Securing Roof Ladders vs. the Ridge Vent

By Michael Ciampo

In today’s fire service we find that we must adapt in certain situations to overcome obstacles on the fireground.

Recently, while I was teaching classes on portable ladders operations around the country, two obstacles arose. The first concerned a fire department tool–the roof ladder, sometimes referred to as the hook ladder. Many newer ladders are being made with the spring-loaded hooks mounted farther back from the tip of the ladder. In some situations, this small change hampers fireground operations, especially when coupled with the next obstacle–the ridge vent. The ridge vent is a vent cut into the ridge line of a structure, which assists in circulating air in an attic or cockloft space. The vent is normally capped by asphalt shingles and could also be capped with an aluminum-type cap. The vent can be found on truss construction as well as structures with a ridge pole.

In some instances during training, placing the roof ladder up to the roof with an aluminum-capped vent prevented the ladder from securing onto the roof properly. This seemed to be because of two reasons: First, the hooks mounted farther back on the ladder didn’t have the reach to grab into the roof securely; and second, the height of the ridge vent kept the ladder off the roof. During some evolutions with the asphalt shingle-capped ridge vent, the roof ladder’s hooks pulled the shingles right off the vent cap. To prevent these situations from occurring during fireground operations, some changes had to be made to existing tactics.

Some solutions to combat these problems came to mind quickly. Whenever faced with the aluminum-capped vent, you have two options. First, you can simply try to smash down the vent with the weight of the roof ladder to get the ladder to lay flat on the roof and bite into the ridge. Second, you can try to grab the ridge vent with the hooks of the ladder and pull it off the ridge. This removes it, resulting in ventilation at the ridge and the ladder laying flat on the roofline and biting into the roof ridge.

Note: Always perform a leg lock or use a safety belt when operating off of an extension ladder while placing a roof ladder into position. This is extremely important when performing the abovementioned tactic.

On many of the newer ladders, the hooks sit well above the vents and don’t bite into the roof as much as is preferable. A simple solution is to carry a halligan tool or pickhead ax up the ladder to the ridge and strike the roof with the point of the tool, approximately where the hooks of the ladder will set. Then you can insert the roof ladder’s hooks into the holes and it will sit securely onto the roof’s surface.

Note: When performing this tactic, if you make only one hole, it will cause the roof ladder to sit unevenly. If you carry a halligan tool onto a pitched roof, you can also use it as an additional step for your foot: Simply drive the point of the tool into the roof and step on the adz end for support.

Additional Safety Considerations

  1. Whenever placing a roof ladder to the ridge, always ensure it bites into the roof by pulling down on it, especially on asphalt shingle and aluminum ridge vents.
  2. When transferring yourself from the extension ladder to the roof ladder, stop momentarily on a rung of the roof ladder to ensure it holds your weight and it is secure.
  3. When one member must carry a roof ladder up an extension ladder, it is always easier to carry it at its balance point. The ladder will be balanced for the climb and will also deploy better as you reach the roof line.
  4. Make sure the roof ladder’s hooks are well-lubricated, and check them after each use.
  5. Roof ladders are not just for winter roof operations. Don’t let a roof’s pitch surprise you; operating off a roof ladder is often a safer operation.
  6. Striking the hooks of a roof ladder with a tool to make them bite into the roof may be your only option. Some minor damage to the ladder or its mechanisms may occur, but if this is your only choice, do it! The ladder is replaceable. Your life isn’t.
Operating on pitched roofs can be a dangerous operation. Performing these quick and simple tactics will help ensure your safety when you are faced with certain obstacles on the fireground.

Michael Ciampo is a lieutenant with the Fire Department of New York. Previously, he served with the Washington, D.C., Fire Department. He is an instructor for the FDIC and an editorial advisory board member of Fire Engineering. He has a B.A. in fire science from John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

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