You are a firefighter assigned to a ladder truck company. Your regular apparatus, a state-of-the-art tower ladder, is in the maintenance shop. You and your company are operating with an old relief apparatus, a truck that has the basic 100-foot sectional metal aerial ladder and no prepiped waterway.

Your company is dispatched on a full assignment to a reported structure fire. En route, the dispatcher at the communications center notifies all the responding units that many phone calls are coming in. Your adrenaline starts to pump. You arrive at the scene of a large structure that is fully engulfed in flames. The incident commander determines that there is no life safety involved and the strategy for attacking the fire will turn defensive. Multiple alarms will be struck to bring more companies and personnel to the scene. Aerial ladder trucks are positioned around the structure to deliver elevated master streams to snuff out the flames. You and your company will have to set up a detachable ladder pipe. Do you remember how to do it?


Ladder pipes have been around since the 1930s, when the first metal aerial ladders were introduced to the fire service. Today, manufacturers offer fire departments various ways to safely deliver the elevated master stream, including a platform attached to the end of the aerial or the traditional aerial ladder with the prepiped waterway and remote-controlled nozzle. Modern technology has made transitioning from an interior offensive attack to an exterior defensive attack into a smooth efficient process.

However, the ladder truck with the traditional straight 100-foot metal aerial ladder is still part of many career and volunteer fire departments across the country. To use the aerial ladder of these apparatus as a ladder pipe, a detachable nozzle assembly must be attached to the rungs at the tip of the aerial and a 100-foot length of 2 1/2- or three-inch hose must be connected to the assembly and run down the middle of the aerial.

On the ground, the other end of the hose is connected to the outlet of the portable siamese, which has multiple inlets. This allows for multiple connections of hoselines to supply the one line that feeds water to the ladder pipe.

In the San Francisco (CA) Fire Department (SFFD), our siamese is equipped with three three-inch female inlets and a gauge to measure the incoming water pressure. In addition, each of the three inlets is installed with a clapper valve. At the other end of the siamese, the outlet is gated, and a circular handle is used to control its opening and closing. The size of the outlet is also three inches, and a double male fitting is required to attach the female coupling of the ladder pipe hose to the Siamese (photo 1). A firefighter must be positioned at the siamese to introduce and monitor the water flow to the ladder pipe.

(1) The SFFD siamese with three inlets. The double male fitting and spanner are shown alongside the siamese. (Photos by author.)

An engine company will be assigned to provide a permanent water supply to the ladder pipe. The engine will be hooked up to a hydrant, and supply lines connected from the outlets of the engine will run to the inlets of the siamese. Once the detachable ladder pipe is set and the aerial is raised, the nozzle must be controlled so that an accurate water stream can be deployed to the seat of the fire. For many years, the easiest method for controlling the nozzle was to put a firefighter at the tip of the aerial. At the tip, the firefighter had the best view of the fire. He was able to control the up and down movement of the nozzle. With a speaker at the tip, the firefighter was also able to communicate to the aerial operator at the turntable to move the ladder left or right. This created horizontal movement for the nozzle. Therefore, members of the truck company were able to deliver an elevated master stream with pinpoint accuracy.

Despite the ability of the firefighter to accurately handle the nozzle while positioned at the tip of the aerial, progressive leaders of the fire service have frowned on this tactic. Putting a firefighter at the tip of the aerial was subjecting that individual to all the elements of the rising heat, smoke, and flame. Instead of putting a firefighter at the tip, guide wires are recommended as an alternative to controlling the nozzle (photo 2). With guide wires hooked up to the nozzle, a firefighter positioned at the turntable could pull on the wires to move the nozzle up and down (photo 3). The aerial operator would still dictate the horizontal movement of the nozzle by standing near the console and using the controls to slowly rotate the aerial left or right. Thus, two firefighters perched on the turntable can easily communicate with each other to control the entire movement of the nozzle and deliver accurate results.

(2) Hooking up guide wires to the nozzle of a detachable ladder pipe eliminates the need to put a firefighter at the tip to control the nozzle.


(3) Ladder pipe drill. A firefighter at the turntable is controlling the vertical movement of the nozzle with guide wires. During fireground operations, the aerial operator would be on the turntable to control horizontal movement.



On arrival, the officer has determined that the fire attack strategy will be defensive. All members of the crew must consider several factors before the ladder pipe can be put to work. Is there potential for the building to collapse? What is the integrity of the wall to which the master stream will be applied? Where can the master stream be directed to create the most effective results?

