By Raul Angulo
The two pieces of equipment firefighters tend to avoid when drilling are charged 2½-inch hose and Bangor ladders, mainly because they’re heavy and hard to handle. Since 1¾- and 2½-inch hose come in the same lengths (50- or 100-foot sections), I often drill my crews with 2½-inch because I knew if they could perform the hose evolution with the 2½-inch, they could do it easily with 1¾-inch hose. However, use common sense; the objective is to get proficient at handling 2½-inch hose, not making drills hard for the sake of punishing your crews.
For example, I had once heard of a couple of instructors that were making crews extend a charged 2½-inch line up and into an attic space. This evolution serves no practical purpose because I can’t think of a realistic situation where you would need a 2½-inch hoseline in an attic space. If you need 300 gallons a minute to put out an attic fire, you should be more worried about truss and roof collapse than calling for a 2½-inch hoseline; such a fire without a life hazard would be a defensive fire, anyway.
On the other hand, taking a charged 2½-inch line up a ground ladder is also an extremely difficult evolution, but there are situations where the crew may have to do what it takes to make this happen. Building configurations in densely-populated areas may not lend to the proper spotting of aerial apparatus, so ladder rescues and elevated fire attack may depend on the crew’s ability to deploy ground extension ladders quickly.
Bangor ladders are the largest ground extension ladders used in the fire service. They typically range between 40, 45, 50, and 55 feet when fully extended and are primarily made from aluminum, although some wooden Bangor ladders still exist. Beyond 50 feet, the ladder simply becomes too heavy to carry, especially with limited staffing. At least four firefighters are required to raise the ladder and extend the flys. Without sufficient staffing, the risk for back injuries becomes too great, so many fire departments have abandoned the use of Bangor ladders altogether. Because these ladders are so long, the balance point becomes unmanageable for firefighters without the use of tormentor poles to control the tip of the bed section. Tormentor poles are what make a ground extension ladder a Bangor ladder.
The tormentor poles are attached to the right and left tip of the bed section and can swivel 180° on their respective sides. The tormentor poles are used to raise, shift, and steady the ladder while extending the flys. They also control the speed and force of the ladder into the building. Once set, the poles brace and stabilize the flexion of the ladder, controlling the bounce when climbing and maximizing the carrying strength of the ladder. The tormentor poles are also necessary to pull the ladder away from the building, steady the ladder while retracting the flys, and lowering the ladder. Without the tormentor poles, the ladder would be impossible to balance and control.
Drilling with ground extension ladders doesn’t exactly lend itself to the same training philosophy as hose. If you’re district is primarily residential with one- or two-story structures, don’t pull the Bangor ladder out every time you drill with ladders. Choose the appropriate ladder for the structure. However, if you’re on a truck company with a Bangor ladder, you need to practice with it frequently so the crew’s ability to carry, raise, and extend the ladder remains sharp. It’s also an expensive ladder so you need to train with it to prevent crews from damaging it.
Giving and following commands to maneuver the tormentor poles takes practice and teamwork, and it also develops good communication skills under pressure. Confusion or slow reaction to commands could cause the ladder to swing beyond the tipping point. Once that happens, it becomes impossible to recover; the weight of the ladder and gravity will cause the ladder to fall to the ground. If that happens, let it fall; firefighters should not try to save a falling Bangor ladder. Get out of the way–it’s like trying to stop a falling tree from crashing down.
Although you may not need the Bangor in your first-alarm district, you could get sent to another part of the city or called on mutual aid for large extension ladders. And, if you need one Bangor ladder for rescues, there’s a good chance you’ll need two or more.
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To ensure easy climbing, safety, and support for the greatest amount of weight, the proper ladder climbing angle is 70°. To achieve 70°, the butt of the ladder should be out from the building one-quarter of the extended length of the ladder. A simple, accurate way to ensure the proper climbing angle is for a firefighter to stand at the butt with his toes touching the spurs. Extend the arms straight out 90°–the fingers should rest on the rungs of the ladder.
Ground extension ladders less than 30 feet can safely support two working firefighters. Ground extension ladders greater than 30 feet can safely support three working firefighters. The National Fire Protection Association requires all fire service ground extension ladders and roof ladders to have a 4:1 safety factor designed into the work load limits.
Make sure that after raising the Bangor ladder, all your firefighters climb it to the top. If you want to make it more challenging, have them carry the equipment needed for rooftop ventilation at least once. It’s a good barometer of their personal fitness level because it takes more effort than they think.
Whenever you can deploy aerial or tower ladders, do it; aerial apparatus gives you lots of options for rescue and can be quickly maneuvered on two sides of a building in addition to the roof. It also saves the strength and stamina of firefighters who would otherwise be deploying ground ladders. However, there are many places where aerial positioning is impossible. “H” buildings are one example.
An H building is not a building classification or construction type; it’s simply a building (from a bird’s-eye view) that is shaped like an H. They’re typically Type III ordinary construction with two or more parallel wings connected by a center corridor. It’s the inside horseshoe of the H where aerial reach may be difficult or impossible. You may have to make window rescues from ground ladders, from above using ropes, from below, or protecting occupants in place. The Bangor ladder may be the best option for window rescues up to the fifth floor. Ladder companies should bring all their Bangor ladders to help support rescue operations. They serve no purpose staying on the rigs during a major fire.
If you need Bangor ladders to make rescues, the situation is already extreme. You need to have confidence in maneuvering the ladder and using your creativity to maximize the effectiveness and reach of the ladder to rescue as many occupants as possible. Once you extend the Bangor ladder fully, lock the flys, and secure the halyard with a round turn-two half hitches knot, the ladder cannot accidentally retract and becomes a solid single unit.
As a single unit ladder, you can now make rescues on both sides of the interior H without retracting or lowing the ladder. The ladder can be tipped to the opposite side of the H with one firefighting standing on the bottom rung and the other firefighters controlling the weight transfer with the tormentor poles. The ladder can also be shoved, rolled, shifted, and repositioned by pivoting the butt and transferring the weight by pushing or pulling on the tormentor poles.
For extreme rescues from windows where the maximum height of the Bangor ladder is required, you can turn the ladder into a straight ladder fire escape by bringing the butt of the ladder in to the base of the building and assign as many firefighters as needed to push and hold the ladder into the building with the tormentor poles.
Proficiency and confidence in handling the “big dog” ladders only comes from drilling and practicing with Bangors on real-life structures where members may have to be deployed in an emergency.
RAUL A. ANGULO retired from the Seattle (WA) Fire Department after more than 37 years of service and is also Captain Emeritus of Ladder Co. 6. He is a featured author and a member of the Editorial Advisory Board for Fire Apparatus and Emergency Equipment magazine and is a regular contributor to Fireengineering.com with Drills You’re Not Going to Find in the Books.