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Ground ladder placement: Rescue from a burning building

Remove the potential for the building occupant to injure firefighters during a ladder rescue


Photo/Navajo Nation Department of Fire & Rescue Services

Rescuing someone from a burning building is a risky endeavor but it is also a very rewarding one. For the fire service, this is what we train for and prepare ourselves for at any given moment.

There are many ways that we can rescue someone from a burning building: the one common method is by ground ladder. The ground ladder is an effective tool to use on the fireground, especially for the rescue. In our corresponding video, we have a rescue being affected by the fire department at a high-rise building. What makes this video interesting to watch, is the minor oversight of the ground ladder’s placement in contrast to the rescue.

Now I want to state that this video was taken at an incident outside the USA, in Israel. So, there may be differences in how they approach ladder rescues from what we would do in the USA – but we can learn how important proper ladder placement from this incident.

The one glaring oversight with this rescue is the placement of the ladder tip in relation to the window sill and the occupant waiting to be rescued. No matter what type of operation we are undertaking with a ground ladder, the ladder tip needs to be placed just below the window sill ledge. This allows the firefighter to perform any type of operation, task or technique for what they are dealt with.

In this video, the ladder tip is too far below the window sill ledge. Now, the rescue was pulled off without any complications, but if there were any, the ladder tip placement would come into play.

Proper ground ladder placement

When we raise the ground ladder into position, we want to raise the ladder beside the window so that we can gauge exactly how many rungs we need to raise to be at the window sill ledge. It also removes the opportunity for the occupant to grab the ladder or jump onto it before it is set. If this happens, the occupant will certainly take the firefighters below down with them.

Now in the case of the video, they were not able to be right against the building, which negates the ability to raise your rungs in relation to the window sill. So how do we overcome this?

Extend the ground ladder all the way. It is better to overshoot the window sill ledge than to be short. The ground ladder angle will be at 60 degrees or 65 degrees as opposed to the perfect climbing angel of 75 degrees, but it will allow the firefighter to pull off the rescue, be at the window sill ledge and also remove the opportunities for any complications to arise from the conscious occupant.

The dangerous domino is the distance short from the ladder tip to the window sill ledge – it is only one domino, but when it falls, so will the occupant and the firefighter.

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.