New Ladder Use at High-Rise Fires
The need for a new or different way to fight high-rise fires was on my mind after an incident in which fire trapped 20 persons in an 18th-floor Manhattan conference room. The stairway was cut off by flames, and the contained heat made fire fighting especially difficult. After an aggressive attack, however, all were rescued—although five occupants and 22 fire fighters were injured.
Only two hand lines off the standpipe were needed to extinguish the fire, but the heat on the fire floor forced a frequent rotation of fire fighters. It took two hours and 70 fire fighters to extinguish the fire. No lives were lost this time. I wondered about next time.
Whenever intensive heat or fire prevents a timely interior advancement of hand lines, we must have an alternate method of attack, I thought. We needed a better way to place a fire stream in operation 30 or 40 stories up. And we needed a way to remove trapped persons at a window that high if other means of access were blocked.
Beginning of an idea
A possible solution came to me while walking down Fifth Ave. in Manhattan, when I noticed the approximately 45-degree angle of the many flag poles jutting out from the buildings. The first thought was that if we put a nozzle on the end of a flag pole we could direct water into the floor above—without taking the punishment of heat and smoke.
Then 1 thought, instead of a flag pole, why not use an extension ladder held at the same angle, with a ladder pipe on the end? With the basic idea in mind, I had to start filling in the details.
Two 3/16-inch steel cables 5 feet long were used to hold the tip of the 16-foot ladder at the required angle. Each end of the cables had a spliced eye. One end of the cables looped each beam and a top rung, as in the diagram. Inside the room, a 6-foot metal ceiling hook was positioned through the other cable eyes and placed horizontally across the window, the hook ends pressed against the wall on either side of the window.
To secure the butt of the ladder I used another metal ceiling hook and a 20-foot rope with an eye splice on one end. This hook was held horizontally outside the window, the ends again held against the building on either side. (This arrangement kept the angled ladder from sliding into the room while the top hook and cables held most of the weight and the back pressure of the water.) The lower hook was connected to the ladder by placing the rope’s eye around one end of the hook, bringing the rope inside the window, making a half hitch around each beam at the bottom, and continuing back outside to the other side of the hook. There I secured the ladder, hook and rope with a clove hitch and safety.
A 30-foot 1/8-inch-diameter steel cable halyard connected to the ladder pipe and to a rear lever allowed us to adjust the elevation of the nozzle.
During drills, a nozzle pressure of 70 to 100 psi was used to test the support rigging. At 70 psi the ladder pipe delivered 386 gpm, with a range of 80 feet. The rigging was safe enough to enable its use by persons escaping from the upper floor.
This ladder could be set up faster than we could position a protective line between the fire and any trapped persons, in some instances. In the usual attack on a high-rise fire, fire fighting starts from the enclosed stairway with hand lines from the standpipe. Interior attack is limited to a lateral approach to wherever persons are trapped or wherever the fire has spread. High temperatures and unvented smoke will limit a fire fighter’s effective work time.
The new method reduces exposure to smoke and heat. It can be set up anywhere it is needed. While windows are not recognized as regular exits, the officer in command should not hesitate to use every possible means of rescue or suppression—even 30 stories high.
In addition to directing a stream into an upper window or allowing escape from a fire area, the ladder can be used by fire fighters to advance a line directly against a fire remote from the stairwell. Before these streams are used from the window, however, all personnel should be removed from the fire floor and doors to the interior closed.
The steps of this ladder evolution begin when the equipment and a hand line are assembled in a room below the fire by an officer and three fire fighters.
- Place the extension ladder on the window sill, extend the fly three rungs and lock the fly.
- Secure the halyard by taking a turn around the sixth rung from the butt and tie a clove hitch and a binder on the taut part of the rope above the rung. The clove hitch should secure both sections of the ladder.
- Fire fighters 1 and 2, each using the cables with spliced eyes, loop cables on each beam of the ladder between the first and second rungs from the tip by passing cables back through spliced eyes. Take the ceiling hook and pass it through other ends of the cables. Center the hook across the beams of the ladder.
- To raise the ladder, fire fighters 1 and 2 take position on each side of the ladder at the window sill. Fire fighter 3 grasps ladder at the bottom rung, palms down.
- Fire fighters 1 and 2 raise ladder to an almost vertical position outside the window while number 3 assists this operation by sliding the butt as close as possible to the window. As the ladder is raised the hook will slide up the window frame and wall to the top of the window.
- Position the ladder to afford a 2foot space between the ladder and the wall at the top of the window.
- Fire fighter 1 passes the spliced eye of the 20-foot section of rope over another hook and positions the hook outside the window, centering it across the opening. He holds the hook in this position while fire fighter 2 takes rope leading from the hook and makes it taut. He ties a half hitch around both beams of the ladder below the first rung and then out to other end of hook and ties a half hitch around both beams of the ladder below the first rung and then out to other end of hook and ties a clove hitch and binder on shaft of the hook. The ladder butt is now secured.
- Fire fighter 1 climbs the ladder. When his feet are level with the top of the window he will be able to step into the window above. He remains inside the window of the fire floor directing trapped persons onto the ladder.
- Fire fighters 2 and 3 butt the ladder as an extra safety precaution and direct trapped persons off the ladder and into the window.
- If small children have to be removed, fire fighter 2 climbs the ladder to position his feet on the sixth rung from the butt. Fire fighter 1 on the fire floor hands the child to fire fighter 2 on the ladder, who then passes the child to number 3 on the floor below.