Firefighter Training Drill: Laddering the Building

Chicago firefighters laddering a building
Photo by Tim Olk

At any structure fire, it is a good idea to initiate proactive fireground tasks. Preparing the fireground ahead of time will aid in certain operations and provide a safety net for other operations.

Laddering the building is one such task. Throwing ground ladders to all windows of the structure provides immediate access to the building as well as immediate access out it. For any firefighter-survival action required, e.g., a ladder dive, the firefighter will be able to feel for the ladder and then dive out. For any rapid intervention team (RIT) operation requiring access to the second floor for a rescue, the ground ladders will provide that quick access.


Ground Ladders: Size Really Does Matter

Laddering Considerations

Ground Ladders, Not Just for Egress

The key is having enough ground ladders and sufficient staffing to initiate laddering all four sides of the building. Every arriving engine and ladder truck will have at least two ground ladders on it: a 14-foot roof ladder and a 24-foot ground ladder. These will be enough to ladder at least two sides of a two-story structure if only one truck arrives. If two trucks arrive, then all four sides can be laddered. 

You can use a 14-foot roof ladder to ladder a second-story window in a residential structure–this is not reserved only for the 24-foot ground ladder. Laddering the building requires knowing how long the ground ladders are from tip to butt–the 14-foot roof ladder is 14 feet from tip to butt. The bedded 24-foot ground ladder is also 14 feet from tip to butt. Both ladders are viable to use on a second-story window.

Knowing how to read a building to size it up for the correct ladder takes practice. You can use the 14-foot roof ladder for a second-story application only if the building presented allows it. Ladder math comes into play here–assuming a flat piece of terrain, a two-story house is 10 feet from floor to floor. The distance from the floor to the windowsill is about three feet; the butt of the ladder will be moved away from the building one-fourth of the building height, so moving it out four feet from the building will cause the tip to drop one foot down. A 14-foot roof ladder can reach the second-story windowsill.       

You can use the RIT or pump operator/driver to ladder all four sides as part of their proactive tasks. For the driver, once he has pulled off the initial handlines and established the water supply, he can start to ladder the building. If the RIT is established early in the incident, you can use them for this function as well.

We’ll examine how these elements play out in this month’s firefighter training drill.       

Equipment needed: A 14-foot roof ladder, a 24-foot ground ladder, and access to a residential structure.   

Goal: To practice using one firefighter to ladder various buildings using the 14-foot and 24-foot ground ladders.


  1. Select an easily accessible building with two stories–it can be a house under construction.
  2. Using just the one fire truck and the ground ladders on it, the crew can ladder the second-story windows using both ladders. This demonstrates to the crew how they can use the 14-foot and the 24-foot ladders to reach the windowsill.
  3. Once the crew has practiced laddering the building as a team, have each firefighter do the same thing again on his own.
  4. Pull each ladder off the truck and ladder one window on one side of the building. Use the 14-foot roof ladder first, then the 24-foot ground ladder
  5. Once a single firefighter has laddered the structure, the same firefighter will take the ladders down and put them back on the truck for the next firefighter.
  6. Once all crew members have practiced this as a single-firefighter operation, select a different structure to practice this again.

Key points:  

  1. Read the building to determine and practice estimating if the 14-foot roof ladder will reach the second-story sill.
  2. Practice laddering the building using only one firefighter—this would be the driver.
Mark van der Feyst

Mark van der Feyst has been in the fire service since 1999 and is a full-time firefighter in Ontario, Canada. He is an international instructor teaching in Canada, the United States, and India, and at FDIC. Van der Feyst is a local level suppression instructor for the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy. He is also the lead author of Residential Fire Rescue (Fire Engineering Books & Video).


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