Are You Ground Ladder Savvy? Part 2


Part 1 appeared in the October 2014 issue.

THE Following are some additional laddering tips to ensure you are ground ladder savvy at your next fire operation.

• Use caution when placing portable ladders on unstable surfaces that could give way under the weight of a device and a climber. Areas of concern include weakened floors or porch roofs. When laddering on a sidewalk, stay clear of floor doors that access cellars. Civilians walking down Main Street have fallen through them, and a heavy firefighter with tools and equipment ascending would create an amplified force. If at all possible, stay clear of the sidewalk floor door.

• When dealing with uneven, icy, or other questionable surfaces-and if a strong wind condition exists-secure the ladder in some way. Have a firefighter hold or foot it, or tie the ladder to a substantial object. Take all measures to ensure that no member falls when operating and to keep the ladder secure should there be a swift wind. Do this even if a company is operating in a nonurgent manner, such as a community service assignment or during the overhaul phase of a fire, even if operating on a perfectly level surface and there is no wind.

• Prior to climbing an extension ladder, be sure the dogs or pawls grasp over the rung in the locked position, or the fly section may slide down and the individual could fall off or have his feet caught between the rungs when the section collapses into the bed section. At one fire at which I was operating, the first-due truck aggressively placed several ground ladders at a row of homes before we arrived. I ascended one of the extension ladders that had been placed. Even though the ladder wasn’t extended, it was later discovered that the locks were not in the locking position. When at the top, at the window, I checked for a floor in an attached vacant building. There was no such surface. As I began to go back down, my partner was on his way up behind me. I heard him scream. His foot got caught between the rungs. I had no choice but to go back up and lay my body on the windowsill to get my weight off the extending section. The firefighter had broken his foot and missed time from work. The ladder was damaged and taken out of service. This stresses the importance of inspection, maintenance, and ensuring that the ladder you mount and place has the dogs locked.

• Keep your heads up for what may be overhead such as trees, overhangs from the structure, signs, and power lines that will impede raising ladders. In tight spots with an overhead obstruction, raise the ladder by the beam (the narrow side): It will fit between objects. If a crew deployed using a flat raise, the wide width of the rungs and both beams would make it more challenging to place the ladder in a crowd of overhead obstacles. The tip-first method mentioned above can also be used in this situation (photo 1).

(1) The beam raise is especially useful when working in narrow areas where a flat raise may not work. (Photo by Joel D. Bain.)
(1) The beam raise is especially useful when working in narrow areas where a flat raise may not work. (Photo by Joel D. Bain.)

• When power lines are in the area, the National Fire Protection Association recommends ladders be 10 feet away when being raised. This is so the ladder doesn’t accidentally contact one of the wires. When ladders contact power lines, there could be a deadly result.

• When assessing the structure to be laddered, consider several points. Take advantage of the structure’s strong points that are inherently in place. The corners are the most rigid points since two walls intersect there. If there is a collapse, there is a chance that they will still be in place. If a corner isn’t used because it’s not conducive to the objective, avoid unstable walls.

• Do not position ladders on burning surfaces and openings from which fire is exiting. Fire service ladders are very durable; however, high-heat conditions will compromise the structural integrity. If the ladder should be exposed to fire or heat, look for any discoloration, black soot, and a color change in the ladder’s heat indicator sticker, which means the device has been compromised. Have the equipment taken out of service for testing to ascertain if any structural damage has occurred.

• Be mindful of the locations of doorways so you do not impede other operations. Tasks such as line advancement, egress, and ventilation using positive-pressure fans may need space to be successful. If at all possible, try to keep the exit discharges clear; there, of course, may be situations where it may not be possible. Do not place the ladders on fire escapes. Place them on the wall to the side of the fire escape’s platform. The structural integrity of many of these exterior stairs is questionable. Furthermore, placing an aluminum ladder against a steel railing can cause the ladder to slip; it can easily be knocked out of the way, as Fire Department of New York Lieutenant Michael N. Ciampo demonstrated in his Training Minutes Portable Ladders segment on (http://bcoveme.m3flx4ly) If placing a ladder directly on the railing, secure it by tying it off.

