PORTABLE LADDERS BY BOB PRESSLER

PORTABLE LADDERS BY BOB PRESSLER

by Bob Pressler


Photo 1. A firefighter returns to his 20-foot straight portable ladder after venting the front windows at this private-dwelling fire. The proper placement of ladders at building fires is of the utmost importance. These ladders are used for both entry and egress.

When confronted with a fire in an occupied building, the ladder company has certain priorities that govern its operation. Protection of life is normally the number one concern. This means that all areas of the dwelling must be rapidly searched. At night, the searches must be concentrated on the sleeping areas, as they have the greatest life hazard. To aid in this operation, crews can use portable ladders to get either above or adjacent to the main body of fire.

In a one-story ranch, the need for ladders is usually limited to roof access. An exception to this is found in older ranch-style houses that have narrow bedroom windows set high in the wall. These windows usually require a short ladder for access. The problem for a searching firefighter entering this room via the window is that the drop to the floor is usually around six feet. Under heavy heat conditions and without a piece of furniture to stand on, the firefighter may not be able to reach the sill to pull himself out of the room.

For fires in larger homes, a variety of ladders will be required. A 20-foot straight ladder is ideal for reaching windows or porches on the second floor of 212-story homes. Although this ladder sometimes is a little long for second floors, it is easy to use anyway. When resources are limited, one firefighter can bring this ladder from the rig to the front of the house and raise it to a front window or the porch, using the house itself to foot or butt the ladder. Even if the firefighter is still operating alone, he can ascend the ladder to perform ventilation and limited searches. From the exterior of the house, the firefighter can ventilate the window and reach in with a tool, leg, or arm and sweep the area near the window.

If one firefighter has the front of the building covered, other members should try to take a portable ladder to the rear of the building. This two-sided ap-proach to the second floor of the fire building from the exterior, coupled with the inside forces (who should be trying to “make” the second floor via the interior), ensures a rapid search of the second floor for victims. Two firefighters should be assigned this job, as it will normally be difficult to reach the rear. Fences, pools, decks, and even dogs may make entrance to the rear yard impossible. In this case, it may be necessary to use windows on the side of the house instead of the rear. Select windows as far back on the sides of the house as possible to increase the probability that the room selected will be different from the rooms reached from the front porch.

Vent the windows and sweep inside if conditions allow. If your department allows vent-enter-search (VES), and conditions are favorable, then notify the incident commander (IC) that you are going to enter the building. This is necessary so that the IC knows your location and can adjust his tactics to protect the operation. If positive-pressure ventilation (PPV) is in use or was about to be implemented, the taking of a window for an entry point creates an uncontrolled ventilation opening. These two operations, VES and PPV, do not go together.

By notifying the IC of your entry attempt, the engine company also knows that you are going into the building. If the fire is on the first floor, the engine should make a concentrated effort to extinguish any fire in the area of the interior stairs.


Photo 2. You can also use extension ladders for access to the second floor and above. Occasionally, you can use one ladder to span two floors. The proper placement of this portable ladder gives access to the front porch on the second-floor level and the roof. The ladder is actually resting on both surfaces. This normally does not happen, but the smart truck company will take advantage of the opportunity. If you cannot find the proper angle to serve both targets, the ladder must rest on the higher point.

The proper working angle for ladders depends on the task being performed. The old standby, one-quarter of the working height, is a good rule of thumb for normal climbing or descending of a ladder. But if the ladder is to be used for victim removal, a lower angle will make this removal easier. At steep angles, it is tough to keep an unconscious victim on the ladder. The weight of the victim tries to pull away from the ladder or at least follow the laws of gravity. The victim may fall left or right as well as away from the ladder. At a lower angle, the weight of the victim keeps the victim closer to the ladder itself, and the firefighter will have more control just by leaning into the victim.

Different jobs require the tip of the ladder to be at different places. For access to a window, put the ladder just below the windowsill. Although this may make entrance into a window a little harder, it more than makes up for it when rapidly exiting the same window. If the ladder is placed with any rungs into the window itself, rapid escape will be hampered. Placement at the sill keeps the firefighter low when entering or exiting the window, away from high heat conditions.


Photo 3. Placing the ladder to either side of the window requires that the firefighter swing into the window, usually into the middle of the exiting heat. This position is also hard to negotiate when rap-idly exiting the building.


Photo 4. When using a portable ladder to access the roof, make sure the tip of the ladder extends past the eave line. On a flat roof, four or five rungs (if possible) should be over the roof to serve as a readily observed marker for firefighters on the roof. On a peaked roof, at least three rungs should extend past the eave line. This way, if firefighters are coming down the slope of the roof, they have a target as well as a handhold to aid their descent.

Portable ladders can be used for many other operations. Handlines can be operated from them or stretched over them to the upper floors. They can be used to rapidly exit a building if conditions unexpectedly deteriorate. The main point is that they must be in place to be used. Portable ladders are among the most underutilized tools in the fire service today. Proper training in positioning and placing portable ladders, and requiring their use at all building fires, will make the fireground safer.

BOB PRESSLER, a 25-year veteran of the fire service, recently retired as a lieutenant with the City of New York (NY) Fire Department. He created and produced the videos Peaked-Roof Ventilation and SCBA Safety and Emergency Procedures for the Fire Engineering video series “Bread and Butter” Operations. Pressler has an associate`s degree in fire protection engineering from Oklahoma Sate University, is a frequent instructor on a wide range of fire service topics, and is a member of a volunteer department.

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