TOWER LADDERS: POSITIONING TIPS AND TECHNIQUES

BY MICHAEL N. CIAMPO

Because of their mobility and versatility, tower ladders play an instrumental role on many firegrounds and at many rescue scenes. When in the proper “work” position, they can perform tasks and functions other units cannot. These operational tactics differ considerably from those involving an aerial ladder. It is important to understand these dissimilarities.

Also, the fire service has seen an influx of new tower ladder apparatus. Many departments are adding these units to their inventories to achieve diversity. When adding new tower ladder apparatus, there must be changes in operating procedures. Understanding these tower ladder positioning tactics will help achieve a sound work position and assist in efficient fireground operations.

Note: For the purposes of this article, the term tower ladder includes aerial tower/ platforms and ladder tower/platforms.

PLACEMENT SIZE-UP

When a first-due tower ladder arrives on the fireground, it is usually possible to place it in a proper work position. When arriving at a later time, it may be necessary to reposition other apparatus or enter the scene from another direction to get the tower ladder into a proper work position, which is a priority. The following size-up can help you choose the optimal placement position for the tower ladder-which wall to work off or which building area to cover.

  • Life. An immediate rescue will always dictate initial placement.
  • Direction of fire travel. The fire conditions and extension possibilities on arrival are the next considerations in our quest to confine, control, and extinguish.
  • Type of structure and occupancy. The building’s characteristics (height, size, and shape) will affect placement positions.
  • Overhead obstructions. Wires, trees, and elevated roadways and trains can affect placement.
  • Miscellaneous conditions. Consider any other condition or obstacle than can affect positioning.

The placement size-up can run concurrently with any overall fireground size-up. Often, one particular size-up factor may dictate the position of the tower ladder. Keep in mind that size-up must be done throughout an operation. Fireground conditions change rapidly, and it may become necessary to reposition the apparatus.

SETUP TACTICS AND TIPS

The tower ladder is generally parked parallel to a building. It also should be positioned with sufficient room to allow the basket to be lowered below the horizontal plane while the boom is perpendicular to the apparatus so the basket can be used as a work platform or mobile master stream from the sidewalk level. Parking the apparatus so that it covers two sides of a building enables firefighting operations to begin on both sides of the structure.

There is a simple procedure for increasing the tower ladder’s reach and angles of operation. It also increases the overall scrub area (the square footage of the building fa

The angular approach is not advisable or achievable on a narrow car-lined street or at a high-rise building where the reach of the boom may be questionable. In this situation, park the apparatus as close to the building as possible to achieve upper floor coverage. The angular approach is a good tactic when conditions and building characteristics allow it. Knowing the buildings in your district and your tower ladder’s features will help you to determine when this approach will be beneficial.

Most tower ladders have more than two stabilizing components (outriggers, tormentors, and jacks). They also have the ability to change elevation, extension/retraction, and rotation rapidly, changing the weight distribution on the stabilizing components and frame structure. It is imperative that the apparatus be properly stabilized to reduce the chances of damaging one of its systems. More importantly, it will help minimize the chance that the apparatus will overturn and injure firefighters.

If any of the stabilizing components encounter an obstacle, there often are ways to handle the situation. The first and quickest option is to reposition the apparatus. When this cannot be done, other solutions must be used. Having a wide array of cribbing and planks of various sizes and lengths on the tower ladder will prove invaluable in these circumstances. Cribbing or planking can be used to span a manhole or gas shutoff cover. Be sure the cribbing or planking completely spans the cover and rests on the roadway. Cribbing can also be placed adjacent to the curb, creating a level surface for a stabilizing component.

Often, it is difficult to determine if the outrigger will have sufficient room to reach the ground without contacting an object. You can quickly estimate how much clearance is needed simply by holding a six-foot hook perpendicular to the apparatus. If the hook clears the object, the outrigger should clear it also. (Check your apparatus specifications for the outrigger’s length.) This simple procedure can expedite overall set-up operations.

TACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS

The following tactical considerations are presented as guidelines for tower ladder personnel:

  • A narrow car-lined street. Aligning the outriggers with the spaces between parked cars while favoring the fire side of the street is a good option. This will increase the unit’s overall coverage and reach. The curb line may also have driveway cutouts, which would be an open space for deploying the outrigger. This may not be the best positioning, but being able to cover one side of the structure is better than covering none.

