Truck Company Operations – See-Saw Technique: Rescue Maneuver with a Portable Ladder

By Michael N. Ciampo

Ladders have been a mainstay of the fire service for decades, allowing us to rescue civilians and providing access to and egress from burning structures. They have also helped us climb up to rooftops to perform ventilation, cross over burned-out stairs to reach upper floors, and slide out into an ice-covered pond to rescue a person who fell through the ice. Usually we place ladders and then leave them in place until operations conclude. We are taught that if a firefighter goes into a window off a ladder, we should not move the ladder unless we’ve communicated to that firefighter we need it for another life-saving evolution and we’ll move it right back afterward. We also stress that a ladder should cover all sides of the fire building, but if that’s not possible we should at least cover the front and back sides of the building. We all know that because of short staffing or poor tactics at some scenes, this is often not done.

However, if the assigned rapid intervention team (RIT) is making a 360° walk-around the structure and notices no ladders in the rear or other places that need ladders, why can’t RIT members throw them? I understand that RITs are for our insurance and should remain staged as a team in case of a Mayday, but how hard is it to assign two firefighters to throw a portable ladder to an area that needs one? Perhaps that ladder may negate the Mayday transmission because the firefighter can simply self-exit out the window onto the ladder and proceed to the ground to safety.

We should start being more proactive than reactive on the fireground; if you don’t want to use your RIT members to throw ladders, call for more help. In the meantime, while waiting for help to arrive, if there’s an extra engine company, chauffeurs, or available firefighters, order them to throw some ladders.

Scenario

Say you encounter a civilian down in a room with a window on the first floor. It may be difficult to remove that person, especially if the windowsill is high or the victim is large. Or say your initial entry route through the structure to access the victim is in jeopardy and you can’t remove the victim the same way you got to him. What are some methods of removal other than just manhandling him up and out of the window? If you use the same scenario but the victim is a down firefighter, your methods of removal may be a little easier, especially since you can grab onto his self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) straps and lift him up.

Improved training in RIT and firefighter removals has resulted in numerous new techniques and tactics. One such tactic is the window cut down. This involves using a chain saw or rotary saw to cut through the sill and down through the structure’s interior and exterior wall to the floor level (photo 1). You cut on both sides of the window and then pull the wall section out of the building, creating an “open door” to slide the victim out to safety (photo 2). It sounds pretty simple and quick, but it has a few flaws. First, what if the structure has those big old cast iron steam radiators or hot water baseboard heating fins in front of the window or has electrical wires or BX cable running through the walls? Will the saw blade/chain come in contact with them? Second, did you remove the depth guard off the saw’s bar to give yourself a full cut? Another problem we saw in training was cutting a home that had aluminum siding. Even though the bullet chain cut through the siding, it cut it like a can opener and the siding bound up around the saw’s sprocket, putting the saw out of service (photo 3). So if you’re attempting this maneuver, always have another saw on standby. In addition, if you encounter aluminum or even vinyl siding, remove it prior to cutting; it will lessen the chances of its binding up in the saw blade, sprocket, or guard or becoming a flying projectile. If you use a rotary saw, the housing of the belt guard will keep the saw a few inches off the one side of the window, making it a narrower opening. It also might not cut both the inside and outside walls together, depending on which size blade you use (photos 4, 5). Some other obstacles on structures that can make this option impractical or delay it include aluminum or metal window frames and concrete block or brick walls. Although many departments might have hydraulic cutting equipment with diamond blades that can cut these materials, such equipment is usually on specialized apparatus and not on location at the typical structure fire.

(1) The chain saw is used to cut a higher window to assist in a removal operation J.J. Cassetta
(1) The chain saw is used to cut a higher window to assist in a removal operation. (Photos 1-6 by J.J. Cassetta.)
Click to view video
(2) Two firefighters use hooks to remove the cut section of wall.
(2) Two firefighters use hooks to remove the cut section of wall.
Click to view video
(3) During training, the siding got caught in the blade shroud and bound up the blade.
(3) During training, the siding got caught in the blade shroud and bound up the blade.
Click to view video
(4) A rotary saw might not be able to cut both sides of the wall in one cut, and the saw housing may keep it off either side of the window, making a narrower opening.
(4) A rotary saw might not be able to cut both sides of the wall in one cut, and the saw housing may keep it off either side of the window, making a narrower opening.
(5) A rotary saw might not be able to cut both sides of the wall in one cut, and the saw housing may keep it off either side of the window, making a narrower opening.
(5) A rotary saw might not be able to cut both sides of the wall in one cut, and the saw housing may keep it off either side of the window, making a narrower opening.

