ON FIRE ❘ by MICHAEL N. CIAMPO
Being efficient in raising ladders is one of the basic firefighting tactics taught to us from our initial training period. The unfortunate part of this is, in so many areas, the basics are taught differently, and we’re performing book functions and not street-smart firefighting skills. Why is that important? Because we’re shaped to learn a skill, pass a practical test, and get the glorified certificate of firefighting.
Sometimes, when we arrive on the scene of a “worker,” we’re operating like it’s a drill field, but real-world fire conditions are occurring, and our tactical skills lack a little ingenuity or real-life practicality. Being around numerous fire scenes, many of us are still waiting to hear “Prepare to lift,” “Ready to raise,” and “Prepare to climb.” You’re more likely to hear “Set,” “Clear,” “Raise,” and “Good” before our vocational command policy is instituted.
Ladders Off the Rig
If you’re pulling the ladders off the rear of the apparatus, ensure you place your body facing the fire building. Sliding the ladder off the rear, you can keep your eyes on the building and watch the changing smoke and fire conditions. You might even notice a different building element, like an air-conditioning unit in the smaller attic window (which may indicate the attic is being used as a bedroom) or catch a glimpse of a victim in a smoke-filled window. If you notice a porch on the dwelling, maybe you’ll decide that a roof ladder thrown to it is another good idea. When the ladder is sliding out, let’s hope you’re not so busy counting the rungs or trying to decide where to grab it from that you don’t notice.
RELATED FIREFIGHTER TRAINING
If you’re one of those firefighters still experiencing the see-saw ladder retrieval off your apparatus, do something about it! Bystanders love to watch a firefighter trying to balance the ladder as it goes up and down, usually with one end hitting the rig or the ground. Marking the balance point on all your ladders helps you just glance down from time to time at the ladder while it’s sliding out of the rack. You can keep your eyes on the building and step into the rung spacing where the ladder is marked, finish removing it from the apparatus, and then begin transporting it to the scene.
When firefighters are initially taught the beam raise, they pick up the skill pretty quickly. Plus, they’ll have a favorite firefighter who foots it properly, taking the weight of the ladder off the raiser. Too many times on the training ground, we’re seeing the footer place his foot on the butt of the ladder and stand there until the ladder reaches his position. Whatever happened to leaning over and grabbing it and acting like a counterweight? Are bunker pants restricting movement, or are we just getting lazy?
Worse is when the firefighter who is walking the ladder’s beam upward just watches his hand-over-hand motion and the dummy dropped from the window above hits the ground with a loud “thud.” Oh wait, we don’t teach it that way; we yell “Clear” and “Ready to raise” and off they go, trying to raise it as quickly as they can.
The real way to teach it is for the raise firefighter to get out from under the ladder and place himself between the building and the ladder. As he walks forward, he can see any overhead obstructions or watch the physical position and condition of the victim in the window.
Firefighters shouldn’t be positioned on the outside of the ladder, with the ladder between them and the building. While raising it upward, their arms or a part of the ladder can restrict their view of the victim or an obstruction. Practice performing this method while the ladder sits on your opposite shoulder; don’t always favor your stronger arm.
Footing the Ladder
Across the country, we’re still seeing the great debate on footing the ladder. There are pros and cons about each way—doing it from the front or back side. With your body facing the building, maybe you’ll be able to tell the firefighter climbing to the roof that you see changing conditions, like fire venting from the vinyl soffits, or tell the member going up to perform vent-enter-search operations that you see the black smoke behind the glass turning orange. Who can stand under the ladder and view the fire building, especially when your helmet’s rear brim is hitting the top of your self-contained breathing apparatus tank?
Standing in front also allows a firefighter to rapidly climb up to support a firefighter if he has slipped or is in the process of removing a conscious or an unconscious victim. Don’t put too much pressure with your arm on his backside; the firefighter descending must be able to move his legs from rung to rung while coming down.
If the victim is halfway on and halfway off the ladder, maybe you’ll have to leave your footing position and retrieve the roof ladder you placed onto the porch roof. Sure, we all know it’s dangerous to leave the footing position, but we don’t want the victim or the firefighter falling off. Getting another ladder and placing it next to the original ladder will let you climb up and grab onto the victim, removing some weight off the firefighter climbing down the ladder and assisting in the removal. Hopefully, during your drilling periods, you’ve practiced this maneuver.
If you still prefer to stand behind the ladder, just duck your head and hold on tight if you hear someone yell, “Watch out”; it’s only a firefighter dropping a tool while climbing, some sharp shards of glass from the window being vented above you, or a roof shingle or gutter that’s detached from the building and is coming your way.
Place your body to the building; your skill set will thank you.
MICHAEL N. CIAMPO is a 35-year veteran of the fire service and a lieutenant in the Fire Department of New York. Previously, he served with the District of Columbia Fire Department. He has a bachelor’s degree in fire science from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. He is the lead instructor for the FDIC International Truck Essentials H.O.T. program. He wrote the Ladders and Ventilation chapters for Fire Engineering’s Handbook for Firefighter I and II (Fire Engineering, 2009) and the Bread and Butter Portable Ladders DVD and is featured in “Training Minutes” truck company videos.