National Fire Fighter Near-Miss Reporting System: The 35′ Ladder Raise Gone Wrong

Raising ladders is a basic firefighting skill that requires strength, balance, and practice, lots of practice. In this week’s featured report, practice makes perfect is interrupted by the nemeses of ladder raising, angles and gravity.

“…During the raising, student “A” was hoisting the halyard when he pulled the halyard on more of an angle than straight down. At the same time, student “B”, who was bracing the ladder, was not prepared for the tortional force created by this angular pulling. The ladder was extended approximately 30′ so the slight imbalance at the base was multiplied at the tip and the center of gravity quickly shifted to a point where the ladder began to tip towards the building.

…I as the instructor, attempted to assist them in a controlled fall of the ladder with minimal success. This was further complicated by the fact that student “A” let go of the halyard causing the ladder to retract in addition to falling. This caused the ladder to miss the overhang of the building that we were trying to reach and fall…”

Ladder raising is a combination of strength and skill. The best way to achieve perfection is to practice raising the ladder multiple times under the watchful eye of an experienced instructor. During those early, first harrowing raise attempts, the instructor(s) assist with the effort until the rookies learn how to balance their weight and adjust their body position to balance the ladder. As proficiency is achieved, the instructor begins to move to a more observational style; and eventually the instructor only needs to provide minimal fine tuning as the ladder raising team achieves success. However, only the slightest change in a hand position, foot position, or angle can send the tip of the ladder into a different plane. Once you have read the entire account (CLICK HERE), consider the following:

1. What are the benchmark(s) you use to establish when a group of firefighter trainees is ready to raise a ladder on their own?
2. How many firefighters does your department call for to raise a 35′ ladder?
3. What resource does your department refer to for its basic firefighting skills manual?
4. When did you last throw a 35′ ladder?
5. Would you characterize this near miss as avoidable or unavoidable? Explain your answer to your colleagues.

Have you had a near miss involving a ladder? Tell your story on to help other firefighters avoid your error or reinforce a best practice.

Note: The questions posed by the reviewers are designed to generate discussion and thought in the name of promoting firefighter safety. They are not intended to pass judgment on the actions and performance of individuals in the reports.

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