• When you go to the roof, ensure that the ladder tip extends three to five rungs above the roof line, for two reasons. One is the ease of identifying the ladder’s location; the other is that it will be easier to transition from the ladder to the roof (photo 2). The porch roof is an exception to this placement rule. Crews may use the porch roof to rescue victims from windows. The tip at the roof line makes it easier to transition victims onto the ladder.

(2) When placing a ladder on a roof, ensure that the ladder tip extends three to five rungs above the roof line for ease of personnel transitioning on or off the device and to facilitate identification of the presence of the ladder. (Photo by Phil Cohen.)
(2) When placing a ladder on a roof, ensure that the ladder tip extends three to five rungs above the roof line for ease of personnel transitioning on or off the device and to facilitate identification of the presence of the ladder. (Photo by Phil Cohen.)

• Another consideration when using ladders for roof operations, particularly peaked roofs, is the roof ladder with hooks. It’s best to have the hooks opened up to the position where they are 90˚ to the ladder before ascending with it and placing it on top of the gabled roof deck. Insert the hooks over the top of the peak or ridge pole. Be mindful that wooden truss roofs will not have a ridge beam; therefore, the load will not be directly loaded onto anything structural. To secure the roof hooks onto the roof decking, open two holes in the roof with a striking tool and then insert the hooks. This will ensure extra hold so the ladder will not slide away.

• When laddering to vent a window, put the ladder on the upwind side of the opening to keep clear of the by-products exiting from the window when it is broken open. Place the tip even with the top sill of the window for better reach when breaking the glass with a hand tool. After the ladder has been used to vent, reposition the ladder under the bottom sill for better access and egress.

• The tip under or at a sill is the best position to access and egress a fire structure. It facilitates transitioning to and from the ladder on entering and exiting the interior. This position still can be used to vent windows. Be careful with the falling glass since a firefighter is venting under the window. When ordered to place ladders on a structure without any other specifics, this is the best placement technique because it is flexible and, more importantly, interior firefighters are afforded a means of egress should conditions become dire.

• Use caution when placing the ladder tip in the window. It can compromise an escaping firefighter who is bailing out in an emergency. The tip at or just below the sill will enable the firefighter to slide over and out instead of having to go up and over the ladder’s tip. However, one advantage of having a tip in the window is that interior personnel can identify it. Certainly, in a moment of haste, particularly with a straight ladder of a fixed length, the tip inside may not be avoided because it cannot be retracted. This ladder placement will be better than not having a ladder in position at all.

• Ladders should not be moved from their original position to another position except for dire reasons such as to protect the ladder from flame impingement or to remove a down firefighter or a civilian in need of immediate removal from an upper level. If the ladder must be moved for these reasons, preferably the company or individual who placed it should move it. An easy method for relocating a ladder is to have one person flip the ladder in a rolling fashion while it is still up against the structure; flop it beam over beam until it is at the new location (photo 3). Use caution. If there is a lot of slack in the halyard, it can wrap around the base and the ladder. If this is the case, quickly pick up the slack and tie the halyard to the ladder to prevent this from occurring. Another method also involves keeping the ladder in the vertical position. One or two firefighters, if the ladder is larger, can do it. If there is one firefighter, he lifts the tip away from the wall, places one arm between two rungs that are at shoulder height, and turns his body so that it is perpendicular to the ladder. With the top rung resting on the laddering firefighter’s shoulder, he grasps the third rung down and, with the opposite hand, grasps the beam in front. This will help to keep the ladder balanced when it is lifted and transported to a new location. The firefighter then lifts the ladder with his legs, using the shoulder and the hand holding the rung to hold the weight as the hand on the beam keeps the ladder balanced.

(3) If a ladder is already raised or placed, personnel can roll the device into another position. (Photo by Phil Cohen.)
(3) If a ladder is already raised or placed, personnel can roll the device into another position. (Photo by Phil Cohen.)

• When confronted with a larger ladder that is extended, it is recommended that two firefighters move the ladder. With one to the right and the other to the left of the ladder, they face each other. Both grasp a rung (two to three rungs from the ground) with the hand farthest from the building. The hand closest to the wall grabs the back of the beam. This helps to stabilize the ladder as it is up in the air. When both firefighters are ready, they pull the ladder from the objective and lift in unison. When the ladder is up in the air, the tandem can walk to the desired location.

