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Aerial Fire Apparatus Jack Spotting

Jack & Outrigger Spotting

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Position of jack spotlight with high-intensity spotlight with clear lens.

By Ricky Riley

In a series of recent classes about truck company apparatus positioning, there has been a lot of discussion concerning the correct spotting of jacks/outriggers. Along with achieving the best position on the fireground for these vital pieces of equipment they must be able to set up for operation once they get in that position. This requires the driver/operator to have positioned the rig so that all the jacks can be extended out and down. By having the jacks in a position to be fully extended, the apparatus will meet the manufacturer’s recommendations for safe operation. But, that is always not the case in the field—so many aerial apparatus have the ability to short jack. This allows the aerial device to be used on at least one side of the apparatus—the side with the jacks in a fully extended position—with the other side’s jacks partially extended or deployed. This function with most NFPA compliant aerials requires an override to be held so the aerial device can be lifted out of the cradle. Though this short-jack feature is available to operators, it should be used only when deemed necessary on the fireground. An operator’s ability and familiarity with apparatus should be the backbone of good positioning, and there should be no substitute for that experience.

In recent trips to manufacturers’ facilities, I have seen a number of options that builders are adding to assist drivers in positioning their apparatus and proper jack spotting. With advancements in technology, one of these options is using camera systems and screens inside the cab. These cameras are mounted at the top of the jack area, show areas where the jacks are going to deploy to the cab by either activating the 12-V aerial systems or by throwing an independent switch, and transmit the video back to the cab. This allows the driver to view the outside the cab to see if there are any obstacles in the way of the jack being properly deployed.

A less expensive option is to have high-intensity lights mounted at the jack positions that illuminate the area where the jack will extend. These lights, like the cameras, can be activated any number of ways depending on the fire department’s needs and the ability of the manufacturer to wire them. Just remember with lights that they will need to be seen during daylight if drivers depend on using them for jack spotting even during the day. I am sure some types of laser systems to pinpoint jack positions are available, although I have not seen them yet.

All these methods are very inventive by departments and the builders, but drivers should use these options to assist them—not become dependent on them to the point that they lose their skills to eye ball the position of the jacks through experience and many practice setups during training and on incidents. I urge readers to search for pictures of the Boston (MA) Fire Department and look at the skills exhibited by its drivers in getting rigs and jacks in the right spots. They are the masters at apparatus positioning, and this skillset is just not reserved for big city fire departments. If you have an aerial device in your department, your sets and reps for positioning and proper jack placement should be repeated constantly with the goal to be as good as the drivers in Boston, regardless of how busy or slow your department is.

As always thank you for checking in with The Rig.

RICKY RILEY is the fire apparatus manager for the Prince George’s County (MD) Fire/EMS Department. He previously served as the Operations Chief for Clearwater (FL) Fire and Rescue, and as a firefighter for Fairfax County (VA) Fire & Rescue. He also currently serves as the rescue-engine captain at the Kentland (MD) Volunteer Fire Department. He is a member of the editorial advisory board of Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment.

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