April Showers


Rain during this time of year is great for ensuring drafting sites are full of water. Knowing you can hook into a dry suction pipe and get water from one of these bodies of water makes water tanker/tender shuttles much easier. In addition to the rain in the spring, remember what the spring thaw does to the earth. Sometimes you forget that you’ve operated on solid, frozen, or snow-packed grounds for the past few months and now are operating on soft ground.


Portable Ladders

When climbing a portable ladder, bounce on the bottom rung to set the butt of the ladder into the soft earth. If it’s wet and muddy, don’t look down while doing it, because water and mud can fly in all directions and hit you in the eye. The ground can make a very secure base in these situations, but if you need to rapidly move the ladder to another location, be aware it could be difficult! The friction between the ladder and earth has created suction, and it can be very hard to remove the butt from the ground. There have been times when two firefighters have had to pull up on the ladder to remove it from the mud.

Once you remove the ladder, the ground will be slippery and difficult to get traction on. Rolling the ladder to the next location can make it easier to move. Keep the tip touching the building, position in a boxer’s stance, and have both hands on each of the ladder’s rails. Now, your hands can act in a push/pull motion and roll the ladder to its new position.

If you are rolling it farther than a few feet, ensure the halyard is quickly secured with a half-hitch on a rung before you move the ladder. This way, it doesn’t wrap around the ladder during the moving process.

Another tip for rolling a ladder farther is to push it into a more vertical position when you start. This helps you maintain an upright body position and keeps the ladder’s butt from sliding backward during the roll and interfering with your feet.


If you need a reason to have an ample supply of jack pads, cribbing, and short planks in your tool inventory, spring will give you a reason to stock up. When you place outriggers on soft surfaces, don’t wait to watch them sink into the ground. Prior to placing them on the surface, place appropriate cribbing and then the large jack pad on top of that. The bottom cribbing helps build up or create a base, while the top pad will help distribute the weight more evenly over the entire surface.

Once the apparatus outriggers are secured in place and the ladder is moved, the pedestal operator should also monitor the ground and the outriggers. Some sinking can occur, but it shouldn’t be a drastic change. If it is, the ladder may need to be rebedded and the outriggers resupported with more cribbing.

During the spring thaw, you may encounter a ruptured water main that has undermined the earth. When the outriggers place pressure on the ground, it can suddenly collapse. So, monitor outrigger placement in the spring, during periods of heavy rain, or when placing off the roadway.

Flooded Roofs

In the early spring, snow accumulations can still exist on roofs. A rainstorm can result in a host of problems in a building, especially during a thaw. Often, ice and snow may clog or block roof drains while the leftover snow absorbs the falling rain, adding a tremendous weight load to the roof. Whenever you encounter these conditions, be sure not to walk directly across the roof; try to get toward the outer walls and look for a scupper and drain. If the roof were to suddenly collapse, you can hop up on top of the parapet for safety and to ensure you don’t fall or get sucked into the hole in the roof.

If you have to proceed out to the middle of the roof to clear a drain, only one firefighter should move in that direction, probing with a tool to ensure the roof is solid. A shabby repair using lightweight materials or a skylight could suddenly give way from the weight of materials sitting on it.

Once you’ve reached the blockage, use a tool to remove it or break it up. Never put your hand near a drainpipe to remove a blockage. If it suddenly clears, suction could cause your hand to be pulled into the pipe. Many times, these drains may be clogged with rubbish and leaves. You will hear a loud sucking sound once the debris is removed; keep your body away from the drain.

When operating on a roof of a multiple dwelling, refrain from breaking off a soil pipe or making a hole in the side of a dumbwaiter shaft. Hundreds of gallons of water can spew into apartments below if the soil pipes are defective or the dumbwaiter has been converted into a cabinet in one of the apartments below. Plus, water could travel directly to the basement and create problems with the utilities.

If no drains can be cleared, it may be a good time to create a homemade suction hose. Bringing up one length of hose to the roof may do the trick. Once it’s on the roof, submerge it in the water and then quickly put one end over the parapet. It may create enough suction to begin draining.

Another tactic is for an engine to stretch a hoseline up the outside of the building, charge the line, and then break it below to create a drafting/suction action. Some departments have gasoline or hydraulic pumps to assist in removing water from flooded basements or roofs. The equipment may not be used often, but you should still ensure your tools are up for the task.

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.


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