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Going above and beyond: Extending the ground ladder

Extra rungs above the roofline provide added ladder visibility, safety

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A fall from any height will produce injuries for the firefighter who is fully dressed in PPE, let alone a fall from about one, two or even three stories in height.


Roof operations can be a dangerous operation due to the potential instability of the roof. Most times, when we are working above the fire, we are trying to vent the building, as being directly above the fire speeds the ventilation process.

There will be times when thick smoke will be billowing out from the structure and will obscure our ability to see – add-in nighttime conditions and visibility is very limited.

This is where our video example comes into play: We have a team working on a roof during daytime conditions. They are visible for a moment but then disappear as they are enveloped by the smoke.

The team assigned to the roof could have gained access either by an aerial ladder or a ground ladder. We are going to assume they used a ground ladder because there is no indication of an aerial device set up. The ground ladder, raised into position, is going to be extended beyond the edge of the roofline by three to five rungs – a technique we are taught in basic training.

This is critical to achieve every time we ladder a roof because it allows or helps the crews on the roof to see the ground ladder when they need to get down. Going beyond by five rungs is better than three rungs. It’s simply more ladder to see. It’s particularly helpful if the end of the ground ladder is painted with a fluorescent green or orange color. Some departments use a photo-luminescent paint to aid in the visibility of the ladder.

Besides just the visibility factor, there is also the physical component of being able to handle the ladder when getting on or off. The more rungs above the roofline the easier it will be for the firefighter to transition from the roof to the ladder.

This is the case with our video. When it comes time for the crew to get off the roof, they will want to make their transition as easy as possible to navigate through all the smoke surrounding them.

What can happen when there are not enough rungs above the roofline? The simple answer is this – someone is going to fall off the roof while trying to get on the ladder or they will not see it when they need to get down, extending their time on the roof, and perhaps falling into the building. When this happens, the team becomes delayed due to a serious injury. A fall from any height will produce injuries for the firefighter who is fully dressed in PPE, let alone a fall from about one, two or even three stories in height.

So, the next time you are asked to go to the roof or asked to ladder the roof for the assigned team, make sure the ground ladder is extended above by at least five rungs.

Ground ladder training time

After watching this video with your company, take the following steps to help prevent similar incidents:

  • Conduct a training session using the ground ladder, and practice extending it beyond roof lines by about five rungs or more.
  • See if approval can be obtained to paint the first five rungs of every ground ladder with a high visibility paint.
  • Conduct a training session to practice getting on and off the ground ladder onto a roof. This will help to reinforce the skills needed to maintain positive control of the ground ladder when getting on and off it.

Editor’s Note: How does your department train on ground ladder extension? Share your ideas at

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.