Firefighting Basics: Ladder Tips

Six easy tips on ground ladder operations to incorporate into your firefighter training

Photos by author

I’ve been focusing lately on fireground operations that I have witnessed over the last few months in which firefighters are undertaking certain tasks and completing them in a manner that is not consistent with their training. One such area is ground ladders. This area is generally neglected in the fire service because we look upon a ground ladder as a bulky, heavy, and awkward item to handle.

The ground ladder needs to be viewed as a useful tool for the firefighter and needs to become a very familiar item that is used and featured frequently in firefighter training. Many fire departments will not have the call volume to support frequent use of a ground ladder, but training does, and training can take place at any station, at any time, at any location.

Let’s review some useful tips that we can employ with our ground ladders so that no matter who the firefighter or fire department is, they can integrate them into their operations with ease.

Halyard on ground ladder

The first tip pertains to the halyard. It needs to be tied in a manner that will allow one firefighter to raise the ladder, and then extend the ladder without having to untie the halyard. This can be accomplished as shown in photo 1. The halyard is tied around the bottom rung of the bed section using a clove hitch and stays that way always. When it comes time to extend the fly section of the ladder, all you must do is pull on the halyard and up goes the ladder. Too much time is wasted on untying the halyard and then retying the halyard once the ladder has been raised into position. The ground ladder will work for a rescue even with the halyard untied around the rungs after the ladder has been raised. The halyard is not the safety feature that will prevent the fly section from sliding back down—the dogs or pawls are, and they are rated for that exact purpose.

The second tip is to identify the middle of the ground ladder. The middle of the ground ladder can be identified by painting either a truck number on the side of the beam or painting a certain color that identifies the truck it belongs to. This could be a green color or a red color, but it serves a bigger purpose than just telling you which truck is belongs to. It tells the single firefighter where on the ladder to pick it up from the ground, or where to shoulder the ladder when sliding it off the truck. Thus, the lone firefighter will always be at the right spot to shoulder the ladder without it being a teeter totter on his or her shoulder. This will allow for more efficient and effective firefighter operations.

Orange ground ladder tip

The third tip is to paint the tips of the ladder for identification of the ladder at a roofline. As you can see in photo 2, the tip of the ladder has been painted with a bright orange color, which allows for visibility. Notice how far down the paint goes; it covers about three rungs, which is the minimum for what is required for rungs above a roofline. When a firefighter needs to locate the ground ladder while on the roof, all they need to do is look for the orange painted tips and they will easily identify its location. Fluorescent glow-in-the-dark paint can also be used on the tips, which helps with nighttime visibility. It also serves as a guide for raising the ladder for roof access – the firefighter will be able to see how many rungs need to be extended past the roofline.

The fourth tip is to orient the ground ladders on the truck to be ready for deployment. As seen in photo 1, the ground ladder is mounted in the truck with the butt spurs facing the right direction. I have witnessed ground ladders placed on a truck with the butt spurs facing the wrong direction, thus making the direction of travel the wrong way. We want to be able to open the compartment door, grab the ladder, pull it off onto our shoulder, and go in the same direction. If the ground ladder is mounted on the side of the truck, then the same tip applies—have the butt spurs facing the direction of travel, which will usually be the rear of the truck.

The fifth tip is to always place the tip of the ladder at the window ledge or sill. The best place for the ladder tip is to be at the windowsill whenever you are laddering a window for the purpose of rescue, gaining entry, breaking a window, applying water through the window, or any other purpose. Textbooks will show you different ways to ladder a window based on the task assigned, but they do not take into consideration the greatest need for the firefighter – self-rescue and the rescue of the occupant. If a firefighter needs to bail out of a building using a ladder dive, the ladder will be in the right position. If the firefighter needs to remove an occupant from the building through the window, the ladder will be in the right position.

Firefighter on a ground ladder seen from roof

The sixth tip is to always go more than three rungs above the roofline. The general rule of thumb is to have the rungs of the ladder to be at least three rungs above the roof but no more than five rungs. Why not always go with five rungs all the time, as depicted in photo 3? Having five rungs above the roof line makes the ladder much more visible and, easier for the firefighter to get on and off the ladder. It also allows for more control for the firefighter.

These simple tips that have been mentioned can be easily incorporated into current department operations. Remember, they should first be proven to be effective for the department and its membership before you implement any changes.

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


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