Fire Service Ladders and Their Use—Part XII

Fire Service Ladders and Their Use—Part XII

Placement of Extention Ladders—All Types


Part XII in the series dealing with fire department ladders, ladder use and preventive maintenance, is a continuation of Part XI published in the April, 1951, issue of FIRE ENGINEERING which dealt with the placement of straight, ground or wall ladders. That chapter discussed the types of trussed ladders and how the different types should be set, i.e., truss under or over. The present chapter develops this subject to include extension ladders, both truss and beam types.

The subject discussed herein is probably the most controversial in the entire field of fire department ladder construction, operation and maintenance. In an effort to present all sides of the question most involved—whether the fly section or sections of portable extension ladders should be placed away from or toward the building, in raising modern fire service ladders—the author has drawn from many sources of information, including the records of all fire service publications dating nearly back to the civil war, as well as the available instruction manuals and other published works bearing on the subject. In addition, chief fire officers of paid and volunteer departments, fire department instructors and last, but not least, the manufacturers of fire service ladders, and makers of fire apparatus who, although they may not produce their own ladders, can be considered authorities on the subject.

The author has served with ladder companies in paid and volunteer fire departments, and was for four years captain of Hook & ladder Co. No. 1, of the Larchmont, N. Y. Fire Department. He gained early training with the Toledo, O., Fire Department and as a member of the Auxiliary Corps, New York Fire Department, during World War I. He has been through the New York Fire Department College and numerous other State and municipal fire schools and colleges.

The editors fully realize that all the evidence submitted in this and other chapters of the series will not cause any of the major municipal fire departments, and most of the smaller ones also, for that matter, in the fire service, to revise and alter their present customs and methods of handling ladders. That fact, however, does not present a valid reason why the many readers of Fire Engineering who have inquired about this moot topic should not be brought up-to-date on the subject, and why these data should not be collected for the benefit of present and future fire forces that may desire to be kept informed on the subject.

The editors desire particularly to thank the manufacturers of ladders who have been most cooperative in the preparation of this material.

PRIOR to the introduction of the trussed extension ladder, about 1880, beam extension ladders were used exclusively. Even after the advent of the truss type, beam ladders continued to find a place in the fire departments, some of which manufactured their own ladders. Of course, the beam or solid rail ladder is still widely used in the fire service.

With the introduction of the truss type ladder, a question arose which has continued to plague fire fighters on an in creasing basis as different designs of truss ladders were introduced and as ladder trucks were improved in design and construction.

Chicago Fire Department uses beam ladders with fly section over, or away from the building, as shown in this roominghouse fire of last winter.

This question had to do with whether the truss part of a ladder should be placed over, or under, that is, toward the building or away from it when it is raised. As the trussed extension ladder developed, the question still further divided the fire service.

In the preceding installment of this series of studies on ladder design, construction and use, the details of placement of trussed ladders of the straight or wall type was fully discussed and, the author hopes, settled for all time. It is not so easy however, to reach clear cut conclusions with respect to the placement of trussed portable extension ladders, for custom has decreed that certain fire departments will follow one method, and certain others will adhere to the opposite method. Nor can the difference in methods be said to be due solely to the fact that different fire departments use different types of truss ladders. The cleavage exists also between departments using the same type, and make, of fire service trussed ladders.

The first comprehensive effort to arrive at a satisfactory solution of this question was made in the early days of the Fire Department Instructors Conference, when, as a result of the difference of opinions held by different instructors from different parts of the country, attempts were made to study all phases of the subject through various operational evolutions conducted on the drill ground.

At that time, it is understood, a majority of the drillmasters engaged in the study voted to recommend that the fly of an extension ladder be placed toward the building, or underneath the bed ladder. This procedure was then, and still is followed by certain training schools and recommended in their manuals of instruction. At the same time other schools held and still hold, opposite viewpoints. These latter include New York and other large cities.

