If you look at the design of fire apparatus, you will notice a very different configuration when it comes to the placement of ground ladders over time. Engines or pumpers, depending on where you are from, used to have them mounted on the passenger side over the duals.
FDNY Captain Michael Dugan explains the do's and don'ts of using ladders on the fireground.
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Over the years they have been placed through the tank and on racks that raise to the top of the truck. The problem with all of these configurations is that the ladders are obstructed, hidden and just plain neglected.
Our job requires the use of ladders on just about every working fire we go to. Not only are they used on fires, but we can use them in many other instances for a variety of circumstances.
We are taught how to use ground ladders in rookie school and academy, but what I want to discuss today is the "real" world use of ground ladders on the fire scene.
The first thing that needs to be noted is that someone needs to take them off the truck and put them in the appropriate place. The only way to do this is to train regularly on not only how to throw ladders, but where to throw them as well.
Roof operations When there are crews operating on the roof, ground crews need to recognize the need for a secondary means of egress off of the roof for the roof team. Ideally we want to place the ladder on the opposite side of the original access point.
If that side of the roof goes bad, they have a way off on the opposite side. This is primarily for residential structures like single-family homes.
For commercial roofs of large area, the secondary ladder should be placed at approximately a 90 degree angle from the original access point. Instead of running to entire other side of a large building, this gives them the ability to exit away from the area that has gone bad and is still close.
The book says the rungs should be above the roof line at least three to five rungs. A good rule of thumb is to get it at least waist high, if not chest high above the roof.
This eliminates any chance of tripping over the ladder while trying to make an exit or getting down off of the roof. It makes it more visible and easy to hold on to while dismounting. We will discuss angles a little later.
Window placement Placing a ladder at a window during fire operations is really simple. The text books will give you different locations for different situations. However, in the real world, there is one type of placement that we teach and that is right below the sill.
If you have to make a rescue, make entry, or use it as an exit in a hurry, below the sill works for every occasion.
Having the window to the side is only good for ventilating up wind, and then you have to reposition the ladder when you're finished. It just isn't practical. The window can still be vented with it placed below the sill.
For entry, egress and rescue, below the sill is optimal. The real problem with the ladder even partially in the sill is that it takes up space and becomes a place to get hung up.
The tips of the ladder can cause our SCBA straps to catch during a bail out and can make getting an unconscious victim out of a window even more difficult by obstructing part of the window.
RIT prevention When you are the RIT, many carry their equipment to the designated location and stand and wait. We like to promote a proactive RIT or what we call "RIT Prevention."
As a member or leader of a RIT, after consulting with the IC, a walk around of the building is appropriate. In regards to ladders, we want to look for upper floor windows and we can make sure that ladders are placed at those windows.
Placing the ladders at the windows may prevent a firefighter from having to hang out or bail out of a window. The odds are higher for a bad outcome if there is no ladder there.
The same thing goes for crews operating on the roof. If ladders haven't been placed for a second means of egress, the RIT can take care of this as well.
Any time you're placing ladders, it is important to take into consideration the surface it is being placed on. Be aware of slopes, slick spots, mud or wet concrete. They may need to be tied off or kept in place with a tool.
Use common sense and take into consideration that someone may need to come down that ladder in a hurry.
In addition, the angle that you place the ladder is important. If it is being placed for windows, use a shallow angle that is easy to come down in a hurry. The shallower the angle, the easier it is to bail out onto the ladder and to bring a victim down.
As always, follow your department's guidelines and practices. Like any other skill, ladder placement must be trained on. Don't neglect the importance of placing, utilizing and working from ground ladders. You never know when they might just save a life.
Keep training hard and I'll see you next month in "From the Fireground."
About the author
Jason Hoevelmann is a deputy chief and fire marshal with the Sullivan (Mo.) Fire Protection District, a combination department, and a career captain and training officer with the Florissant Valley (Mo.) Fire Protection District in North St. Louis County. His experience spans more than 20 years and he has been an instructor for more than 15 years. He is an adjunct instructor for the St. Louis County Fire Academy and is a State Certified Fire Officer II. Jason holds an associate’s degree in paramedic science from East Central College and a bachelor's degree in fire service administration from Eastern Oregon University. He is currently a state advocate for the Everyone Goes Home initiative, a Board Member for the International Society of Fire Service Instructors and on the technical committee for Professional Fire Officer Qualifications for NFPA. He is also co-owner of Engine House Training, LLC.
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