MORE ON TOWER LADDERS, PART 1
BY TOM BRENNAN
The last time we discussed tower ladders in this column was August 1988. I believe–even more strongly now than then–that the tower ladder is the greatest aggressive firefighting apparatus advance since motors were put on pumps. Communities (fire departments and fire districts) are still purchasing these costly pieces of apparatus for defensive operations using outside streams. However, their main value is their versatility when used to support aggressive interior tactics. Seven years ago we discussed topics such as position, setup, and collapse areas. Let`s talk about others.
People remover–probably its greatest service level! At one specific window with no life threat below, probably an aerial ladder will do as well as or better than a tower ladder. But if the opening is above the fire floor, the tower ladder will provide the only “shot” at getting to and removing the victim(s) with some degree of calmness and safety.
What if more than one window opening is showing trapped victims on arrival? With an aerial ladder, you have some really tough choices as a chauffeur (remember, with today`s “not enough firefighters to do anything” staffing policies, you are probably alone in this decision). You have to pick the one victim who is reachable and who has the least amount of time to survive. Then you must tie your aerial to that location until the civilian is off the base of the ladder and safe before you position for the victim who is the next most exposed.
The tower eliminates such exasperating decisions–simply drive around the facade of the structure as a rescue “bus.” It may sound simplistic here, but it is true.
How many people? is the question firefighters who have not gone to enough fires usually ask. They want answers based on square footage of the bucket floor and the distance of extension–for test takers! I have read answers ranging from whole numbers to fractions of numbers representing people! My usual answer to the question is, “When you get there, you can`t leave anyone.”
Victim position after removal. Has anyone ever thought of this? You have handholds, experience, and safety belts (of all sorts) to depend on–what about “them”? Make the victims sit on the floor of the basket, where you can keep good eye contact, they can hear your words of encouragement, and you can keep knee contact and control. This position prevents panic (if at all possible). The victim is unable to see threatening sights around him and the protection of the bucket is optimum. This is especially important with multiple and child victims. Don`t hesitate to provide some pressure to hold the victim against the railings. This is not an excursion–it`s a rescue!
Cutting roofs. This apparatus represents the safest and most effective way to open (cut) peaked-roof structures. This tactic is urgent in Victorian (Queen Anne) balloon-constructed private dwellings. Practice working from the bucket itself. You should be able to start the saw, have properly designed protection to keep you attached to the bucket, and either work with one foot on the roof area or have your partner “drive” the saw you are safely holding around the cut area with the tower controls.
Position of tower ladder at…private dwelling of more than one story. Barring any other problems–at the corner. Even better, at the corner opposite an attached garage. The “secret” of accounting for life during fire in these structures is to access the interior stairs as much as possible and to enter each room on the second floor from the outside–“simultaneous entry.” The tower ladder, positioned as said above, allows access to and examination of two of three, three of four, or four of five bedrooms. Picture what I`m saying. The last bedroom must be reached by other means. It can be gained off an attached garage roof or by portable extension ladder at the rear.
…strip store (taxpayer). Directly in front of the original fire occupancy. The roof can be accessed safely from either side of the fire, depending on fire and wind/exposure conditions. The tower then can be used, if necessary, as a large-caliber stream for the main fire while handlines and truck work define the perimeter of the fire extension within the exposures. Actually, the tower stream can act as an 800-gallon-per-minute handline from the sidewalk position. (Note: Aerial ladders leave this position open for a pumper with a large-caliber stream device mount for the same reasons. The only difference is that the pumper device is neither as maneuverable nor as effective.)
…other occupancies. Perpendicular to your objective, most of the time. Routinely, without victims showing on arrival, the key is to outguess the fire location and to know your “scrub area” in relation to that guess. That is the area of the building you can touch with the top rail of the basket. It usually is 50 feet to the front and rear of the turntable at the third-floor level (fourth-floor level if you have more than 75 feet of boom).
More on this subject next month. n
TOM BRENNAN is chief of the Waterbury (CT) Fire Department and a technical editor of Fire Engineering. He spent more than 20 years in some of the world`s busiest ladder companies in the City of New York (NY) Fire Department. He is co-editor of The Fire Chief`s Handbook, Fifth Edition (Fire Engineering Books, 1995).