Ladder Company Work At All Structural Fires
The Volunteers Corner
In some small fire departments, it can be said, “We don’t have a ladder company.” But no one in any fire department that fights structural fires can truthfully say, “We don’t have ladder company work.”
Regardless of whether you have a ladder company, at the start of a fire attack, you may face three ladder company tasks: forcible entry, search and rescue, and ventilation. We say “may face” because fires occur in buildings where the need to do one or more of these jobs may not exist. For example, a wood frame barn or storage building so completely involved in fire that flames are shooting through the roof and framing timbers can be seen through burned siding is beyond the need for all three of these tasks.
On the other hand, a burning home may present no forcible entry problem because the doors are unlocked, but the house must be searched to determine if a rescue must be made. And ventilation can assist the search and facilitate the fire attack. In large buildings with many occupants, ventilation may be necessary to keep stairways as free of smoke as possible so that they can be kept in use for evacuation.
Assignment of men: In departments that have a well-manned ladder company response, one ladderman is usually assigned to take an ax and be ready to gain entry for the first-in engine company. Other men are delegated to search the building and ventilate. Putting an aerial ladder to a roof takes little in manpower and time, but raising ground ladders requires one to six men, depending on the length of the ladder.
When a department has no ladder company or assigns only one or two men to a ladder truck, the amount of ladder company work that must be done is unaffected. The difference is that engine company men have to be used to raise ladders, and when a pumper’s three-section 35 or 40-foot ladder is raised by the crew of that apparatus, then they are actually operating for a few minutes as a ladder company.
A two-man ladder company can search a small building or ventilate a roof, but they cannot do both simultaneously. However, these jobs have to be done at the same time, so in a department without adequate ladder service, engine company men have to be assigned to these tasks. In volunteer departments with plenty of manpower responding, enough men are available to do ladder company work. The trick is to remember to make the required assignments when the work needs to be done—not when it’s too late for the work to be effective. This may sound silly, but I’ve seen roofs opened up during the overhaul stage when opening these roofs at the start of the attack would have limited the fire spread.
Borrowing an engine company: In paid departments that have but one or two men on a ladder truck, consideration might well be given to assigning all but the pump operator in an engine company to handling ladder company work. This would place an officer in charge in cases where the ladder truck rolls without an officer and would provide the needed manpower from one source, leaving the other engine companies fully manned. Also, it would leave the pumper available to stretch single or parallel lines and hook up to a hydrant.
When the fireground force is shorthanded, salvage work is the first to suffer. This, of course, is also ladder company work unless there is a salvage, rescue or fire police company in the department assigned to handle it. When more engine company men are present than are needed to fight the fire, then some of these men can be delegated to do salvage.
Opening up walls and ceilings to check for extension of fire is another ladder company job which must be done by engine company men if there is no ladder company. Overhauling, providing emergency lighting and sometimes dewatering are other ladder company jobs that have to be done even though the department has no ladder company.
It should be evident that good ladder company operation is vital to an overall good fireground operation. Without a ladder company, or with an undermanned one, the fireground operation becomes that much more difficult because the work must be done by using engine company men who have enough to do in their own area of fireground responsibilities.
CORRECTION: In the October column description of a parallel raise with a pole ladder, our thoughts got ahead of oUr typing, or vice versa, and the result was thrice worser. The ladder first is turned and then the fly (or flies) is extended. The extended ladder is kept in the vertical position as short a time as possible before being lowered into the building. Turning an extended ladder should be avoided like the plague.