Two Quick Drills on Aerial Positioning

The area inside the arch is the scrub area of the ladder. If you spot too close to the building there will be an area in the center of the scrub that the ladder can't reach. If you are too far away, you reduce the amount of scrub.

You can write volumes on aerial operations, but the topic is often overlooked during our company-level drills. Right about now many of you are thinking, “We’re engine guys,” or “Our department doesn’t even own an aerial ladder; if we need one, the neighboring department brings theirs.”

No matter what position you hold, it’s just as important for you to understand the concepts of sound aerial placement as it is for truckies, because where you park your rig can affect how the aerial is placed on the scene.

This month’s Quick Drill focuses on some tips to improve your aerial ladder placement and operations. Note: Although I’ll only cover a few basic tips, you should be emphasizing the importance of aerial operations during many of your training sessions.

Avoid Complacency

Proper apparatus placement, based on need and function early in the incident, is fundamental to successful operations. If two or three engine companies arrive before the aerial and block it from the building, its usefulness in the operation is very limited. As the old saying goes, “You can stretch another section of hose but you can’t stretch the ladder.”

Complacency plays a big part in poor apparatus placement. We all go to a lot of automatic alarms and the like, where we’re presented with great opportunities to reinforce good apparatus placement at a location where we may someday face a real fire.

The problem: The correct spot for the apparatus always seems to be in the middle of the street, down the back alley or even on the sidewalk—all places where the apparatus can interrupt traffic flow, parking and pedestrians. And most fire departments don’t want to disrupt their citizens’ daily lives for a simple automatic alarm. Just imagine what kind of calls you’ll generate from the chief if you start spotting your apparatus for function at all your EMS calls.

Although actual spotting of the aerial may not always be practical, these types of incidents do provide some great “What if?” scenarios for your company. After the call, take time to discuss with your crew proper aerial placement for that structure. Evaluate how the placement would change based on different conditions, such as heavy smoke showing or fire coming through the roof.

Another way complacency comes into play: standard residential fires in one- and two-family homes. Because these incidents rarely require the use of an aerial device, the aerial becomes a taxi loaded with tools, and placement based on functionality is rarely addressed. Unfortunately, allowing yourself to get in the habit of incorrectly positioning the aerial when it doesn’t matter will come back to haunt you when you respond to an apartment or a commercial building fire, where good aerial placement is essential.

Picking a Position

Aerial placement is often based on two important factors: the device’s capability and its intended use.

Each type of aerial—tower ladder or straight stick, rear-mount or mid-mount, or tractor-drawn—has its own strengths and weaknesses. You must be familiar with the capabilities of your department’s aerial to know what it can do on scene and to understand how best to position it to do that.

Sound aerial placement begins with the fundamental thought that the aerial device will be used for life safety. This might include positioning to allow people to exit the building by climbing down the ladder; positioning to allow firefighters to climb up the ladder to search, locate and remove victims; or positioning to provide a quick secondary means of egress for firefighters who’ve been cut off from an interior stairway.

Note: Positioning for egress requires good aerial placement early in the incident and prepositioning of aerials at possible exit points prior to them being needed. It’s often too late to get the outriggers down and the aerial up after a mayday is called.

Aerial placement is also key in supporting suppression operations, such as venting upper-story windows or providing access to roofs for vertical ventilation operations.

A final use of aerials: providing master stream operations. A well-placed aerial master stream with a good water supply can make a huge difference at a growing incident.

Vertical & Horizontal Reach

When working with your crews on aerial placement, be sure to discuss vertical and horizontal reach. Most people outside the fire service seem to think we only need ladders to reach tall buildings. The truth: We need horizontal reach due to having to spot apparatus in parking lots or offsets around commercial buildings.

Ask your crew which is the longest on your aerial ladder: the vertical or horizontal. Most will answer they’re the same, but they’re wrong. Vertical reach is the longest, due to the fact that the distance from the ground to the turntable is used as part of the overall length. You may have a 100' vertical and a 93' horizontal reach with the same aerial.

When talking about reach, you also need to discuss scrub area, the area on a building that you can effectively reach with the aerial. By positioning the aerial correctly, you maximize your aerial’s effective scrub area. This becomes very important if you’re attempting to reach victims in many different windows. Spot too far away, and the scrub area will be reduced. Position too close, and your aerial will hit the building before you get full extension.

A Final Word

Effective aerial placement isn’t difficult, but it does require knowing your rig’s capabilities and limitations and knowing your response area’s requirements. Don’t let complacency or your lack of knowledge about aerial positioning catch you unaware—drill today.


Drill 1: The Rope Trick

Positioning the aerial at different buildings in your response area is a great way to learn, but it causes a lot of disruption around the building unless you limit your practice to when the building is closed. This drill is an easier way of teaching your crew about horizontal reach, and they can cover a lot of ground quickly, saving time and effort.

Step 1: Cut a piece of rope the same length as your aerial’s horizontal reach.

Step 2: Tie a knot where your outrigger would be. If your aerial has two sets of outriggers, they may have different jackset distances; if so, tie another knot marking the distance from the truck.

Step 3: Take your crew to various areas in your response district where aerial positioning could be problematic, such as apartment complexes or around commercial buildings.

Step 4: Use the rope to practice aerial placement without having to set up the aerial. The knots that mark outrigger location let your operators see how far away from cars and other objects they should place the aerial in order to maximize the aerial’s reach.

Step 5: Instruct your crew to use the rope to determine the scrub area by extending it in and out to see how much of the building you can cover. 


Drill 2: The Balloon Trick

This is another great drill to improve your operational depth perception and ability to get the aerial tip on the money. By using the balloons you don’t have to worry about damaging the aerial or a building while training with less-experienced operators.

Step 1: Purchase a couple helium-filled mylar balloons like the kind you can get at any flower shop. The string on the balloon needs to be about 10 feet long.

Step 2: Find an open parking lot with no obstructions or over-head wires.

Step 3: Tie the balloon string to a brick and position the balloon away from the aerial.

Step 4: Allow each operator to practice touching the balloon with the ladder tip.

Step 5: Move the balloons around the truck to allow the crew to become familiar with the operational limitations of the unit.

Clarion UX