Narrow streets and alleys give Boston firemen plenty of trouble, as is shown by laddering operations at this 4-alarm blaze in the old Chase & Sanborn 7-story business building. Note beam ladders with poles, raised with fly away from building.

One important conclusion was reached, however, as a result of these earlier studies: And it is an opinion generally held among experienced fire fighters that any ladder used by the fire service, that cannot be placed and climbed with safety in either position in an emergency does not belong in the fire service. In sho.rt, although firemen are taught what is believed the right and wrong way to raise and set ladders, under stress of exceptional conditions, any fire ladder may be placed contrary to teaching. This may be particularly true during attempts at rescues. Therefore, should any type of fire department ladder so used in an emergency fail at a critical moment because it was improperly placed, it should be conclusive evidence that such ladder is unsuitable for fire service use.

It is a credit to the manufacturers of fire service ladders that although there is ample evidence of incorrect use of fire department ladders (of all types) by firemen laboring under pressure of urgency, there are few instances recorded where a ladder failed due to structural or other inherent weakness. There have been cases reported where injuries were sustained by firemen working on ladders, or as a result of ladder operations, which could conceivably be attributed to incorrect placement of the ladder.

One other factor, not brought out in these eaylier efforts by instructors and others to find the answer to the question, was the opinions and recommendations of the manufacturers of fire service ladders. From the basis of engineering and design and construction, the builders of ladders might be expected to have a better knowledge of the controversial subject than those who use them. Whatever the reasons, there was a dearth of professional technical information covering these details available at the time, nor has there been any great amount of it since. This has naturally contributed to the lack of agreement among fire departments.

Fundamentally, there are two bases upon which the entire question of the raising and placement of fire service extension ladders should be gauged. These are (1) safety and (2) efficiency. The question of safety concerns primarily the ladder itself, its design and construction. The detail of efficiency has to do mainly with the way the ladder is handled and used.

With reference to the safety factor, fire department ladders are designed and built to meet certain very exacting standards. They are not to be compared with commercial ladders on this score. For the most part they are not used by tyros or other inexperienced persons, but by men trained in their operation. Notwithstanding this fact, they possess a certain margin of safety that is the assurance of the maker against failure in an emergency. Thus, insofar, as safety goes, the fire service need only know that the manufacturers build into their products every detail that will enable their ladders to meet maximum demands that are likely to be made upon them as a result of an unforeseen emergency.

As to efficiency, here we must deal with people, not products. If a crew manhandling a ladder have been wrongly trained, or if, under stress of excitement, they forget their teaching, no blame can be placed upon the ladder.

It is here that the main differences of opinion exist. Because when one considers efficiency, that factor covers many details, such as the saving of time, and of labor in performing ladder evolutions. And it is in these brackets that it is so difficult to reduce ladder operations and evolutions to tangibles, such as time and effort saved.

Efficiency is difficult to define. For if seconds are precious, and a ladder is used successfully by a fireman to rescue a person from a burning building, how can one measure efficiency when it is disclosed that that ladder was erected and placed contrary to accepted laddering standards? In short, if it was a wall or ground ladder, and the “black” end, or butt went up instead of the white end, or tip, what actual difference did it make so far as efficiency is concerned, as long as the fireman managed to rescue the victim. The same holds for the extension ladder. If the fly was placed under, or toward the building, contrary to most concepts, but the fire crew reached the trapped victim in time and removed him, what difference? And who can reduce this rescue, using all the wrong principles, to a matter of efficiency? The final answer in this case appears to be “you saved the life, didn’t you then what difference does it make?”

This is no excuse, however, for not establishing a right and a wrong method of handling and placing extension ladders. And that is primarily the subject of this message, to help determine what is the right and wrong method or procedure.

