More on Ladder Operations
Paul McFadden’s Volunteers Corner
In my last two columns, we talked about portable ladders and their necessity on the fireground. We discussed the need for different size and types of ladders, and for properly raising and positioning them at just about every fire. What we didn’t discuss is where all these ladders come from. And, of course, this brings us into our ladder company apparatus, equipment, and use.
Many departments do not own a formal aerial ladder or platform. However, this should not limit your thinking and knowledge of them for two important reasons: First, some day you may be forced into buying an aerial because new building construction creates its need; and second, if you call an aerial on mutual aid, it’s always good to know what you’re getting, its advantages, its limitations, and what support equipment will be needed when this monster arrives.
The number and length of portable ladders that you’ll need will depend on your district’s needs. Thought must go into this area, especially if you are in the process of purchasing a new apparatus. Discuss with the manufacturer what he is going to “GIVE” you, and then see if it will fit your needs. You may want two 35-foot extension ladders instead of one 35and one 50-foot Bangor (that takes six men to raise). If your department already has four or five roof ladders, you might want to specify some 20-foot straight ladders, etc.
What will an aerial ladder do for you on a fireground? First, it should be bringing an arsenal of portable ladders, light-generating equipment, hand and power tools, and often our salvage equipment. And, of course, although not always needed or usable, its ladder (usually 75 or 100 feet).
Unfortunately, time and time again we will find that the ladder truck is parked down the street behind the second or third pumper because the immediate need for the aerial was not obvious on arrival, and all this great equipment is being overlooked—until all the closer pumpers run out of tools.
Where does the ladder truck belong? Directly in front of the fire building!
The pumper has the ability to make room for other apparatus whether you use a straight lay or reverse lay. But ladder company equipment, such as electrical reels and the aerial itself, is limited by its length.
If you are running shorthanded (and who isn’t?) the aerial can be brought to the fire with just a chauffeur. The important thing is to get it there and to position it correctly. Aerial ladder operations are associated more with commercial, public, and multi-family apartment buildings, rather than with private dwellings because of accessibility. But this should not inhibit the response of this apparatus to all structural fires.
The aerial is an excellent means of ensuring access and egress to and from the roof of large buildings. But care must be taken to position the ladder so that a self-venting fire cannot cut off the roof team from escape, especially if there is only one ladder available for this evolution. Try to position an aerial on a wall without windows, or, if this is impossible, one removed from the main body of fire. And, of course, consider calling another ladder to cover more than one side (even if mutual aid is needed for this purpose only).
It also must be said that the aerial should not be moved unless the roof team has another escape route (such as a similar attached exposure that is not involved), and then, only if permission is given by those on the roof. Continuing this thought, the roof team also has a responsibility to avoid indiscriminate venting that might cut themselves off from escape if their position becomes untenable.
Being governed by all the rules of portable ladders, an aerial ladder can also be used for ventilation, entry for search operations, and removal of civilians and firefighters from upper floors. Aerials also have the ability, by use of a fixed and/or portable ladder pipe, to deliver a large caliber stream to the upper floor or floors of a structure or to large open areas such as lumberyards.
Ladder pipe operations are started when the interior forces are not making headway, considerable time has passed, and the incident commander has decided on an exterior attack. Employing an exterior attack brings up an important fact: We have conceded the building, or at least that floor, and time is no longer as important a consideration as it is during interior operations. We are settling in.
Before starting water in the ladder pipe, all fire forces must have retreated from the interior. Not only are we going to drive the fire and products of combustion throughout the fire floor, we are also adding up to four tons of water per minute into an already fire weakened structure. The introduction of this new live load can add to the collapse potential, and water runoff should be monitored.
Water supply to the ladder pipe will naturally come from pumpers, and it is suggested that two sources of supply be used. Why two sources? It must be remembered that we will be delivering up to 1,000 gpm of water per minute, with 90 psi at the nozzle. If for some reason water is interrupted (burst length, etc.), a whipping action can occur with the ladder, and structural damage to it is very possible. The possibility of aerial damage is also the reason that when we decide to shut down the large caliber stream, it should be shut down at the pumper slowly to avoid damage. Abruptly closing the gate at the base of the ladder can cause whipping action and a possible water hammer in the supply hose, resulting in damage to both pumper and hose.
The ladder pipe’s large caliber stream has the ability of both vertical as well as horizontal movement. The vertical movement is accomplished by the use of halyards, one attached to the handle of the appliance and the other to the pipe itself. Horizontal movement is allowed us by the movement of the turntable, preferably by the hand crank to ensure smooth, slow movement, reducing the chance of damaging the ladder by whipping it while it is under the stress of the water reaction.
The use of halyards will give you all the ladder pipe movement necessary, insure the safety of firefighters, and allow your ladder to be placed closer to the target.
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Putting members on a free-standing ladder is an unsafe act for a variety of reasons. First, ladders should not be moved with people on them unless they are being removed from immediate danger. Secondly, there are too many unseen variables to account for. I’m not saying that the ladder isn’t strong enough to hold both the hoseline and a member, it’s just an unnecessary risk. Aerial ladders normally have one tormentor on each side of the truck. The bed of the roadway may be softening due to the amount of water being used, or there might be unseen voids under the hard surface, especially in more rural areas—and both these factors can lead to ladder failure. Also, the member on the ladder has no protection from either the elements or an unexpected increase in fire intensity (such as an explosion).
In addition, every trip on an extended, wet, slippery, and sometimes icy ladder just increases the possibility for injury. Positioning firefighters on the aerial will also force it to stay further away from the fire because people melt at lower temperatures than ladders do.
Now, after all these disadvantages of having a firefighter operating from an aerial, look at what the member is accomplishing up there: the same job as the halyard, except that his picture may be in the paper.
The aerial ladder is not a support piece, it is first-line apparatus, and thinking of it as such and properly positioning it at all structural fires can only add to the efficiency of your department’s operations.