The window cut-down tactic has been successful in routine removals of obese victims from their homes under nonfire conditions, but if you add smoke and no visibility to the equation, you must use good communications to prevent accidents. I had the opportunity to try the window cut-down vs. the victim removal with a portable ladder in side-by-side dwellings scheduled for demolition. Astonishingly, the ladder removals were faster compared with cutting the structure to remove the victim. Plus, the method required only one tool that should be in close vicinity on any fireground—the portable ladder.

See-Saw Technique

The see-saw ladder removal technique is simple to perform at various window heights on the first floor. Basically, slide a ladder into a window, place the victim onto it, and then slide the ladder out. Of course, it requires a little communication and coordination between the members inside and the members outside. You can use a straight, a roof, or an extension ladder. If your department has a lot of porch roofs that you ladder for upper-floor egress for vent-enter-search with roof ladders, use those ladders. If there is an extension ladder thrown to a window nearby and you must use it, remember to communicate to those members operating inside that you are taking their means of egress. Inform the incident commander that you need the ladder to perform the rescue and that another ladder can be positioned in its place.

If you’re using a roof or an extension ladder, it really doesn’t matter which end (tip or butt) you slide into the room. If you use the roof ladder and the hooks go into the building, be careful when you slide the ladder out that the hooks don’t open up and catch on the sill. Often the hooks support the victim’s or firefighter’s feet but can deflect downward from the victim’s weight (photo 6). If you use the extension ladder, lock it and tie it off in the nested position; this helps keep the sections locked together and limits any shifting of the ladder during the removal. The fly should be facing upward with its base section resting on the sill so when firefighters grab the bed section to pull it out of the window, the ladder’s fly will not move. If you put it into the window butt first with the fly down, be careful when you pull it out that it’s properly tied off, and remove it slowly and cautiously so the fly doesn’t move. If the fly moves, it could pinch a firefighter’s hands between the rung and rail.

(6) Place the roof ladder into the window with the tip first to perform the maneuver. If it's difficult to reach the rung, use a hook to pull it down. Remember that the farthest rung back offers the most leverage or mechanical advantage.
(6) Place the roof ladder into the window with the tip first to perform the maneuver. If it’s difficult to reach the rung, use a hook to pull it down. Remember that the farthest rung back offers the most leverage or mechanical advantage.

While drilling on this maneuver, we left the window intact for a few evolutions, just to see how a firefighter’s profile with bunker gear and SCBA on would fit through the opening; it worked well. The problem arose in a few of the older window installations when the windows slid downward during the removal from the vibration of the ladder on the sill. Just follow one of our mantras: Complete removal of the window, sash, curtains, and blinds will assist in the removal of a victim using this technique.

Room size, room layout, and the victim’s position often dictate how far to extend the ladder into the room. If necessary, stand the bed mattress and frame up against the wall, or stack the furniture to one side of the room to afford enough space to put the victim onto the ladder. When sliding the ladder into the room, don’t put it inside the window past its midpoint—doing so hinders the see-saw motion you make during the removal. Place the ladder just far enough inside the window to get the victim completely onto it. The more ladder outside the window increases the mechanical advantage or lever action and makes the removal that much easier. The window height also dictates the ladder angle: The higher the windowsill, the higher an angle the ladder projects outside the window. With a little practice, you can use this maneuver even on a high window.

Victim Positioning

Prior to beginning the operation, remember some basic firefighting procedures. If you remove a window for victim removal, you’ve also created an avenue of ventilation for the byproducts of the fire. One of your first actions should be to close the door to the room you’re operating in. This protects you from flames, smoke, and gases and may also increase visibility. Next, make the window into a door by removing the glass, sash, curtains, and blinds. Working from the inside and punching outward reduces the glass inside on the floor where you’re working; if you’re venting from outside, try and pull outward. Remember to always wear appropriate safety equipment when performing this tactic.

