Go High: Rungs Above the Roofline

Ground ladder raised above roofline and two hoselines

Whenever a ground ladder is being raised and extended to the roof of a building, the minimum number of rungs above the roofline is supposed to be three as instructed in basic training. The number of rungs above the roofline is a debate that some firefighters will engage in: should it be three or five above the roofline? The number of rungs above the roofline should not matter as long as there are at least three, but how about as many as possible?

The purpose of having a good number of rungs above the roofline is to provide visibility to spot the ladder and for access on and off the ladder. Having a few more rungs above the roofline allows a firefighter to grab onto the beam like a handrail, to step on and off, providing more stability and control. The visibility is also increased by having more of the ladder visible for the team to see.  If there are five to seven rungs above the roofline, then the benefit will be increased for those working on the roof as opposed to only three rungs above.




Tactical Operational Tips in Laddering

The number of rungs above the roofline must be proportionate to the length of ladder from the ground up to the roofline. The number of rungs above the roofline must not exceed the number of rungs below the roofline going down to the ground–the ladder must have a solid base between two points (the ground and the roof edge) for it to be stable. If the ground ladder is divided in half at the roofline, it becomes a teeter totter, pivoting on the roof edge and providing no stability at all. Having five to seven rungs above the roofline will be a benefit only if three-quarters or more of the ground ladder is below the roof line.

Ground ladder rungs placed above the roofline of a home

The other important factor is to heel the ladder when the firefighter is getting on or off the ladder. This will prevent the ladder from kicking out when climbing a rung above the roofline for access on and off.  

When raising the ladder to the roof, do not worry about counting the number of rungs raised above the line. Just raise as many as possible so that there is a good number of rungs above the roof line within reason/proportion.       

Equipment needed: Ground ladder (24 feet), access to a building or roof prop

Grill: To practice raising and extending a ground ladder above the roofline without counting rungs.

Drill:Gaining access to the building. Carry the ground ladder to it.

Using either a one- or two-man ladder raise technique, raise the ground ladder vertically up to the building.

After untying the halyard (if applicable to the ladder that is being used) extend the ladder up above the roofline.

Stop the extension of the fly section when there are sufficient rungs above the roofline (more than three rungs.)

Once raised into position, follow departmental procedures for tying off the halyard and placing the ladder against the building.

Have each member of the team rotate through and practice doing this.

Key Points:

  1. Do not count the number of rungs above the roof line: Extend the ladder with a good number of rungs above the roofline.
  2. Maintain proportion. Make sure the number of rungs above the roofline does not unbalance the rest of the ladder below the roofline.
Mark van der Feyst

Mark van der Feyst has been in the fire service since 1999 and is a firefighter with the Fort Gratiot (MI) Fire Department. He is an international instructor teaching in Canada, the United States, and India, and at FDIC. He is also the lead author of Residential Fire Rescue (Fire Engineering Books & Video). He can be contacted at Mark@FireStarTraining.com.



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