The ground ladder: Basic tool, but not without risks

Here's why heeling a ground ladder from the front is key to avoiding injury

In the past, we have addressed the issue of using ground ladders on the fireground as effective tools for the rescue function. The ground ladder is a basic tool that we can use for many functions when called upon.

One of our basic functions is to gain access to elevated areas of the building. When we are doing this we have been taught to have a person heel the ladder for us so that it will not kick out and cause us to fall.

Whenever a ground ladder is used on certain surfaces, there is a greater chance of the ladder kicking out than with others. When being used on a soft surface like grass, the ladder butt will dig in as opposed to a concrete surface, the ladder butt will be more prone to slide and kick out.


Heeling a ground ladder has been taught to us in two ways: heeling from the back of the ladder and from the front of the ladder. As much as both ways are acceptable, there is really one way that is practical and that is to heel the ladder from the front.

Our attached video is an old video but it highlights the need for a ground ladder to be heeled from the front. As you can see, the one firefighter heeling from the back of the ground ladder is not able to visually see what his partner is doing.

In the beginning of the climbing operation, he can observe what is happening, but as the firefighter climbs the ladder upward, the heeling firefighter loses sight of his partner, not knowing if he got off the ground ladder or not – thus the ground ladder kicking out when the one firefighter gets close to the roof line – which is the pivotal point at which the ladder will kick out.

Although the fall is not that far back down, it is still a great distance when fully equipped with our gear, SCBA and also hand tools in our possession. Injury will certainly occur when this type of incident happens.


Heeling the ground ladder from the front also allows the other firefighter to assist with passing hand tools up and down, stopping the firefighter from slipping off the ground ladder by reaching up with their hand, observing the building conditions while the firefighter is working on the ladder, as well as keep in constant contact with each other.

When a firefighter gets injured on the fire ground as in the case of our video, we are now needing to focus our attention on getting them to safety, proper medical treatment and then replacing them with another crew member so that the task can be completed. Heeling from the front will avoid the ladder from kicking out, thus preventing all the other dominoes from falling.

Join the discussion

Copyright © 2020 All rights reserved.