By Michael N. Ciampo
When we hear this sequence of words – raise, rotate, and extend – we think back on our initial training in aerial operations for the movement of the aerial or tower ladder. Most of us were taught that we do each movement in succession with slow, steady, and deliberate movements as we gingerly operate the control handles. It was very easy to grasp out on the training ground, where we first learned to operate the machinery; but when we added some obstructions like tree branches, street lights, and wires, operating became more difficult and dangerous. Add to that pulling up to a fire with people trapped at the windows, and things become a little more hectic for the operator. So, let’s look at our sequence and see if we can raise our level of expertise in operator actions.
Pedestal and bucket controls. Right now, if you were blindfolded and placed on your apparatus pedestal or bucket, could you identify each of the control handles? When we teach firefighters how to operate the controls, we should have them memorize the positions of the handles so when they are in a tight spot with their eyes focused on the objective they won’t have to look down and see which lever is which. The same holds true for members operating the bucket and when using the electronic monitor nozzle controls. Learn their location and operational functions; being blasted with a water stream and debris bouncing back off the building’s wall because you couldn’t go from straight stream to a narrow fog pattern as you moved from window to window can injure a firefighter and cause a structural problem. Draw a diagram of both control mechanisms for study purposes, and then put it on the operator’s exam. Learn your apparatus!
Raise. Whether operating an aerial or a tower ladder, all members qualified to work the pedestal or bucket should learn a simple technique for clearing the cradle. While training, teach your members how many seconds it takes to clear the cradle so that the pedestal or bucket operator can watch the victims, obstructions, and fire conditions from the start. As both operators get to their positions, they should first glance at the ladder or boom, especially near the cradle, to make sure no tools or appliances could impede operations. Then they can start focusing on their objective without staring at the cradle and missing something that’s happening above them. Of course, you can add a few seconds to your timeline to make sure it’s clear of the cradle when teaching this technique. It seems like a simple enough tactic to learn and follow, but time after time, you’ll see pedestal and bucket operators stop their movements to see if they’ve cleared the cradle.
Rotate. Once you’ve cleared the cradle, you’re ready to start rotating to your objective. You might have to do two movements at once to avoid some overhead obstructions. There have been many times when you clear the cradle and start rotating and immediately have to continue raising the aerial or boom to clear a tree branch or street sign. Or, you come out of the cradle and have to go to a steep angle before you can even rotate and then lower it back to your objective once you clear the obstruction. If a cable television or phone wire is present, you may have to rotate and then lower the aerial or boom below the wire to reach the building. You can rotate and elevate the aerial or boom simultaneously; doing both at the same time might slow the overall speed of the apparatus, but you will have to rely on this tactic in certain fireground conditions.
Extend. Now that the aerial is in line with your objective, you’re ready to extend the ladder. Remember, if you are extending to a window, try to have both rails of the ladder in line with the window. You don’t want to come up to a window on an angle, although this happens frequently because of apparatus positioning on the fireground. In this position, the ladder can twist at the tip and fail if overloaded, so use caution.
While extending, you might encounter tree branches. Smaller branches will snap or bend when you extend through them, but use caution: Some have gotten caught in between the rails and snapped, falling to the ground on personnel operating there. A chain saw has been used to remove some larger limbs to get aerials and towers into position. At times, you will have to perform two movements at once: elevating and extending or extending and rotating. Proceed with caution and with smooth control handle coordination to avoid a whiplashing effect when a sudden stop occurs. This is also true with a tower ladder, except that with many rigs three movements can be done simultaneously. The key is to be smooth with the controls to avoid erratic movements of the boom.
In some apparatus, you can manually control your speed by limiting sensors. Many rigs now have three speeds – fast, medium, and slow – which can help in each of your movements. Switching to a slow speed when approaching the window or lowering the ladder to the roof level or when operating near wires will ensure safe operations. Training is the key for operator success. Don’t be afraid to throw the ladder at your next automatic fire alarm or at a building with obstructions or obstacles. Let’s all try to raise our skills to a higher level, to pay tribute to our fallen.
MICHAEL N. CIAMPO is a 31-year veteran of the fire service and a lieutenant in the Fire Department of New York. Previously, he served with the District of Columbia Fire Department. He has a bachelor’s degree in fire science from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. He is the lead instructor for the FDIC Truck Essentials H.O.T. program. He wrote the Ladders and Ventilation chapters for Fire Engineering’s Handbook for Firefighter I and II (Fire Engineering, 2009) and the Bread and Butter Portable Ladders DVD and is featured in “Training Minutes” truck company videos on www.FireEngineering.com.
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