If structural collapse is a possibility, a collapse zone must be determined so the apparatus can be positioned outside the hazard area. In San Francisco, our department manual defines the collapse zone as the area a wall will cover if it falls-usually the height of the wall plus an additional one-third of the height.

Collapse zones cannot always be established. The involved structure may be multistoried and set on a narrow street. If this is the case, the crew may position the rig at the corner of the building.

Nozzle operators should consider the design of the building’s wall before applying the master stream. The force of the stream is capable of inflicting major damage to the objects on the wall and knocking them to the ground. Therefore, operators should note walls with bricks, moldings, cornices, and parapets.

Where can the firefighter direct the water stream most effectively to put out the fire?

A good example would be a fire on the top floor of a multistory building that is venting through the roof. Do not extend the ladder above the roof and aim the master stream at the flames coming through the roof. This will only push the fire back into the building through the vent hole and cause it to spread horizontally. Instead, direct the stream through the window of the fire room. This will push the fire up and out through the vent hole.


If companies practice and drill on setting up the detachable ladder pipe, it can be done quickly.

Every member assigned to the truck company must be familiar with the setup.

For the purpose of this article, a late model (built after 1990) tractor-drawn, 100-foot aerial will be used to demonstrate the setup of the ladder pipe. This truck runs with the nozzle assembly connected to a 100-foot length of three-inch hose, and the nozzle assembly is secured to the apparatus just near the tip of the bedded aerial on the officer’s side. The preconnected hose is laid out in a long rectangular compartment alongside the aerial (photo 4).

(4) The nozzle assembly is preconnected to a 100-foot length of three-inch hose. The equipment is stored alongside the aerial ladder for rapid setup.

Once the officer and the driver have determined the proper placement of the apparatus, the driver must secure the apparatus. The driver will engage the aerial ladder transmission. The wheels must be chocked and the outriggers deployed. Firefighters operating older-model tractor-drawn aerials must remember that the outrigger systems of their rigs are inferior to the systems of the newer models. Therefore, older tiller apparatus may be required to be jack-knifed to provide additional stability as the outriggers are deployed. The siamese and required tools for connecting hose must be removed from the apparatus compartments and set on the ground by the turntable. When laying the equipment on the ground near the turntable, choose the side of the apparatus opposite the fire building. The smart placement of equipment will offer some protection for setting up the ladder pipe by positioning the apparatus between the crew and fire building. This will also prevent the hose attached to the nozzle from wrapping around the turntable as the aerial is rotated toward the fire building.

This next maneuver is based on how the apparatus is designed and where the equipment is stored. The driver can raise the aerial ladder approximately two feet and slightly rotate the ladder to the right, away from the nozzle assembly. The operator can align the left tip of the aerial ladder with the side of the tiller cab. This new position of the aerial will expose the top section of the ladder bed, which is enclosed by diamond plate. The exposed area will provide stable footing for the crew to set up the ladder pipe. The crew, working alongside the aerial, can take the nozzle assembly and connect it to the tip of the aerial (photo 5). No crew member will have to get onto the aerial and work where the footing can become precarious.

(5) The view from the console on the turntable. The aerial ladder is slightly raised and rotated to the right. This maneuver offers the crew stable footing on top of the ladder bed to set up the detachable ladder pipe. Note the black incline meter on the lower right side.

Connect the nozzle assembly to the rungs at the tip of the aerial. To ensure proper vertical movement of the nozzle, check the position of the handle. The handle must be secured and in line with the barrel and nozzle of the assembly. Once the handle is secured, position the nozzle assembly so that the nozzle is facing down and the handle is in the upward position. This positioning of the nozzle assembly will allow the firefighter pulling the halyards to immediately gain vertical control of the nozzle assembly once the aerial is raised and extended (photo 6).

(6) Position the nozzle assembly facing downward with the handle pointing upward before the aerial is fully raised and extended. This enables the firefighter controlling the halyards to gain immediate vertical control of the nozzle once the aerial reaches its desired height.


As the nozzle assembly is connected to the rungs at the tip of the ladder, a crew member can lay the hose down the center and between the railings of the aerial toward the turntable. Once the hose reaches the turntable, the excess hose can be laid on the street. Connect the end of the hose lying on the street to the outlet of the siamese. At this time, the hose can also be secured to the top fly section with hose straps.


After the nozzle assembly is connected to the rungs at the tip of the aerial and the hose is laid down the center of the ladder, the truck crew can attach the guide wires to the nozzle. There are two methods I would like to share. The first is based on a diagram taken from the San Francisco Fire Department drill manual. The second method follows the same principles, but the connection of the halyards to the nozzle assembly is slightly altered.

