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Making the grab: When ground ladders are the right call for the rescue

Video shows FDNY crews using ground ladders instead of aerial to rescue people from burning building

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On Dec. 28, 2020, the FDNY responded to a structure fire in Bay Ridge where crews ultimately made a few rescues.

The incident was caught on video, showing the responding units arriving and going straight to work to initiate an interior attack and rescue people from their balconies. We can learn a few things about ladder rescues and how to perform them correctly in this video.

When you watch the video, notice how the ladder truck was positioned in relation to the structure – it was given complete access to the front of the building. The engine is not in view in the video, but it is staged past the building. We know this because you will see hoselines being stretched back toward the structure.

With the entire front of the building being accessible to the ladder truck, they can now use the aerial device to gain access to the building and remove occupants from various parts of the building. Whenever the engine occupies the front of the building, it blocks the aerial’s access to the building and cannot be fully utilized.

The next thing we can extrapolate from this is the vital role that ground ladders play in rescues. Even though there was an aerial device on site, the ground ladder was used for the rescue. In the video, you can see that the ground ladder was raised and put into position before the aerial device could be. Aerial devices offer great advantages for structure fires, but the ground ladder can and will be quicker.

Notice where the occupant was located and removed from – the fourth-floor balcony. The ground ladder selected was the right one to use to reach the fourth floor. I am going to guess that it was a two-section 35-foot ladder, as this would easily reach the fourth floor.

Once the ground ladder was in position, the firefighter was able to climb up and remove the occupant from the balcony bringing them down the ground ladder. The method used to bring them down is not textbook perfect, but it worked, and the firefighter performing the rescue looked comfortable enough on the ladder to perform it.

What causes a rescue like this to go well? Practice and training – training on ground ladders, getting used to working on them, getting used to handling them, raising them into position amid different obstructions, such as parked cars. All these steps being practiced allows the firefighter to become proficient with their skill set so that when the time comes – like it did on Dec. 28 – the rescue can be made.

After watching this video and reading this article with your company, crews should do the following to initiate training:

  • Pull off the ground ladders from the first-due truck and practice throwing them up to a building
  • Practice removing or carrying down training manikins or fellow firefighters down the ground ladder
  • Discuss the importance of allowing the ladder truck to have complete access to the front of the building.

Mark van der Feyst has been in the fire service since 1998, currently serving as a firefighter with the Fort Gratiot Fire Department in Michigan. He is an international instructor teaching in Canada, the United States and India. He graduated from Seneca College of Applied and Technologies as a fire protection engineering technologist, and received his bachelor’s degree in fire and life safety studies from the Justice Institute of British Columbia and his master’s degree in safety, security and emergency management from Eastern Kentucky University. van der Feyst is the lead author of the book “Residential Fire Rescue” and “The Tactical Firefighter.” Connect with van der Feyst via email.