From the time we walk into the fire service, the term “thinking outside of the box” is drilled into our brains. As we gain experience and pass on our knowledge to others, we preach the same words our mentors did to us. Often, “thinking outside the box” is paired up with the word aggressive. If we’re thinking outside the box, then we must be aggressive firemen. Another term in the fire service is beaching. Beaching is slang for parking out of the way, usually in a front lawn or courtyard. It is a tactic mostly used in suburban and rural operations, but the tactic also has a place in urban firefighting. You can throw beaching in the category of “thinking outside the box” and place it right underneath aggressive. Unfortunately for our profession, aggressive sits on the boarder of reckless. Before we commit to beaching our fire engine or fire truck, we as operators and officers have a lot of information to process in a small amount of time. Just as fast as you can look like a hero for your positioning, you can look like a zero for creating a problem just trying to get into the beaching position if it’s done haphazardly.
Like anything in our job, we have to make a quick risk assessment. What will we gain by beaching? Most importantly though, we need to think about what we will lose by beaching. What good is it if the apparatus is taken off a solid surface and gets stuck in soft ground or in a drainage ditch that was buried beneath a pile of leaves? As a good operator/officer we need to notice the soft ground or extreme grade that won’t be conducive for our engine or aerial. Familiarity of our response area and knowing the specifications and capabilities of our apparatus will help guide us to decide when it is best appropriate to beach. Sometimes in order to get that scrub area that we need or to reduce the operating pressure of our pump, we need to think outside the box and beach. Only as a last resort I want to cut that fence, sign, tree or dismantle the play area to get my piece in an operable position. When deciding to beach or not to beach, it is best to consider the risks and benefits, rather than whether it will make a cool photo op or not. Surprisingly, this happens more frequently than one would realize. The decision to beach needs to be made because there was a reason why extending my hose line, grabbing a ground ladder, setting up a deluge set or simply backing in wouldn’t suffice.
I personally would rather be known as a well-trained fireman that can look at the big picture and know when I have to be aggressive rather than getting lucky and walking the aggressive/reckless line. Thinking outside the box doesn’t happen for the first time on an incident. It takes a company to consistently train and become masters of our equipment. If you check out “Beaching The Front Lawn” on Facebook there are some great examples of why to beach and how practicing and knowing your job can have a positive impact on a fire. But, with the bad, there is the ugly and they have some great examples of that too. With that being said, only the operator and officer of those pieces know what was going on at the time they decided to beach the rig. For these failed beach attempts, hopefully some of these questions came into their minds before they committed to their decision. Typically, if you take the time to justify how you came to your final actions and you show that you made an educated decision before beaching you can have a positive impact on an incident.