The first technique is directly from the drill manual. It requires two halyards to be laid down the center of the aerial from the tip to the turntable. Grab the end of the halyard that will be attached to the end of the handle. Attach the halyard to the handle by looping the guide wire under the fifth rung from the tip and over the fourth rung. Bring the halyard to the handle, and clip it to the handle’s end. The other halyard must now be connected to the tip of the nozzle. This can be accomplished by feeding the clip end of the second wire under the fourth rung from the tip and staying under the third, second, and first rungs of the aerial and going directly to the nozzle tip (Figure 1).

Method of connecting halyards according to the San Francisco Fire Department Drill Manual. (Diagram courtesy of the SFFD.)

Method number two is a slight deviation. It came about when a truck company conducting a ladder pipe drill tinkered with the first method and found this method to be easier in controlling the nozzle’s vertical movement. The second method has one slight modification. Nothing changes for the halyard connected to the nozzle tip. However, the difference is in the way the halyard is connected to the handle-it is laid down the center of the aerial and connected directly to the handle (Figure 2).

Revised method of connecting the halyards to the nozzle assembly.

The loop around the fifth rung before connecting to the handle is eliminated. This enables the halyard connected to the handle to hang straight down the ladder once the aerial is raised and extended.

Both methods were used when we conducted ladder pipe drills. Initially, we found that looping the halyard around the fifth rung before connecting to the handle caused friction. This made it difficult to pull on the handle and create upward movement for the nozzle. Directly connecting to the handle involved no looping eliminated the friction when pulling on the handle. Currently, all SFFD truck companies are taught to connect the guide wires with the revised method.

This is one way a department teaches its members to attach cables to the nozzle of a detachable ladder pipe. There are other alternatives. Other departments may teach their members to attach the halyard to the handle, as we currently do. However, the halyard connected to the nozzle will lie completely under the aerial. Thus, once the aerial is raised, the halyard connected to the nozzle will drop straight down, and a firefighter on the ground must grab the halyard to control the downward movement of the nozzle.


While the truck crew is setting up the ladder pipe, another crew should be preparing an engine to act as a permanent water supply for the ladder pipe. The engine driver will position the apparatus near a hydrant. The engine will be hooked up to the hydrant, and the engine crew will pull off a minimum of two three-inch large lines to connect to the inlets of the siamese. Once the hoselines are connected, the engine operator may slowly introduce water to the supply lines.

In the San Francisco Fire Department, protocol states that one of the two large lines connected to the inlets of the siamese must be a controlled lead. A controlled lead is a hoseline connected with a portable shutoff. The shutoff can act as a coupling device that connects the hoseline to the siamese (photo 7). In addition, the shutoff has a handle that opens and closes an inside valve to control the flow of water. This offers flexibility when the ladder pipe is shut down and mop-up operations are still required. The large line, attached to the shutoff, can be disconnected at the siamese. A wye is then connected to the shutoff and smaller 1 3/4-inch hoselines are attached to the large line and used for mop-up operations.

(7) Multiple supply lines attached to the inlets of the siamese. The line attached to the middle inlet is a controlled lead. The shutoff and adaptor are shown separately in the foreground. Note that all brass adaptors and fittings carried on SFFD apparatus are manufactured at the SFFD Central Shops.

Once everything is in place and secure, the truck officer will instruct the aerial operator to raise the aerial. Ideally, the aerial operator will raise the aerial ladder 70° to 80° from horizontal. To help determine the proper angle, the operator can use the incline meter on the side of the aerial (photo 5). When the aerial is angled at this position, the ladder is most stable to support the weight of the ladder pipe. Rotate the aerial so that the nozzle can be extended to the area of the intended target. Extend the aerial. For safety reasons, the aerial should not be extended beyond 85 feet. After the aerial is raised to the desired height, secure the hose to the lower rungs of the ladder using a strap.

As the aerial is being raised, the firefighter controlling the vertical movement of the nozzle should grab both halyards to ensure that the wires do not get tangled as the aerial is extended. Once the aerial reaches the desired height, the firefighter should give a slight pull on each halyard to ensure that the nozzle moves up and down. Be careful not to pull the nozzle past the pivot point where the entire nozzle assembly will be pointing straight up or straight down.

