Window Clearing for Ladder Rescue: Residential Search and Rescue

By Michael Bricault
 
Initiating a search over a ground ladder is a challenging task, and performing a rescue by means of a ground ladder is one of the most difficult operations for a firefighter. The first steps in operating and raising a portable ladder and properly clearing the window are essential to the successful and safe conclusion of the search operation. For safer operations and a speedier resolution, the steps of raising the ladder and clearing the window can be combined.
 
Once the decision has been made to enter a window by a portable ladder, firefighters will typically raise the ladder; properly position it below the windowsill; and climb the ladder with a hand tool that will be used to clear the window of glass, the sash, and any obstructions before entering. These steps tend to be more time-consuming and more dangerous under serious fire conditions than most firefighters realize. Unfortunately, many firefighters do not practice raising or climbing portable ladders on a regular basis. Because of the destructive nature of the evolution, they probably don’t practice the skills necessary to properly clear a window in which they intend to climb through, either.
 
Raising and Climbing the Ladder
This lack of practice makes raising and climbing a portable ladder a time-consuming, sloppy affair on the fireground. And when these firefighters must clear a window prior to entry, they frequently find themselves standing in a swirling, searing cloud of smoke that restricts visibility and causes unnecessary burns. What’s more, the window is typically cleared haphazardly and incompletely, with the debris falling on the firefighter footing the ladder from below. It is more than just a little dangerous for a firefighter to be standing at the top of a ladder trying to push and pull glass and debris from the window to make the opening as large as possible. Many times, firefighters become frustrated with clearing the window completely or, because of the urgency of the scene, do not clear the window properly.
           
To correct and overcome these deficiencies, use a technique that simultaneously raises the ladder and clearing the window. Having selected a window and the appropriate ladder for the operation, raise the ladder in a normal fashion, with one notable exception: Raise the top of the ladder so that it will strike the upper half of the window when the ladder is lowered into the building.
 
Next, instead of simply lowering the ladder into position, the firefighters raising the ladder will forcefully drive the ladder tip through the upper half of the glass so that the top three rungs penetrate into the window. The member in front of the ladder pushes while the firefighter who “foots” the ladder pulls aggressively on the ladder so that the tip of the portable ladder smashes through the window in a dynamic manner. Properly foot the ladder base to prevent the ladder base from slipping or kicking out. Again, for maximum effect, the ladder should penetrate the glass by at least three rungs before making contact with the building, which will stop the motion of the ladder.
 

If this technique is performed properly, the ladder will immediately remove and blow into the structure, and away from the operating firefighters, all of the glass and any sashes and window treatments. Although this technique may initially seem dangerous to the trapped victims, consider that the victims are already in a life-and-death situation because of the interior environment created by the fire. Furthermore, this technique becomes acceptable in light of how it extraordinarily decreases risk factors and increases the efficiency of the operating firefighters.

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Lowering and Repositioning the Ladder.
The next step is to lower the ladder by two rungs and reposition it properly at the base and securing the halyard. While one member foots the ladder, the other firefighter, armed with a six-foot hook or halligan bar, climbs to the top and ensures that all debris has been cleared from the opening. Again, if this operation has been performed properly, there should be nothing left to remove from the window frame; when performed flawlessly, even the window frame itself will be ejected from the opening. The firefighter is now able to sound the floor, assess the environment, and enter to perform a search and carry out a rescue.
 
Speed and safety are essential in portable ladder operations, and using this technique for clearing windows during portable ladder operations will make optimum use of the firefighters on scene while maximizing their safety.

Michael Bricault is an 18-year veteran firefighter serving with the city of Albuquerque (NM) Fire Department and is a nationally certified fire service instructor. Bricault is the author of two firefighting textbooks and numerous articles dealing with residential search and rescue procedures. He is a nationally recognized expert on this topic as well as a frequent speaker and an FDIC presenter.

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