. During a large-scale offensive operation, later-arriving units are often used to deliver additional staff. If the apparatus' pumps, ladders and tools aren't needed, the apparatus should be kept out of the way in the staging area.  Staging areas should be far enough away from an incident to keep apparatus from obstructing or slowing access to the scene, but close enough to allow companies to arrive quickly when summoned. If the staging area is too close to the incident, fire fighters may be tempted to leave their apparatus to help at the scene.

It's important to distinguish between an out-of-service apparatus parked in staging and a staged unit that's part of the tactical reserve. A staged unit is fully staffed and ready to respond immediately, while an apparatus that's out of service isn't.

As to safe parking, positioning apparatus and other emergency vehicles at an MVI should be in such a manner that best protects the incident scene and the work area.  Such positioning must afford protection to emergency responders, including tow service operators and the motoring public from the hazards of working in or near moving traffic.

All personnel should understand the high risk of operating in or near moving vehicle traffic. Always consider moving vehicles as a threat to your safety. Approaching motorists will often be looking at the scene and not the roadway in front of them. During night-time incidents visibility is reduced and driver reaction time to hazards in the roadway is slowed.

Assume that all approaching traffic is out to get you until proven otherwise.  There are several specific tactical procedures that should be taken to protect all crew members and emergency service personnel at the incident scene, including:

  • Never trust approaching traffic.
  • Avoid turning your back to approaching traffic.
  • Establish an initial "block" with the first-arriving emergency vehicle.
  • Wear Class III high visibility reflective vests during daylight operations.
  • Always wear structural fire fighting helmet.
  • Wear full PPE plus the highway safety vest at all vehicle-related emergencies between the hours of dusk and dawn or whenever lighting levels are reduced due to inclement weather conditions.
  • Turn off or redirect all sources of vision impairment to approaching motorists at night-time incidents (headlights and spotlights).
  • Establish advance warning and adequate transition area traffic control measures upstream of incident to reduce travel speeds of approaching motorists.
  • Use traffic cones and/or cones illuminated by flares where appropriate for sustained highway incident traffic control and direction.
  • Consider assigning a fire fighter to the "flaggers" to monitor approaching traffic and activate an emergency signal if the actions of a motorist don't conform to established traffic control measures.
  • The following are a few tips for safe parking of apparatus and emergency vehicles when operating in or near moving traffic:
  • Always position first-arriving apparatus to protect the scene, patients, and emergency personnel.
  • Initial apparatus placement should provide a safe work area protected from traffic approaching in at least one direction.
  • Angle apparatus on the roadway with a "block to the left" or a "block to the right" to create a physical barrier between the crash scene and approaching traffic.
  • Allow apparatus placement to slow approaching motorists and redirect them around the scene.
  • Use fire apparatus to block at least one additional traffic lane more than that already obstructed by the crashed vehicle(s).
  • When practical, position apparatus in such a manner as to protect the pump operator position from being exposed to approaching traffic.
  • Positioning of large apparatus must create a safe parking area for EMS units and other fire vehicles.  Operating personnel, equipment and patients should be kept within the "shadow" created by the blocking apparatus at all times.
  • Ambulance should be positioned within the protected work area with their rear patient loading door area angled away from the nearest lanes of moving traffic.
  • Here are some guidelines for safe actions of individual personnel when operating in or near moving vehicle traffic.
  • Never trust moving traffic, Always look before you move!
  • Always keep an eye on the moving traffic! Avoid turning your back to moving traffic.
  • Personnel arriving should exit and enter the apparatus from the protected side, away from moving traffic.  Exit and enter units with extreme caution remaining alert to moving traffic at all times.
  • Protective clothing, Class III safety vest and helmet must be donned prior to exiting the emergency vehicle.
  • Stop at the corner of the unit, check for traffic and then proceed along the unit remaining as close to the emergency vehicle as possible.

Terminating the incident must be managed with the same aggressiveness as the initial actions. Crews, apparatus and equipment must be removed from the highway promptly, to reduce exposure to moving traffic and minimize traffic congestion. Do not let your guard down until all units and personnel are safely back at the station.  Then you can sigh and have a coffee. 

Practice Level I and Level II before it is needed and it may help things go better at the incident.

Level I Staging is used on every emergency response when two companies performing similar functions are dispatched (i.e. two engine companies).  The first-out company and IC proceed directly to the scene.  Later-arriving units stage at least one block away from the scene in their direction of travel. The IC may order the staged units to lay additional supply lines, send personnel to the scene or proceed to the scene and set up. 

Level II Staging is used when numerous emergency units will be responding to an incident.  Incidents that require mutual aid or that result in multiple alarms need Level II staging.  Companies should be informed of their staging area location when they are dispatched and respond directly to that location.  The staging officer should communicate available resources and resource needs to the IC.  Company officers should report to the staging officer as they arrive and park. 

The preceding information was gathered from a variety of sources in hopes it will give your department a good start on setting in order your own policies and procedures regarding staging and safe parking of emergency apparatus. This is by no means a complete list.  Please use what you can and build on it.

"Remember to stay safe out there and as always train like their lives depend on it because it does!"  – EB

Resources: Apparatus Placement, NFPA Journal, IFSTA Firefighter's Handbook, IFSTA Pumping Apparatus Driver/Operator Handbook,  Essentials of Fire Fighting IV, Tempe FD Policies and Procedures.

Ed Brouwer is the Fire Chief/Training Officer for Canwest Fire and a
member of the Osoyoos (B.C.) Fire Dept. The 18-year veteran fire
fighter is also a Fire Warden with Ministry of Forests, a First
Responder III instructor/evaluator, Local Assistant to the Fire
Commissioner and a fire service motivational speaker and chaplain.
E-mail .

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