A firefighter at the siamese will introduce water by slowly rotating the circular handle in a counterclockwise motion to open the valve. Introducing the water slowly to the ladder pipe eliminates water hammer at the tip of the nozzle. All SFFD nozzle assemblies are connected with an interchangeable 1 3/4-inch straight tip. The SFFD Truck and Ladder Manual states that pressure at the tip for straight-tip ladder pipe nozzles shall be 80 psi. With the tip pressure at 80 psi, combined with the 1 3/4-inch tip, the water flow is approximately 800 gallons per minute.

Once the ladder pipe is in operation, the operator cannot extend or retract the aerial ladder.


The ladder pipe setup is a simple evolution that does not take a lot of time. Unfortunately, anything can happen on the fireground. Be prepared to eliminate potential problems.

A firefighter should flake the hoselines lying on the street that will lead to and from the siamese. First, straighten the hoselines leading to the siamese to eliminate any potential kinks before the supply lines are charged. Next, the firefighter can flake the hoseline connected to the nozzle assembly before the aerial is raised. Finally, the firefighter can feed the hose up the aerial ladder as it is extended. This can help prevent the ladder pipe hose from getting tangled.

The ladder pipe is extended to its desired height. You would never expect anyone to climb the aerial. However, the aerial operator should still align the rungs of the aerial. If the guide wires become tangled, someone will have to ascend the aerial and untangle them.

With newer aerial devices, the operator simply can use the rung alignment indicator located on the turntable console to ensure that the rungs are aligned. For older aerial apparatus, the operator will be required to engage a locking device on the aerial. Once the locking device is engaged, the operator will slightly retract the aerial. This will loosen the tension of a cable underneath the aerial and cause the cable to sag. Once the operator sees this, the rungs are properly aligned.

Ladder pipe operations are not an everyday event. Companies can go long periods without putting the ladder pipe to use at a fire. Laminate a simple diagram of the ladder pipe setup using the guide wires and tape it to the inside of a compartment door (photo 8). It can be used for quick reference.

(8) A laminated picture of the ladder pipe setup is taped to the compartment door for easy reference.



The fire is out. The incident commander has given the order to shut down the ladder pipe. The process can begin by having the firefighter at the siamese slowly rotate the handle in a clockwise motion to close the valve. The driver of the supplying engine can throttle down the pump, close the gates to the outlets where the supply lines are connected, and open the bleeders. Once the hose is limp, firefighters can begin disconnecting the hoselines going from the engine to the siamese.

The firefighter at the siamese can begin to bleed the hoseline attached to the nozzle assembly by opening the bleeder at the siamese. After the supply lines are disconnected from the inlets, the firefighter can insert a spanner or an ax handle into one of the inlets. This will open the clapper and drain the remaining water from the hose.

It is time to retract the aerial ladder. Remove the hose straps from the lower rungs. Position a firefighter on the ground to slightly pull the hose away from the rungs of the aerial. As the aerial is being retracted slowly, have a firefighter monitor the hose to make sure it is not clinging to the rungs. This will prevent the empty hose from getting caught, folding, and kinking between the rungs as the aerial is retracting.

After the ladder is retracted and rotated to a position where the nozzle assembly can be safely removed, remove the hose straps from the top fly section, disconnect the nozzle assembly from the rungs, and properly store the ladder pipe assembly to its original compartment. Pack up. Go home. Clean and inspect all the tools and equipment that were used at the incident.

• • •

The ladder pipe has been around for many years. Despite new technology and modern equipment developed to deliver the master stream, many departments still adhere to the old method, the metal sectional aerial ladder and detachable ladder pipe.

You can weigh the pros and cons of having a firefighter on the tip controlling the nozzle of a detachable ladder pipe vs. the use of guide wires. The firefighter on the tip offers quicker access to accuracy vs. the firefighter on the turntable controlling the nozzle’s movement. However, a defensive attack means that there is no life safety involved. The firefighter controlling the nozzle from the turntable will still have a good vantage point for delivering an accurate master stream. In addition, the firefighter will not be exposed to the toxins of the rising heat, smoke, and flame. Hopefully, this article will give you some ideas on how to update this old tradition and keep your firefighters safe.

I wish to thank the following members of the San Francisco Fire Department for their assistance: the Division of Training; Battalion 6 chiefs; Trucks 7, 11, and 18; Rescue 2; and Engines 7 and 23.


San Francisco Fire Department Truck & Ladder Manual, revised March 1997, 4.10-4.13.

San Francisco Fire Department Drill Manual, Ladder Pipe Operations.

AL HOM is a firefighter with the San Francisco (CA) Fire Department, assigned to Truck 7, located in the city’s Mission District. He contributes articles to Fire Engineering and was an instructor at FDIC West.


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