Under the question of efficiency of operation of an extension ladder these points have been made for placing the fly under, or toward the building:

1. Extension ladders are carried in ladder trucks with the fly up, or above the bed ladders. They are removed from the truck in this position. When they are removed from the bed or banks, they are taken, usually butt first, to the point at which they are to be raised. In this position they are better suited for raising with the fly toward the building than where they must be turned ov-er, the fly brought underneath and raised (if the fly is to be over, or awayfrom the building when the ladder is up).

This is a logical reason for placing the fly toward the building. However, it must be admitted that in a majority of cases, the extension ladder is raised not at right angles to the building, but parallel, and thereafter turned, or halfturned, to bring the fly ladder over, or below the bed ladder. Under these conditions there is no saving in time by having the fly under, or toward the building.

Philadelphia, which has been extensively modernizing its department, uses both wood and metal ground and aerial ladders. The flies on extension ladders are placed away from the building, as shown by laddering operations at this 4-alarm Elkins-Ewall Rubber Co. fire in March, 1951. Note metal ladder left, wood ladder far right.

With the short extension ladder, which may be carried from the truck on the shoulders, these details mean little. It does make some difference with the longer ladders, which require the use of poles or tormenters. In either case, however, the tormenters or poles, must be passed over and back to the men who are to use them. Thus there appears to be no greater efficiency one way or another on this score.

The next argument advanced by proponents of placing fly-under or toward the building is that it is easier in climbing or descending the ladder because when the fly is over or on top, the person descending the ladder faces pitfalls that can cause a misstep. That is said to be because a rung of the extension ladder is generally omitted to permit the pawls to engage and hold the fly in place. In climbing or descending it, the operator may thus miss a rung, or make a misstep at the juncture of the bed and fly sections.

Careful study will show that this argument holds true both ways. Placed either way, the person on the ladder must use some caution in climbing or descending at the juncture of both sections; but there is a rung for the person descending the ladder at the place where bed and fly sections join. The space is not left vacant!

Some argument has been advanced that when the fly is placed over the bed section, it is more complicated for the man on the poles because one of them must pivot between the ladder and the burning building. This is not true if the ladder is raised parallel to the building, and turned over before raising. Nor is it true where the ladder is raised at right angles to the building as long as the ladder is turned over before raising. Inasmuch as the ladder, after being carried from the truck, must be placed on the ground, it is about as easy to place it fly under, or down, as it is to place it fly up. There is actually no need for pole or tormenter men to have to pivot between the building and the ladder if those bringing the ladder into action take a quick look and decide whether it is advisable to raise the ladder parallel to or at right angles to the structure.

The matter of greater visibility afforded the man or men operating the halyard or hoist for the fly when raising it with fly toward the building is another moot question. This is covered in the later reply of one of the manufacturers and needs no elaboration here.

The Manufacturers’ Viewpoint

Before summing up, let’s see what the manufacturers of fire service ladders have to say on this point. Each of them was asked by the author to give his own answer to the question as to how the fly of the extension ladder should be placed. Their replies follow.

From Hubert Walker, Manager MFA Sales Engineering, American LaFranceFoamite Corporation, Elmira, N.Y.,

comes this statement;

The ladder should be used only in the manner recommended by the manufacturer if the ladder is to be used safely and give maximum life.

For fire service use, the fire departments can safely use the following method of knowing whether or not the fly should be on top or below,—

  1. 1. If the rungs are in the top rail of the butt section, then the fly should be used underneath or towards the building (this is the Seagrave type of construction).
  2. 2. If the rungs are in the lower rail, then the fly must be used on top or away from the building. (This is DuoSafety construction).
  3. 3. If the rungs are in the spacers between the top and bottom truss rails, then the ladder can be used either with the fly on top or underneath the butt. The top and bottom rails are of equal size in this type of construction, and therefore, have equal strength. (American LaFrance construction, and any ladder made to the so-called Bangor design).

You have already published photographs in your series of chapters on ladder design and construction that illustrates all of these points.

On metal extension ladders all makes are designed to use the fly on top of the butt or away from the building.