  • A building with an alleyway. Placing the tower ladder’s turntable in line with the alley permits coverage of the front and one side of the building. This allows the following operations: exposure protection, extinguishment, rescue, and vent-enter-search (VES) on two sides of the building. If the structure was fully involved on arrival, positioning in the center of a small frontage building would allow coverage of three sides. Supplying the tower ladder with water immediately can achieve a rapid knockdown in the front and stream coverage down both alleys. It will also afford coverage of both exposures for protection and extinguishment.

  • Operations at elevated roadways and trains. Positioning the apparatus parallel to the elevated structure will assist in a safe approach. In this manner, the basket is raised parallel to the object, and the boom or basket will not extend into the traffic pattern of the roadway or train track.

  • Areas of uncertain ground stability. Driving across an area of uncertain ground stability in any type of apparatus can be dangerous. Visually inspect the area first. Always use planking, cribbing, or jack pads under the stabilizing components to distribute the weight of the apparatus over a larger surface area. Positioning the apparatus perpendicular to the building will evenly distribute the weight on all of the stabilizing components. Use caution when operating. Try to stay in line with the apparatus to avoid placing undue stress on the stabilizing components and a collapse of the ground under a stabilizer.

  • Positioning at corner buildings. Placing the tower ladder at the corner will help achieve effective stream placement and ventilation on two sides of the building. Before taking this position, conduct a size-up to determine the locations of street signs, utility poles, traffic signals, and wires that may hinder boom operations.

  • Positioning at “H”-,”U”-, and “E”-type buildings. Placing the turntable in line with the courtyard allows access to the throat area and coverage of many sides of the building. This position also enables you to prevent the fire from spreading across the throat and to extinguish the fire in the wings with a master stream. If the courtyard is deep, place the apparatus as close as possible to ensure that the tower ladder can reach the throat area.

  • Positioning for rescue. The aerial ladder normally aligns its turntable with a victim. Ideally, the tower ladder should be positioned with the basket in line with the victim. This will shorten the travel distance and the time it takes to reach the victim. It also ensures an angular approach, which makes it safer and easier to enter the basket’s side doors.

  • Positioning at private dwellings. Positioning the apparatus to cover two sides of a dwelling should be a main objective if conditions permit. (Use caution, since many private dwellings have overhead electrical service attached to one of the structure’s sides.) One of our main goals at all private dwelling fires is to access the second floor/bedroom area for VES. Corner positioning may allow us access into various bedroom areas. Placing the tower ladder’s basket to a second-floor window provides the firefighter with a stable work platform for entry and an escape route if conditions become untenable. By no means does a tower ladder take away the need for portable ladders on the fireground. Since so many fire departments are operating with reduced or an unknown number of personnel, the basket placed at a window is an easy tactic to deploy, and it increases overall safety.

  • Dwellings of contemporary design. These structures have various heights, angles, and shapes incorporated into their architectural style. These characteristics may often make it difficult to position so that two sides are covered or access to a high-pitched roof is attained. Also associated with these structures are skylights and ridge-line windows, which can be used to our advantage. Placement of the tower ladder alone or in conjunction with a hook/roof ladder to reach the skylights or windows is a good objective for ventilation purposes. Whenever entering a window on these types of structures, always check for a floor prior to entry. These windows may lead into a loft area or be of an ornamental design and have a severe drop to the ground floor.

  • Bilevel or split-level dwellings. Often, the bedroom areas are located at the front and one end of the structure (the opposite end from the large living room window). Parked cars may hamper access to the front bedroom windows by portable ladders. Placing the tower ladder on a corner position or in line with the driveway windows will allow the basket to operate over the parked cars. This provides another means of access and egress and the possible coverage of two different rooms.

  • Ranch-style dwellings. Conditions permitting, positioning at the corner can provide access to the roof for vertical ventilation or to the side of the structure to remove the attic vent for horizontal ventilation.

  • Cape Cod-style dwellings. Because there are various styles of Capes, a quick size-up can help you choose a position. If the dwelling has the front “dog house” windows and side windows, a corner position would ensure access to both areas. On many Capes, the second-floor bedrooms may be accessible only from the sides. Getting the tower ladder in position to cover one of these windows can be used to assist in VES.

    These are a few tactical considerations for private dwelling fires. If the apparatus cannot be put into position and used, ensure that portable ground ladders are used to their fullest potential.

    Understanding the principles of positioning tower ladders will increase the apparatus’ overall effectiveness. At those times when conditions hamper optimal positioning, we must overcome the obstacles and attain the best possible position for firefighting operations.

    MICHAEL N. CIAMPO is a firefighter with the Fire Department of New York. He previously served with the District of Columbia Fire Department. He has a bachelor’s degree in fire science from John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New York City, and was an instructor in the Hands-On Training program at the 1999 FDIC.

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