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Beware the danger of aerial ladders

Gordon Graham offers tips for how to use situational awareness and planning to foster safer operations with aerial ladders

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Gordon Graham here with Today’s Tip from Lexipol. Today’s Tip is for Fire & Rescue.

Being aware of and planning for the dangers of aerial ladder use, you can help ensure safer operations.

Today’s tip is directed at fire service personnel. I want to discuss the dangers of aerial ladder operations. And I’m not talking about being afraid of heights, which plenty of firefighters are. I’m talking about the very real hazards that firefighters face when operating on aerial ladders. Whether you’re training or operating on an emergency incident, dangers exist.

The dangers of operating on or around an aerial ladder are varied. Some are due to a lack of situational awareness. Others are because of an equipment failure. Whatever the source, the consequences are high. At best, a close call and a learning opportunity. At worst, injury or even death.

Let’s face it. Whenever you’re operating at any height, gravity poses a real threat. It doesn’t care if you’re on the training ground or outside a burning building, you’ve got to be aware of your situation. Now think about wearing a 30-pound SCBA on your back while climbing. What about carrying a pike pole and a chain saw? How about climbing alongside a midrise building on fire to perform ventilation or a rescue? You can see how each of these circumstances makes you more likely to fall from the aerial ladder.

Another thing you’ve got to watch out for are obstructions. An obstruction might be as benign as a tree limb that the ladder operator didn’t visualize before setting up your climb. Or the obstruction might be as potentially deadly as a high voltage line. Either way, an obstruction can be a real problem.

An equipment failure is something over which you have less control, but it can kill you, nevertheless. Proper maintenance and routine use are your best friends in trying to identify and prevent these failures before you put a firefighter on the aerial ladder in any circumstance.

Fortunately, by being aware of and planning for the dangers of aerial ladder use, you can help ensure safer operations. Remember to use a ladder belt, when appropriate. Help the driver spot the turntable and the tip of the ladder. Never climb while the ladder is extending or raising. Visualize obstructions. Train. And pay attention to what you are doing when operating on an aerial ladder!

And that’s Today’s Tip from Lexipol. Gordon Graham signing off.

Gordon Graham has been actively involved in law enforcement since 1973. He spent nearly 10 years as a very active motorcycle officer while also attending Cal State Long Beach to achieve his teaching credential, USC to do his graduate work in Safety and Systems Management with an emphasis on Risk Management, and Western State University to obtain his law degree. In 1982 he was promoted to sergeant and also admitted to the California State Bar and immediately opened his law offices in Los Angeles.