(Continued on page 386)

Left: Washington, D. C. firemen use both metal and wood ground ladders, as shown in operations at this $150,000 4-alarm Kaufman department store blaze. The practice is to place the fly sections of both types of ladders inside, or toward the building. Note firemen butting 35-foot extension wood trussed ladder.Right: It has always been the custom of a majority of the departments to raise portable extension ladders with fly away from the building, as shown in this apartment building fire in Newark, N. J. All tenants were rescued from ladders or led to safety in this fire.

Fire Service Ladders

(Continued from page 346)

There is another point to watch which is sometimes overlooked and that is the ladder locks frequently will not operate properly if the ladder is used in a position for the reverse of which it is designed.

From Seagrave Corporation, Columbus, Ohio. Speaking for this company H. M. Black, Chief Engineer says:

Here are our views as to which side of Seagrave trussed ladders should be placed toward the building when climbing.

It is recommended that the truss beam be placed toward the building and the rung beam on the outside. This method allows the ladder to develop its greatest strength. Tensile strength of Douglas Fir is greater than the compressive strength. By placing the heavier rung beam in the outside, or climbing side, greater compressive strength is obtained. The smaller truss beam easily carriers the tensile load.

Peter Pirsch Instructions: we are privileged to quote from information furnished by Mr. Peter Pirsch, President of the company bearing his name.

Nearer set your extension ladder with the fly under because:

1st: You have to stand out in the street and you are pulling at an angle1 to elevate the fly and it may topple over you and away from the building and you don’t have the pulling power as when you pulled straight down under the ladder, between the building and the ladder. It is a slower procedure, and if the ladder is going to fall, it would be better to fall against the building rather than to hit the men, if it falls away from the building.

2nd: If you are on the fly and it dropped because the lock did not catch or break, you would ride down with the fly, and your feet would hit the top of the base ladder and smash your feet.“ This happened not long ago and broke a man’s feet. When the fly is under, the lower end of the fly is pulling away from the base ladder, and there is a double responsibility on the lock; it must keep the fly up against the base and also from the fly slipping down. This is a greater responsibility on the lock than if the fly were on top and only had to hold the fly from coming down. If the lock broke or did not properly catch, where the fly is under, there may be a dead fireman.

3rd: If the fly is on top and you want to go up and move the fly a little up or down, it can be done very easily, but not if the fly is underneath. We have seen the fly used as an elevator to lower an overcome fireman or person, but the fly must be on top to get him to the ground, otherwise he is stuck half way up, if the fly is under.

You still hear some old firemen bragging about the famous Bangor firemen’s extension ladder. It was the first good fire ladder, and it had the fly on top, and they are still made that way after 100 years in this country and all over the world. All the trussed ladders offered can be climbed on either side safely because the truss is a double truss one. It is necessary to have the fly under for such truss construction.

Every aerial ladder in the world, and there must be 100,000 of them, have the fly on top, for the same reason that the extension ground ladders have it there, as mentioned above.

1This Is where the hoist or halyard is on the outside of the ladder—away from the building, the condition necessary when the fly is under the bed ladder or toward the building. The point has been made that by having the halyard in this position he is better able to gauge the height of the fly with its relation to the desire height to which the fly must be raised. The answer to this is that if he is close to the ladder when he raises the fly, as he should be to overcome the tendency to pull the ladder away from the building as Mr. Pirsch points out, he then is in no better position to judge the height of ladder as related to height of the objective to be reached, than is the man who raises the fly by operating the halyard under the ladder, as he will be when the fly is over the bed ladder, or away from the building. In either case, there must he buttmen on the ladder who can help judge the height reached by the fly, and therefore dependency need not be placed entirely to the halyard operator. Where the latter is under the ladder, as Mr. Pirsch points out, he can stand hack further from the perpendicular of the ladder with greater safety to the raising operation than where he is on the outside of the ladder, with his halyard operating as a fulcrum to sway the ladder away from instead of toward the building, as Mr. Pirsch points out.

