The variations discussed in this article can be used, when appropriate, as adjuncts to the standard techniques of repositioning ground ladders. They are designed to stimulate initiative and to offer alternatives when operations are affected by unusual or reduced staffing situations. Even if such variations are not used at an incident, practicing them will develop teamwork, improve personnel expertise, and expand operational options.


You can carry or move the 16-, 20-, and 24-foot straight ladders to other locations in a vertical position. With some practice, you can do so easily and safely. Lock in with your top or bottom elbow and use your other arm to move the ladder horizontally while watching for overhead obstructions. This will keep the ladder balanced overhead and minimize fatigue. I do not advise using this procedure on extension ladders because of their additional weight and the potential of the extended fly section to inadvertently become dislodged. You can adjust a ladder that has been placed by rolling or sliding it along the objective. When rolling a tall extension ladder, it may occasionally be necessary to stop and adjust it, since the base will tend to move farther than the top because of the difference in width of the fly and the main section. Sliding a 28- or 35-foot extension ladder will generally require two personnel. Move the base slightly in front of the top to help maintain control.


24-foot straight ladder (one person): You can raise this ladder in the same manner as the 16- and 20-foot straight ladders. Take care to anchor the base of it securely against the objective, since its added length and weight will tend to lift the base. After raising it against the objective, adjust the ladder to the proper climbing angle.

20- and 24-foot straight ladder (beam raise, rungs toward building): If it is necessary to beam-raise a straight ladder with the rungs set in the main beams and toward a building, you can pivot the ladder 180 degrees in the vertical position or flip it 180 degrees prior to raising it. To flip the ladder, personnel stop at the intended spot, then turn and face it. The base person notifies the top person that the ladder is to be flipped. The base person raises the toe of his boot in preparation to stop the ladder as the top beam rotates downward. To prevent the top beam from striking the base person in the shin, lower the ladder slightly before allowing the top beam to rotate down. If done correctly, the top shoe of the ladder will strike the sole of the base person`s boot, placing the rungs away from the objective. To complete the operation, ground the shoe of the ladder, and continue the raise.

20- and 24-foot straight ladder raise (raising the 44): You can use this raise when you need two ladders and one is bedded inside another. For example, assume a 20-foot ladder is bedded inside a 24-foot ladder. The base person is positioned at the end of the ladders where the shoes of the 20- and 24-foot ladders are adjacent. The base person removes the ladders from the apparatus and positions himself between the first and second rungs of both. The top person is positioned between the fifth and sixth rungs from the top of the 24-foot ladder, securing the top portions. Generally, the 44-foot raise is accomplished in the flat position, which ensures control of the 20-footer. The ladders are raised to vertical and lowered into the objective. During this operation, the base person must separate the 20-foot ladder from the 24-footer. After the ladders have been separated, they can be positioned as desired.

Stepladder: A stepladder may be required when operating near high ceilings. You can use a 20-foot straight ladder bedded inside a 24-footer. Carry the bedded ladders to the appropriate area. Place them on their beams, and remove the 20-foot ladder. Flip it and position it on its opposite beam with the rungs facing away from the 24-foot ladder if the rungs are set in the main beams. Nest the fifth rung of the 24-foot ladder into the shoes of the 20-footer. Secure them tightly by strapping the fifth rung of the 24-foot ladder to the top rung of the 20-footer with two ladder straps. These straps should be adjacent to the insides of the beams. Strap two six-foot pike poles inside the beams on the tenth rungs of both ladders. Two people foot the bottom shoes of the ladders and push the beams upright. Once the ladders are vertical, adjust the bases of both to establish good four-point contact with the ladder shoes. This will stabilize the ladders. To increase stability, you can strap a pike pole to the bottom of the 24-foot ladder, placing it under the shoes. Secure it with two ladder straps around the bottom rung.

This operation uses two ladders when both are of the same width. It is similar to the aforementioned raise. For example, when a 20-foot ladder won`t bed in a 24-footer, a pike pole can be substituted for a rung to strap them together. This will make the improvised stepladder more stable. Insert a pike pole between the main and truss beams of a 24-foot ladder between the fourth and fifth rung. Nest the shoes of the 20-foot ladder against the pike pole, one shoe inside the 24-foot ladder and one shoe outside of it. Using two ladder straps, strap the fourth rung of the 24-foot ladder to the top rung of the 20-footer. Include the pike pole in the ladder straps. As you tighten the ladder straps, the pike pole will bind against the truss block, giving it a firm foundation. It may be necessary to hold the top of the 24-foot ladder off the ground during this assembly due to the length of the pike pole.

