GROUND LADDER REFRESHER
A review of some important fundamentals—PART 3
Ground ladders used by the fire service are considerably more expensive than commercial ladders and if properly cared for will give years of safe service. Frequent and thorough inspection can add to this life, and progressive departments have regulations requiring that the ladder apparatus be stripped regularly, preferably outdoors and in good light. Each ladder is carefully examined and then washed with a mild noncaustic soap. Beds used for carrying the ladders are also examined for defects and carefully washed free of dirt and grit. Before ladders are returned to these beds they should be thoroughly dry. Wet spots on the surface of the bed can cause serious damage from rot.
Brackets and locks that hold ladders vertically to the sides of apparatus must also be gone over, not only because bending or warping can cause damage to the ladders, but because failure en route to a fire could have tragic consequences for the men on the side of a ladder truck.
Rub spots which remove varnish are one of the most common defects found in wood ladders. Such spots bare the wood, permit moisture to penetrate the grain and if unchecked can cause blistering under large areas of the varnish with eventual rotting of the wood. Any such spot should be permitted to dry and then be carefully sanded and touched up with varnish. The same practice applies to minor splintering. Any major splintering or cracks calls for the attention of a skilled shop mechanic, as does largescale blistering or chipping of varnish.
Ladders stored in heated quarters will naturally dry out. As this drying progresses, rungs tend to become loose, and the spacer blocks and parts of the beam on a truss ladder shrink away from each other. Weekly washing will aid in inhibiting this process but occasionally adjustments will have to be made on the tie rods and on the bolts holding the beams. Such adjustments should be made by an experienced man or a ladder mechanic.
In addition to regular inspections, ladders should be examined carefully after every worker. A beam split along the grain can go unnoticed in a cursory examination and be placed back on the apparatus to endanger the lives of men at subsequent alarms. Heel plates should receive particular attention after fires for loosening and chipping. Apparatus driven in rain or snow should be thoroughly dried on return to quarters.
Pawls on extension ladders should be kept free of rust and grit, and lubricated to permit easy operation. The same applies to rollers, spring clamps and other appliances that hold or clamp ladders to the apparatus. The lubricant should be used sparingly to prevent its contact with the wood on the ladders.
Men on ladders
One serious cause for damage to ladders is overloading. Fire department ladders have a wide margin of safety built into them, but it is better to be safe than sorry. On smaller ladders, those 10 to 16 feet long, only one man should be permitted on a ladder at one time. Two men are permitted on ladders from 20 to 30 feet long and on all larger sizes of ground ladders three men are the preferred limit. Such recommended limits are for solid-beam, truss and aluminum ladders. Common sense dictates that, except for rescue work and when advancing hose lines, only one man is needed on a ladder to operate a line, break a window, etc. Any greater number is evidence of faulty training or just plain showboating. It is better that additional men butt the ladder, steady a hose line or make themselves useful elsewhere.
Ground ladders are among the most versatile of fire department tools and can be used for many purposes other than providing portable stairways to safety. Bridging is the first of these purposes that comes to mind. In bridging, a ladder is used as a horizontal exit—across alleys and narrow openings between buildings and, using smaller ladders, across light or air shafts between or within buildings. Bridging can also be used to carry hose lines over roadways or railroads to permit the continuance of traffic, while firemen are still operating. Still another form of bridging is to replace a burnt-out stair with a ladder.
Probably the most common use for a ladder is for ventilating the upper floors of a building. This operation can be performed quickly and efficiently by raising a ladder in front of the window to be ventilated and letting the tip drop into the building, smashing window and sash. Helmets, gloves and sturdy coats are a must here, and members controlling the ladder should stand to one side after the ladder is dropped to avoid falling glass which will have a tendency to slide down the beams. Held horizontally by several men, a ladder can also be used to clean out store windows and the light partitioning behind them. Inserting a ladder through openings in a roof and pushing down provides an excellent means of knocking down hanging ceilings such as found in supermarkets. Short ladders taken up the inside of frame houses can be used to push out the roof for ventilation of attic spaces.
A ladder can be used to open the stoutest of doors. When used for this purpose the beams of the ladder (preferably a 20-footer or better) are placed one above and one below the lock. A steady pressure is then exerted against the ladder—and the door —by several men. Since the men can stand well away from the door, they have much better protection against flame or backdraft. If the door doesn’t give readily, it is best not to use the ladder as a battering ram except in emergency. Ladders have been damaged while being used as a ram in this situation, and to no avail.
Firemen through the years have put ground ladders to many odd and unusual uses. A ladder can be made into a stretcher by laying planks or a door on the rungs. As a sling it can lower the injured from upper stories or raise them from an excavation. Pushed out on ice a wooden ladder makes an excellent tool for rescuing skaters, etc. who have fallen into ponds, rivers and the like.
In the area of salvage and overhaul, a ladder can be covered with a tarpaulin and used to chute excess water from a building. Three or four ladders, laid on edge and with ends joined, can be covered with a tarpaulin to make a handy reservoir. As a barricade, the ladder can help keep the curious bystander away and permit firemen to work unhampered.
A catalog of the uses to which a ladder can be put would be endless, and pointless. The compilation would have to be revised tbe day after issue because some imaginative fireman discovered a brand-new use, just as the original caveman did when musing at the base of a cliff. Like the caveman, the fire fighter would be wise to care for this most important tool. It can still mean the difference between life and death.