Ladder Company Work Sets Pace for Fire Attack
The Volunteers Corner
Ladder company work has so many facets that it is a source of unending challenge and interest.
Furthermore, the quality of ladder company work sets the pace for the entire fireground operation. Because so many ladder company duties support engine company work, an engine company attack succeeds in ratio to the support it gets from the ladder company.
Search and rescue: The immediate concern of all fire fighters arriving on the fireground is, of course, rescue. While both engine and ladder companies give primary attention to obvious rescue needs, it is the particular duty of a ladder company to search the fire building. It should be understood that if a small fire department does not have a ladder company, then search and rescue—and other ladder company duties—must be handled by engine company men or those attached to other fire units.
The primary search of a fire building can combine several objectives, depending on the conditions in the building. The major objective is to find persons who need to be rescued. At the same time, searchers can direct other occupants to exit paths from the building. Searchers must use their judgment when large numbers of people must be evacuated from a building. Should the searchers give most of their attention to evacuation of the building or should they concentrate on continuing the search and let the fleeing occupants get out as best they can?
Varying conditions will lead to different answers to this question. We mention it to emphasize that the command that must be established on the fireground for effective operations must include the responsibility for making decisions on the conduct of search and rescue.
As soon as possible, a secondary—and more thorough—search of the building must be made.
Forcible entry: Among the ladder company duties that directly support engine company operations is forcible entry. It should be emphasized that forcible entry is not limited to getting the first engine company inside a building. The ladder company man assigned to this duty should continue with the engine company and open up locked doors that may be encountered inside the fire building.
After getting the engine company to the fire area, the ladderman’s duties expand to opening up ceilings, walls and other concealed spaces as necessary.
Ventilation: One of the most important facets of a ladder company’s work is ventilation. In any serious fire situation, engine companies must have effective ventilation to work toward the seat of the fire. With walkie-talkies, laddermen and enginemen can coordinate their actions so that ventilation is provided the moment the enginemen have their lines ready for the attack.
Ventilation at this time is more than a support function, it is a vital coordination with the engine company attack and will directly affect the chances for success.
When conditions permit, ladder companies also provide ventilation to improve working conditions inside a building. This can be regarded as a secondary ventilation— although for minor fires, it may be the only type of ventilation a ladder company has to provide.
Horizontal ventilation—opening windows and exterior doors—sometimes can be done during the primary search.
Checking for fire: One bit of information the chief in charge must have is whether the fire is extending beyond the area where it is visible. Checking for extension of fire also is a ladder company duty. Surprises are undesirable on the fireground. Laddermen should check the other sides of the walls around the fire area, the floors above and below, and even adjoining buildings and the other sides of fire walls. Don’t take it for granted that all fire doors are closed and be highly suspicious of ducts and vertical shafts.
Overhaul: Once the fire is under control, laddermen assist engine companies in overhaul. The laddermen open up concealed spaces so that the enginemen can extinguish hidden fire that would lead to a rekindle.
Salvage: As soon as the fire conditions and other work permit, ladder companies should start salvage operations. This includes throwing salvage covers, dewatering with pumps, squeegees, mops and even rags for wiping machinery and furniture. Salvage is a most effective way of limiting a fire loss.
Laddering: We mention laddering last because it is the most obvious duty of a ladder company. Laddering may be vital to rescue and advancement of hose lines. We mention it last because the other ladder company duties are the ones that are most often neglected.