• You can also use fire service ladders as a platform or bridge from which to operate. If you encounter holes or openings in the decking on which you are operating, place the ladder as a bridge. You can walk across it, and it will prevent members from falling through an opening.


When ascending a ladder, maintain a straight up-and-down posture, and keep your body parallel to the building. When climbing, step on one rung at a time. Do not lean your head forward; it can lead to fatigue. Place your hands on a rail, and slide them along as you ascend or descend. Another, more popular, option is to grasp the rungs when moving up or down the ladder.

After climbing to the desired location, you must transition from the ladder to the floor or roof decking. Be sure to sweep and sound the platform with a foot, or preferably a tool, before loading your body weight on it. You’re checking for a victim and to see if the material is stable enough to handle your weight, so don’t just tap the floor or decking after sweeping to ensure no one is there. Hit it solidly. A fall through an opening or a weakened deck can be debilitating or even deadly.

You can transition to a window by staying low or upright when entering. In staying low, you enter by sliding up and over the windowsill. Your hands enter first, just as when diving into a pool. The hands may be needed briefly to help push you up and in, but be sure to put them in front of you again to slow your forward progress. Once on the floor, you can continue to crawl if you want to complete a search. This technique is good for small windows and when you need to stay low in blinding smoke conditions.

To enter the window upright, when at the top of the ladder and about to enter, turn into the window and place one hand inside on the wall. Place the opposite hand on a ladder rung. Place your first leg inside, and straddle the sill by sitting on top of it. Lean forward, holding onto the ladder rung and wall for control, until you establish contact with the floor. Once the first foot makes contact, rotate your torso so the other foot comes around onto the decking. Also, as demonstrated by Ciampo in his Training Minutes Portable Ladders segment, you can climb into a window in a similar fashion and straddle the sill and transition to the floor using this technique. In either of these entrances, after confirming the stability of the decking, you can place the tools inside to the side of the window or hook them to the ladder rung on the side against the beam. After you are over the ledge, reach over and grab them off the ladder.

When carrying tools and equipment, ensure that you do not drop anything, which can create a fall hazard for you. You could carry a tool in your hand and slide the opposite hand on the opposing beam. However, it’s recommended for safety that you always maintain three points of contact. An option is to place the hand with the tool in it behind the beam. If you begin to fall, drop the tool and quickly grab the beam.

Another alternative is to reach up the ladder with a tool and hook it to the highest rung you can reach. If you must climb to a high height, as you ascend and come near the hanging tool, briefly stop to grab it and then place it on another rung above within your reach. Repeat the process until you reach the objective. In transitioning, enter the window or step on the roof first. Then, reach over and grab the tool from the ladder.

Perhaps one of the safest ways to transport tools and equipment to an elevated work area is by rope. A firefighter on the upper level lowers the line to another firefighter, who can choose a type of knot to tie off an ax, a saw, or another tool. The member working above then pulls up the tool to the working level. Use another rope as a tag line tied to the bottom of the object to be hoisted so the swinging tool and the structure aren’t damaged.

Also, when advancing a hoseline up a ladder, it is safer to haul it up to the objective with a rope. It is preferable that the line be dry not only for easier handling but also in case the nozzle bail accidentally opens while being raised, which would cause the hose to whip about uncontrollably in midair. For convenience, we carry a charged hoseline up a ladder when overhauling an overhang or an area on a rooftop.

Today, when firefighters must master multiple skills and abilities, it would be easy to look on setting up ladders as a simple task. The goal is to place a ladder without becoming injured and to be able to rapidly move on to another fireground task with little or no fatigue. It all comes down to drilling. A five-minute drill will not only develop muscle memory that will minimize injuries and fatigue, but it will also add to the firefighters’ efficiency, making them ground ladder savvy.


DANNY STRATTON is a 27-year fire service veteran and a captain with the Camden City (NJ) Fire Department. He has served as a firefighter in the volunteer and career fire service and the United States Army. He is a course coordinator at the Camden County Emergency Training Center and an instructor for Safety and Survival Training LLC. He is a rescue specialist with NJ-TF1 and has a double associate degree in fire science.

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