35-foot extension ladder (two-person): Two people can raise a 35-foot extension ladder. When carrying the ladder to an objective, the base person places his inside arm between the second and third rung from the bottom of the ladder to avoid entanglement with the ladder dogs. The top person places his inside arm between the second and third rung from the top of the ladder to avoid entanglement with the halyard pulley.

Spot the ladder and raise it. After pushing the ladder vertical, don`t lean it too far toward the objective. If the ladder isn`t correctly positioned, it will move toward the objective when the base person reaches up to lock the dogs. To prevent this, the main section should be close to vertical. As the fly is extended, it will begin to arc toward the objective, and the further it is extended, the more the weight will shift. Exercise care when using a moving pivot with the two-person, 35-foot extension ladder. An unstable surface or lack of proficiency and teamwork can cause control problems.

50-foot extension (four-person): Although there are many variations to this raise, four people can be used effectively.

Flat raise, base of ladder footed into the building. To initiate this raise, place the base of the ladder near the building. Unpin the tormentor poles and pass them overhead to the personnel at the top end of the ladder. Readjust the ladder so that it is tight into the base of the building. Two people should be positioned by the tormentor poles, and two should be one foot from the bottom of the tormentor swivels. Drive the ladder upright against the building. They then can adjust the ladder for the proper climbing angle. The two base personnel should lift the base and carry it to the appropriate spot, allowing the top of the ladder to slide down the face of the building. The pole personnel stay in position in front of the ladder. When the base is spotted and it is necessary to extend the ladder, the base personnel move one in front and one in back of the ladder. The pole personnel pull the ladder out to vertical while the rear person pushes it upright and the front person foots the center of the bottom rung. They can extend the ladder as necessary and return it to the building. They also can walk the ladder out to the proper position by alternately pivoting the ladder shoes. To accomplish this, position the pole personnel one to the front and one to the side. The base personnel, one to the front and one to the back, pivot the ladder one turn from the building to allow room for the base person behind it. The side pole person pushes and pulls on the tormentor pole, alternately raising one shoe and then the other as the base personnel pivot the ladder to the desired spot. The pole personnel split, one in front and one to the side. The front person extends the fly. The rear person locks the dogs, and all of the personnel lower in to the objective. This method takes a coordinated effort and is generally slow and awkward.

Flat raise, base of the ladder footed by personnel. Carry the ladder to the objective, and spot the base. Unpin the tormentor poles, and leave them on the ground adjacent to the ladder. Two people foot the base of the ladder shoes with their inside feet; they also secure the tormentor poles with both hands, keeping the poles to the outside of their bodies. The other two people kneel down at the top of the ladder, facing opposite the direction of travel. They will grasp the main beams with their inside hands and raise the ladder, pivoting under it and driving it vertical. The base personnel will foot the shoes and pull on the tormentor poles, bringing the ladder upright. As the ladder reaches vertical, it will be necessary to push the tormentor poles to the side to keep them from grounding as they extend past the shoes of the main beams. With this accomplished, one person will become the front pole person, and one person will become the side pole person. One person will stay at the front base, and one person will stay at the rear base. The front person extends the fly, and the rear person locks the dogs. All personnel lower in to the objective.

Raising ladders under overhead obstructions: This raise can be used with straight and extension ladders.

20-foot straight ladder. Two people place the ladder under the obstruction, with the rungs up if they are set in the main beams. One person is positioned at the top and one at the bottom of the ladder. The top person faces the bottom person, secures the beams, and raises the ladder overhead. The bottom person secures the base of the ladder by a rung and a beam. The top person will hop the ladder with the beams in the palms of his hands as the base person slides the shoes of the base along the ground toward the top person. As the obstruction is cleared, the base person will ground the shoes, and the top person will push the ladder to the base person. In extremely tight situations, the last portion of this raise may need to be repeated until the ladder can be safely positioned.

