By Jim McCormack
Published Wednesday, June 1, 2011
| From the June 2011 Issue of FireRescue
When it comes to using ladders on the fireground, there seems to be a lot of information in fire service textbooks that doesn’t really correspond to how we actually use ladders. On our truck company, ground ladders are a big part of our job. And we’ve found that a little “street knowledge” goes a long way.
Know Your Ladders
Today’s truck companies carry a host of ground ladders in a rear compartment, on the side of the apparatus or both. The minimum total length of ground ladders carried by a truck company, based on NFPA standards, is 115 feet. One problem with the minimum standard is that the minimum complement is based on total length and general type of ladder (one attic, two straight and two extension). Older versions of the standard required specific lengths of ladders, similar to ISO’s current required minimum guide: 16' roof, 20' roof, 28' extension, 35' extension and a 40' extension for a total of 139 feet of ladder. Although this may not seem like a big deal, the current NFPA standard has actually reduced the number of ladders that some truck companies carry. What does your truck company carry? Do you have a good variety of ladders?
One critical piece of information about ground ladders that determines how they are actually used on the fireground is their weight. The weight of the ladder determines whether the ladder is a one- or two-person ladder. This is an extremely important factor to know these days, due to limited staffing issues.
Two main manufacturers make the ground ladders commonly found on today’s aerial apparatus. Although there are many different types and configurations of ladders, let’s keep it simple and talk about roof ladders (both solid beam and truss beam) and two-section extension ladders. Here’s a rough breakdown of the differences between these ladders (based on information provided on two manufacturers’ websites):
Carry & Throw
Knowing ladder weights prior to carrying and throwing ladders can make all the difference in the world. The more people it takes to carry and throw ladders, the fewer people there are for other fireground tasks or the fewer ladders get thrown!
The bottom line is that you need to know your own limitations for carrying and throwing ladders. If one person can carry the ladder and their tools to the fireground and throw the ladder themselves, then you shouldn’t use two people. The training/drill ground is where you figure this out.
One thing you can do is find a way to attach common tools to the ladder; this helps you become more efficient in your truck operations. If your tool assignment is a 28' extension ladder, a hook and a Halligan, find an efficient way to carry all of them to the scene. For us, we attach the hook to the ladder so that when it comes out of the bed, we have one less tool to gather before heading to the structure.
There’s an ongoing debate regarding proper ladder angling. The books all state that the proper climbing angle is around 75 degrees. But the angle that seems to work better for a variety of fireground operations is somewhat less than that—referred to commonly as an exaggerated angle.
The exaggerated angle started showing up on the fireground when firefighter survival training became popular. One of the survival skills taught was the head-first ladder slide. When performing this slide, a firefighter has much more control if the ladder is placed at an exaggerated angle.
Another fireground operation that benefits from this exaggerated angle is a firefighter or civilian rescue over a ground ladder. With an exaggerated angle, the weight of the firefighter or civilian being rescued is placed more on the ladder and less on the firefighter performing the rescue.
The main concern related to placing a ladder at an exaggerated angle is that the base may kick out, causing the ladder to fall. Applying common sense will neutralize this concern. Any time there’s a concern about a ladder kicking out, the ladder should be secured or footed (no matter what the angle). Although the books say that a ground ladder should be footed all the time, that’s simply not possible. A ground ladder placed on soft ground, where the feet can be secured in the ground, is a ladder that we routinely use without footing.
The tip of the ground ladder should be placed at, or slightly below, the windowsill for window-based fireground operations. In the past, there was a variety of tip placement locations based on the intended use of the ladder (window access, window venting, etc.). Over time, and due to the fact that we don’t have the time or energy to constantly climb and move ground ladders for specific tasks, the standard fireground placement of ground ladders to windows has become at an exaggerated angle with the tip at or slightly below the windowsill.
When it comes to roof access, the tip should be placed three to five rungs above the roofline at an angle that’s easily climbed while carrying tools. During these operations, that angle is usually somewhere between the traditional climbing angle (75 degrees) and the newer exaggerated angle we see more often on the fireground today.
Another area of great debate relates to venting windows with ladders. When it comes to venting windows, we use the ladders. Whether we’re first- or second-due, when we place ladders for vent/enter/search, egress or access, we vent the window with the tip of the ladder and then place the tip at or slightly below the sill at an exaggerated angle. If we didn’t clear the entire window (and sash), then we’ll quickly climb the ladder and clear the rest of the window with a Halligan, axe or hook.
When we need to open the roof, we use both ground ladders and the aerial, if possible. Because roof ventilation is a function of our second-due truck companies, there’s always the chance that the first-due has their stick up when we get there. If that’s the case, we still throw at least one ground ladder to the roof (usually a 28-footer) with the tips placed three to five rungs above the roofline. We also get a roof ladder up to the peak. Many of our aerials have roof ladders mounted on the aerial. If we need to access the roof over the aerial, we usually grab the hook on the way up. The second hook from the ground simply gives us another option, and the additional ladder gives us a secondary means of egress, if we need it.
A Final Word
A squared-away truck company understands the importance of ground ladders and finds a way to throw them on the fireground. Although the most common excuse for not using ladders on the fireground is the limited number of personnel, it really seems to be more of a priority issue. If you learn your ladders, and your strengths and limitations with them, you’ll also learn how to best use ladders on the fireground.
A Look at Our Ladders
Here’s what we carry:
- Two 35s
- Two 28s
- Two 24s
- One 20
- Three 16s
- Two 14s
- One attic ladder
It would certainly be a huge incident for us to use them all. Other things to note: The 24s and the 28s are considered one-person ladders (at least going up). Although we don’t carry a 40- or 50-footer on our truck, I strongly recommend that you consider adding one of them to your truck company.
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