Don’t waste time and energy
throwing ladders

(author photo)

By Bill Schnaekel

There are ten windows on the second floor of this home. On our truck, we carry seven ground ladders that could easily reach the sills of these second-floor windows and that is the average for a straight stick. For fun, let’s say I’m on a tiller and we’ll add a few more ladders that reach the same targets.

Ten windows. Ten ladders.

There has been a fair share of misinformation out there recently, including the following fire service expression. “We ladder the structure until we run out of windows or we run outta ladders. If we run outta ladders, we go find more.”

Bull$%!+.

As a truckie at heart and particularly of smaller stature, I’m not wasting my time or energy. There are other priorities on the fireground, especially for those with short (no pun intended) or lighter staffing.

I’m not saying this cause I’m weak or lazy; on the contrary I feel level-headed and I’m certainly comfortable in my position. I should also indicate that I use experience to guide my decisions more than any procedures.

An example of this would be throwing ladders to the bedroom windows that flank the fire room (first and foremost), placing one to the front OR back AND another closest to the adjoining side, then working my way outward. If a certain textbook, media outlet, magazine, or resource suggests opposite sides of the structure, I think I’d rather take my chances. I do this for two reasons, the first is rather obvious. The closer the victim is to the fire, the more he or she is in danger. It would be great to have that option available immediately. Secondly, if one of us should suffer from a breathing apparatus malfunction or other unforeseeable emergency, the closer we are to the seat, the greater the need for quick egress. Simply put, when the proverbial poo hits the fan, it’s far less likely to be remote from where all the action is.

If I wasn’t distracted by the current trend or peer pressure and practicality was my motivation, I might not throw any more than three ground ladders to this home in these pictures. That’s right, I said three even though there are typically four sides to a structure.

Just the same, that shouldn’t be taken out of context. As a chauffeur, my priorities and perspective will be different from those officers and members on later arriving units. Can they throw additional ladders? Absolutely, please do, the more, the merrier. My point is that there are also other functions that need to be performed simultaneously and if you’re not doing them for any other reason, these tasks are being neglected. Inadvertently, those affected by and operating on the scene are in more danger.

The property in these images is heavily overgrown but in the first or top photo, the garage door can be seen in the Alpha quadrant. A den or sun room is above it on the Bravo side. If ONE ladder is placed to the roof of that, not only are you providing a safer platform to work off, but you’ve just enabled a means of access and egress to the Alpha and Bravo quadrants. That’s basically half of the second floor already!

The middle window is more than likely shared with one of the two front bedrooms as indicated by the a/c units (see additional photo). A second ladder (not in any order) can be thrown to the slight “bump-out” on the Delta side of the same quadrant (Delta).

(author photo)

If you’re keeping track, you’ve only placed two ladders but covered 75% of the top floor with a purpose.

The last ladder can be placed to the side of the back-porch roof, close to where the other firefighters are standing as a point of reference.

Three ladders. Four bedrooms.

Notice that one of the two windows in the Charlie quadrant (foreground of the second or bottom photo) is smaller than the other. This would indicate it’s the bathroom and not as high of a priority as the others. You probably wouldn’t see the vent pipes going through the roof from the kitchen and bathroom that are stacked in that corner but there’s also a smaller window on the first floor to suggest it. The main (aerial ladder) can be placed to the roof or additional ground ladders used if you can’t clear the overhead obstructions.

Take pride in doing what’s right, not what’s expected.

Bill Schnaekel was born and raised in Erie, Pennsylvania, Bill is a fifth generation firefighter who has had eight other relatives in the fire service since 1898. He served as a volunteer for six years prior to getting hired in 1998 by the Fairfax County (VA) Fire and Rescue Department, one hundred years after his great-great grandfather had joined the service, and is a lieutenant assigned to Truck 411. Bill is also a State Suppression Instructor in Pennsylvania. In the past, he has served as a Battalion Training Officer and assisted in training both recruits and field personnel at the Fire and Rescue Academy. Currently, he is working on a degree in fire science through Tidewater Community College. In February of 2013, he created the Facebook Page Holding1and1, a resource to discuss fireground operations and firefighter interests with his friend, Lt. Mike Dowling.