35-foot extension ladder raise. Although two people can accomplish this raise, three are preferred. This is similar to the 20-foot straight raise except that two people hop the ladder (one person on each beam) and one person pushes the base. If there is a difference in height between the two people working the beams, the shorter person should step toward the person pushing the base until the ladder beams are level. This will result in a more controlled ladder raise. When the main section is in position, prior to extending the fly, one of the rear personnel should step to the front of the ladder. This will achieve better ladder stability while the fly is being extended.

Laddering fire escapes: Since there are many ways to ladder fire escapes, personnel must evaluate the needs of the incident in light of appropriate resources and staff to accomplish the operation. Following are some examples of fire escape ladder techniques.

Position an appropriate ladder to the front of a fire escape balcony. Spot the ladder to the handrail of the fire escape with the top rung one foot over the balcony railing. Spot the inside beam to the handrail of the fire escape ladder. This allows personnel to mount or dismount onto the fire escape ladder.

For multiple fire escape balconies, position a 35-foot extension ladder adjacent to the end of them, fully extend it, and lower it into the building. This provides access to the fire from both escape balconies. If two 35-foot extension ladders are used in this manner and placed at either end of a fire escape, this allows four points of entry to and exit from the building.

The middle photo above depicts an appropriate ladder spotted to the end of a fire escape balcony. This location keeps the ladder free of the curb on narrow sidewalks. If there is a doorway below the fire escape, it won`t be blocked by the ladder.

Laddering fire escapes and balconies with defective ladders: Use this operation only in life-threatening emergencies, since any failure of equipment could cause injuries.

Spot a 20-foot extension ladder to the building adjacent to the end of a fire escape balcony. Fully extend it, and lower it into the building.

Next, open the roof ladder hooks, and carry the roof ladder up the 20-foot extension ladder. Hang the roof ladder on the upper balcony railing by the hooks, and place the inside shoe of the roof ladder between the beams of the 20-foot extension ladder. If necessary, you can respot the 20-foot extension ladder so that a rung of the extension ladder supports the bottom rung of the roof ladder.

Laddering ships: A unique problem can exist when laddering a floating ship, since the ship may not be stationary at berth. Most passenger and freight ships require at least a 50-foot ladder to reach the railings. It may be spotted and raised in any appropriate manner. However, a problem arises when it becomes necessary to secure the ladder.

After raising the ladder, the first consideration is to place the tormentor poles in such a way as to keep them from binding on the dock. This may be done by hanging them over the side.

Next, it is necessary to strap the main section of the ladder to the fly section. Take care to avoid any ship movement from unlocking the dogs before and while the sections are strapped. After personnel have strapped the main to the fly section, a person shall continue to the top of the ladder. When the person is on deck, the ladder will be securely strapped to the ship.

Raise the base of the ladder, and place the shoes on the platform of an appliance dolly. The beams will be resting against the face of the dolly. Securely strap them together. Secure the ladder to the ship before placing the ladder base on the dolly. Otherwise, the ladder could roll away from the ship.

Laddering aircraft: Laddering to provide access to or from an aircraft is determined by the height of the aircraft above the ground. If it is necessary to open a fuselage door, select an appropriate ladder to facilitate access. When the door has been opened, then you can place a shorter ladder to the open doorway to provide the desired ingress-egress route.

Bridging: You can use several methods to accomplish a bridging operation, depending on the specific operation and available staff.

Straight ladder and drop bag line or equipment line. Place a straight ladder on the ground with the rungs down if they are set in the main beams. Wrap a line around both beams between the second and third rungs. If the line is equipped with a clip, snap the clip back on the running line. The running line and clip should be lying on top of the rungs and centered between the truss beams. This configuration will be similar to the first half of a roof ladder knot.

Two people foot the base and raise the ladder to vertical. Pivot the ladder so it can be placed across the area to be bridged. Two people use the line to lower it across the span. As the ladder nears the horizontal, it will become more difficult to control. The base person can assist by placing one hand under the line and pushing up. This will give the line a greater angle to the top of the ladder and enhance control.

Passing a ladder hand over hand at a horizontal angle with three people. Place a straight ladder adjacent to the area to be spanned, with the rungs up if they are set in the main beams. The first person takes a position at the end of the ladder farthest from the area to be spanned and faces the top rung. He bends down and grasps the top rung with his little fingers against the inside of the beams, palms facing downward.

The second and third members position themselves at the other end of the ladder while facing the first member, then bend down and grasp the beam. At a signal from the first person, they raise the ladder to shoulder height.

