Removals from Fire Buildings


Removing victims from a fire building is no easy task. No matter how it’s done, it can be a dangerous, time-consuming, staffing-intensive operation.

As a commanding officer, it is my job to safely and effectively manage fire department resources. Of course, I am concerned with the life hazard and the rescue’s success. However, I leave the operational removal method to the company officer. I know that a well-trained and properly supervised ladder company has the necessary skills to bring the event to a successful conclusion.

Saving lives is the number one goal of the fire service; members must be committed to this operational priority, possibly delaying other firefighting duties such as overhaul, forcible entry, and horizontal ventilation. When it is evident on arrival that ladder company members must commit to occupant rescue and removal, call for additional units immediately. Also, occupants visible on arrival often indicate that an even greater life hazard exists within the building. These additional units must prepare to augment rescue procedures or supplement the vacated duties left by the members performing rescue operations.

When you must rescue fire victims, follow a preferred removal order. This order is based on the victims’ and firefighters’ safety. Note that before you make any choice, size up the situation and determine if it is safer to have the victims remain at their location than to expose them to the dangers of the removal procedure. The location and extent of the fire, along with the probability for rapid extinguishment, are the most influential size-up factors in this decision.


Enclosed interior stairs are the first choice when removing victims, because they offer the greatest safety. Moving people to an adjoining building or across the public hall to an area unaffected by smoke and flame until the danger subsides is another approach to provide refuge.

Bringing people down the fire escape to a floor below the fire is also an option. Once below the dangers of the fire floor, have occupants reenter the building and proceed to the stairs or simply wait it out if this area is considered safe. This eliminates the dangers associated with climbing down the fire escape drop ladder or fire department ground ladders. In addition, one firefighter can guide several occupants down the interior stairs instead of several firefighters slowly removing victims with ground ladders. This can free up valuable personnel.

The aerial ladder is the last mechanical option. It helps you gain access to roofs and upper floors for vent-enter-search (VES). You can also use aerial ladders for ladder pipe operations and advancing hoselines to areas beyond the reach of ground-based streams. They also provide an aboveground vantage point from which to observe and assess conditions at large-scale operations. Perhaps the most important function of the aerial is to effect the rescue and removal of trapped occupants.

Tower ladders are another choice. Once inside the basket, the operator can bring several victims at one time directly to the ground.

Rescue operations can be very slow and intimidating. You must coach and assist ambulatory occupants onto the aerial ladder. Often, you must remain in constant contact, providing guidance rung by rung. These scared and frightened victims will need total supervision during the entire descent. Removing unconscious, injured, or obese fire victims down the aerial ladder can be one of the most dangerous and difficult operations you can face.

You can also combine a stokes basket with the aerial ladder for removing fire victims. Use this procedure when the aerial ladder is the only remaining choice for victim removal.

Place the aerial ladder to the window of the area being searched; the side rails of the ladder should be level with the windowsill. This position provides full window access and permits an easier entry and exit. Also, you will not have to lift the basket and victim above the ladder side rails.

As the search team carries the victim to the exit point, another firefighter ascends the aerial with the stokes basket. An easy way to perform this advance is to balance the stokes on top of the aerial perpendicular to the side rails (photo 1).

(1) Photos by Michael Hopko.

The basket contains a six-foot hook or similar tool used to support the stokes and a rope that is used as a safety line during the descent.

Being prepared is vital to the rescue operation’s success. To be ready for a rapid deployment, store the tools in the basket and preconnect the safety line (photo 2).


Once in position outside the window, the firefighter on the aerial passes the basket and rope inside to the search crew. The hook remains with the aerial ladder firefighter. The search crew then places the victim into the basket. A simple way to place the victim in the stokes basket is to roll the person onto his side and then place the basket under him (photo 3). Roll the basket and victim back to the floor. You can secure the victim in the basket and bring him to the window.


When lifting and carrying the victim to the window, stand at the basket’s sides, not at the head and foot. This allows you to position the leading end of the stokes basket just outside the window and rest it on the sill.

Pass the basket out head first to the firefighter onto the aerial ladder. Place a six-foot hook through the stokes basket openings at the leading end (photo 4). Do this procedure on the outside of the window because the hook is often wider than the window opening.


The hook will allow the upper portion of the basket to ride the side rails of the aerial ladder and help the firefighter control the speed of descent (photo 5). As the basket moves downward, the lower portion will rest on the ladder’s rungs, keeping the basket and victim between the side rails (photo 6).




Attach the safety line to the basket to assist in the descent. The firefighter at the tip of the ladder can control the line or drop it through the first and second rungs to a member on the ground. Place tension on this line to reduce the downward force on the firefighter guiding the basket’s descent.

In more than 100 tests, firefighters who practiced this maneuver successfully removed victims weighing more than 250 pounds from heights ranging to 60 feet and angles up to 55°. Do not attempt this maneuver when the ladder’s angle is greater than 55°.

All ladder company operations require planning, preparation, training, and teamwork. The well-organized ladder company must work in coordination not only with the company members but with all operating units.

Firefighters must have the knowledge, skills, and ability to improvise during difficult and unusual situations to reach their operational goal. To be effective, ladder company officers must ensure that their members have a complete knowledge of all fireground procedures.

JOHN G. RIKER, a 38-year veteran of the fire service, is a battalion chief in the Newark (NJ) Fire Department and a NJ-certified instructor. He is the lead instructor for the FDIC H.O.T. evolution “Truck Company: Aerial Ladder Operations.”

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