2Of course there is some possibility of injury to a man’s feet should he be on the fly of a ladder away from the building and the fly slide down for any reason. However, under these conditions, at least, he would have greater opportunity to slide his feet back, getting the rung out from under the arches of his feet. Even if he did not, the falling fly would tend to throw his feet out and away from the descending rungs of the fly ladder when the rung carrying his feet met and passed the top rung of the bed ladder. Mr. Pirsch is correct that in this detail there is greater safety in operating on a ladder with the fly over, or away from the building.

The Cincinnati Fire Department uses both trussed and beam type wood ground ladders. The fly sections are placed away from the building, as indicated by operations at this $150,000 business building blaze.

The writer served his younger years on the Hook & Ladder Co. of the Kenosha Vol. Fire Department, and we drilled constantly with the ladders. have been building fire ladders for over 50 years, and am thoroughly satisfied the fly should be on top.

Maxim Prefers Fly Over

Ernest L. Maxim, President. Maxim Motor Company, Middleboro, Mass, has Regarding the correct placing of extension trussed type ladders, I could never understand why there should be controversy with regard to the correct method of placing trussed ladders against a building.

The truss is designed to be used either overhead or underneath and there is no mystery about that. Trussing bridges, trussing buildings and similar structures have been built on this principle since the beginning of time and while they will work either way, they are much stronger if used the way they are designed to be used.

Our ladder is New York Type and at one time was called Portland type. The truss is on the top and the fly is used away from the building.

The argument of turning the ladder over on the ground does not change the design of the truss for the best performance.

I think the whole question has grown around the drillmaster’s desire to take ladders off the truck, put them on the ground just as they come off and raise the ladder. With the type we make, the fly must be on the ground before it is raised or the ladder turned around after it is raised.

There is an argument from a “use’ standpoint in favor of placing the trussed extension ladder of our type upside down on the truck, that is, carrying the ladder on the fly rather than on the butt. It does not, however, lend itself to good nesting, and has many other disadvantages in mounting. We feel to turn the ladder over after removing it from the truck, before raising is no particular problem.

Placing Metal Ladders

Although there is some difference of opinion in the placement of wood ladders, both beam and trussed, insofar as the location of the fly section is concerned, that is, whether flies shall be raised toward or away from the building, and whereas there are also different viewpoints on how the truss of a trussed wall or ground ladder should be placed, i.e.: over, or under, there is at present little disagreement as to the placement of the all-metal type ladders.

Study by the editors among fire departments using metal ground ladders, including two and three section aluminum ladders, discloses that almost without exception this type of extension ladder is used with the fly section or sections away from the building, or over the bed section.

The opinion of one manufacturer of such ladders, has been secured from D. D. Cramer, Vice President of the Aluminum Ladder Company, Worthington, Penna.

Mr. Cramer wrote: “Our ladders are designed and constructed so as to be of equal strength and satisfactory performance when used either with the fly section toward or away from the building. Since our ladders are equally effective in either position we leave the method of raising in use completely up to the individual department.”

Checking with many users of this company’s ladders, however, as we have said, we find that almost without exception they prefer to place the fly or flies away from the building.

It is noted also that apparatus manufacturers who specify aluminum ladders manufactured by this, or other concerns, generally recommend use of such ladders with the fly sections over, or away from the building. An official of one such apparatus company, when interrogated on this subject said that although he would not venture to give an engineering opinion as to the relative merits of one form of placement against another, he believed that the recommendations of the ladder manufacturers should be followed and that he always recommended placing the fly sections away from the building for such ladders because he had observed the ladder manufacturers invariably illustrated and described their products in this way in their advertising in FIRE ENGINEERING and their catalogues and printed instructions. They may say that their ladders can be raised either with the flies toward or away from a building, but they all picture the fly section or sections away from the building. That is evidence enough for me, he concluded.

Checking hack, the author finds this to be the case.

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