The first person walks the ladder toward the other two persons as they are passing the ladder along at shoulder height hand over hand on the beams.

As the ladder is extended over the span, it becomes more difficult to handle due to the overbalance. With some practice, a 24-foot straight ladder can span 21 feet using this method. This method is simplified by placing the heaviest and/or strongest person at the rung position, since this person will have an easier time overcoming the unbalance.

Using two ladders as a derrick. You can effectively accomplish this operation by using one ladder as a derrick to lower the bridging ladder, but it is the most time-consuming method and requires the most staff to accomplish.

Place a 24-foot straight ladder on the ground with the rungs down if they are set in the main beams. It should be adjacent to the area that will be bridged. Attach two lines to the top of the ladder by wrapping the ends around a beam and rung and clipping the snaps back on the running lines. Then, raise the 24-foot ladder to vertical while two personnel are footing the base.

Place a 20-foot straight ladder next to the base of the 24-footer, with the rungs down if they are set in the main beams. Put the shoes of the 20-foot ladder against the bottom rung of the 24-foot ladder and, using two ladder straps, strap them in place.

Take the lines to the top of the 20-foot ladder and attach them by using a bight. Slide the bight under the rung, twist once, and pass it over a shoe. The two lines will now be connecting the top of the 24-foot ladder to the top of the 20-foot ladder. Adjust the tension on each line so they are equal.

Have two people foot the base of the 24-foot straight ladder while two people tend the lines. Keeping tension on the lines, lower the 24-foot ladder across the span.

Extending an extension ladder. Place an extension ladder on its side. Extend the fly section across the area to be bridged, then lay the ladder flat across the span. n

(Top left) Straight ladders can be moved as illustrated. Always watch for overhead obstructions. (Photos by author.) (Top right) Raise ladders with rungs set in the main beams with the rungs away from the objective. If necessary, you can achieve this easily by flipping the ladder prior to raising it. Doing so enhances safety and positions the rungs away from the objective when you raise the ladder. (Bottom left, right) When practical, simultaneously carry two ladders to an objective, and separate them as you place them.

(Left) You can use two ladders and pike poles to construct a stepladder. To enhance stability, strap a pike pole to the foot of one of the ladders. (Right) When constructing a stepladder using ladders of the same width, join them by incorporating a pike pole.

Extension ladders that normally require three personnel can often be carried and raised by two. With practice, the top person can effectively accomplish the work of two, as on this 35-foot extension ladder. This frees up the other person for other tasks.

Four personnel can easily raise ladders with tormentor poles. Use the objective to foot the ladder as illustrated. Then drive the ladder to the vertical position. You can now extend the fly section before positioning the ladder against the objective.

If you cannot use the objective to foot the ladder, use two personnel instead. As the ladder is raised to the vertical position, the base members foot the ladder and assist in raising the ladder with the tormentor poles. You can now raise the fly section prior to lowering the ladder into the objective.

(Left, middle) With practice, two personnel can easily move and raise a ladder under an overhead obstruction. As the base member moves the ladder forward, the top member assists it, moving under the overhead objective. With coordination, they will raise the ladder to the vertical position as they move it under the obstruction. (Right) Use three personnel to move and raise a large extension ladder under an overhead obstruction.

(Left) Placing a ladder to the side of a fire escape balcony will keep it from blocking the sidewalk or street. (Middle) When placing a ladder to a fire escape balcony, spot the ladder at the hand rail of the fire escape, next to the hand rail of the fire escape ladder. This allows personnel to mount or dismount onto the fire escape ladder. (Right) Use a ground and roof ladder simultaneously to ladder two fire escape balconies if the fire escape ladder is defective or missing.

(Top left, right) Three personnel can use a ladder to bridge a void. As the base person moves forward, the other personnel allow the ladder to move forward and over the area to be spanned. (Bottom) Two personnel can use an equipment line or drop bag line to hoist and lower a ladder across a span for a bridging operation.

JOHN W. MITTENDORF is a retired battalion chief and 30-year veteran of the City of Los Angeles (CA) Fire Department, where his duties included commander of the in-service training section. He presents seminars on fireground operations; is the author of the books Ventilation Methods and Techniques and Facing the Promotional Interview, published by Fire Technology Services; and is a member of the Fire Engineering editorial advisory board. This article is excerpted from his forthcoming book on truck company operations, published by Fire Engineering.

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