Aerial Ladder Safety
Random Thoughts On…
It’s well documented that the fireground accounts for most of the injuries firefighters sustain annually. In gathering data for reports and analyses, we find that some common causes are repeated time and time again. We don’t want to tell you how to operate the aerial device, only to develop awareness about practices that seem to contribute to these painful and costly injuries.
How we originally position our aerial apparatus in reference to the fire building, the fire location, and building openings and surroundings can impact the injury record of those using the device. Collapsing, tipping aerial devices usually result from operating them overextended and overloaded at low angles. If the turntable is placed between 25 feet and 35 feet from the structural objective, we will gain maximum height, flexibility, and safety.
Electricity, in the form of overhead wires, always presents an additional danger at the fire scene. Aerial devices are commonly forced to operate under or over electrical service wires; in rare instances, they operate through them. A good rule of thumb to follow is to keep the turntable position as near to being under or on the inboard side of the wires as possible. If the turntable is able to be placed between the electrical hazard and the fire building, we have the safest of operating conditions.
An aerial found in place at an objective must be assumed to be in use. It’s an unsafe act to move an aerial or any other ladder before contacting the firefighter that may be using it. There are some extreme circumstances which may dictate momentary movement, but that must be done quickly and the ladder returned to the original position as soon as possible. In this case both objectives must be monitored constantly.
If the aerial ladder’s primary function will be for roof access, line up the turntable with a blank portion of a front or side wall. As conditions deteriorate inside the structure, you will want to make sure that the aerial will not be exposed to venting fire conditions that may cut off roof exit.
Horizontal venting of upper floor windows is accomplished easily with aerial ladders, but is it safe? The answer is yes if the ladder is first placed near the upper third of the window glass and then lowered in. This not only makes a doorway out of the window, but assures that large shards of glass will not ride down the rails in guillotine fashion toward the operator or command post.
An aerial ladder in position usually does not line up the rungs of all sections for proper engagement of the rung locks. However, the locking lever should always be set. Accidental ladder movement will be limited to the next rung position only.
Stability of an operating aerial should be monitored frequently by the operator—especially the tormentor on the inboard side. Frequent and jerky motions may undermine and shift what used to be stable footing beneath outriggers and tormentors. This is especially true during ladder pipe operations. Water runoff can and often does erode the terrain that supports the tormentors. This is a defensive operation and time is on our side (usually). If runoff is causing doubtful stability, shut down and move the aerial device.
We constantly receive photographs of firefighters located at the tip of aerial ladders manually operating a portable ladder pipe stream. This is probably one of the most unsafe acts on the fireground — and it is so controllable. In analysis, we gain nothing in comparison to the risk involved. Here a human being is being used to replace two ropes. Ladder movement becomes an unsafe act because the aerial is occupied. Position of the nozzle is a trade-off because the firefighter must be able to withstand the atmosphere in which he is operating. And, as Paul McFadden says,”Firefighters melt at a lower temperature than metal does.”