Depending on the victim’s size and the smoke conditions, it may be difficult to place a victim onto the ladder. The firefighters operating inside the structure have a few choices: They can put him face down, on his back, or on his side. If you haven’t placed the ladder in the window, you could lift up the victim, slide the ladder under him, and drag him up the ladder like it was a ramp (photo 7). If the victim is perpendicular to the ladder, you can drag him over the end of the ladder so his midpoint is balanced on the ladder. Then firefighters outside can pull down on the ladder, lifting the victim off the floor. Next the two firefighters inside can spin the victim easily on the ladder so his body is horizontal to it and remove him from the building. This method works well in training with large victims.

(7) One firefighter pulls up another firefighter while sliding the ladder under him; then he can slide or pull up the victim and roll him onto the ladder for removal Megan Ciampo
(7) One firefighter pulls up another firefighter while sliding the ladder under him; then he can slide or pull up the victim and roll him onto the ladder for removal. (Photos 7-12 by Megan Ciampo.)
Click to view video

When removing a down firefighter, laying him on his side is probably the best position. If you place him on his back, the SCBA tank doesn’t sit properly on the ladder, and the firefighter moves when you pull him out the window. Plus, the firefighter’s helmet drops into the rung spacing, which could get snagged on the windowsill, causing an injury. If you place him face down, the SCBA face piece has a tendency to fall through the rung spacing, and the firefighter’s neck could get jammed on the windowsill during removal. On his side, his neck could still drop; thus, during the removal, one firefighter should be at his head to guide it during the removal and prevent it from being caught between the sill and the ladder. In training, I’ve also noticed that when using the side position, there is a tendency to snag stuffed bunker gear pants pockets. If the pockets fall in between the rungs at the sill, they can catch while sliding outward. A simple solution is to slide the ladder back in a few inches or a foot, lift the ladder (releasing the snag), and continue with the removal.

Firefighter Ladder Positions

Once the two firefighters place the victim onto the ladder, one positions at the butt of the ladder while the other goes toward the victim’s head and the windowsill (photo 8). This firefighter gives the verbal commands to pull down on the ladder and out. When he yells, “Pull down,” the firefighter at the butt lifts up to assist the see-saw action. Since the sill supports the weight of the ladder, the firefighter at the butt can guide the ladder with a slight pushing motion or go to the side of it and support the victim to ensure nothing gets caught on the sill. (Note: If the person is obese, the two firefighters can lift on the butt of the ladder to help the see-saw action; once the ladder is horizontal, one should go back to support the victim’s head and control the removal.) Make sure it is a steady pull. Don’t do it fast; make sure that no victim body parts or bunker gear, helmet, or boots get hung up or caught on the sill.

(8) The firefighter at the butt of the ladder should lift with his legs and not his back to avoid an injury. The firefighter at the head should ensure that the victim's helmet, mask, or head does not hit the sill during the removal.
(8) The firefighter at the butt of the ladder should lift with his legs and not his back to avoid an injury. The firefighter at the head should ensure that the victim’s helmet, mask, or head does not hit the sill during the removal.

On the outside of the building, you need three properly positioned firefighters to perform this tactic. Two firefighters face each other on opposite sides of the ladder next to the window (photo 9). They initially use an overhand grip to assist when pulling the ladder down to the horizontal position. Then they maintain an underhand grip while pulling and sliding their hands back and forth on the bottom of the ladder’s rail, assisting in the victim’s slow removal (photo 10). Once they see the end of the ladder and victim clear the sill, they walk a few feet backward and lower the ladder to the ground. When faced with high windows, these two firefighters should resist the urge to go palms up; they must maintain an underhand grip because it will still be easier to lower the ladder to the ground (photo 11).

(9) Two firefighters should be in position just outside the window to guide and support the ladder.
(9) Two firefighters should be in position just outside the window to guide and support the ladder.
Click to view video
(10) Maintaining an underhand grip will help the firefighters support and lower the ladder.
(10) Maintaining an underhand grip will help the firefighters support and lower the ladder.
(11) Once clear of the window, the two firefighters will lower the end of the ladder to the ground. The other firefighter drops his arm positioning to the sides and continues holding the ladder at an angle, acting like a pivot point to make lowering easier.
(11) Once clear of the window, the two firefighters will lower the end of the ladder to the ground. The other firefighter drops his arm positioning to the sides and continues holding the ladder at an angle, acting like a pivot point to make lowering easier.

The firefighter positioned at the ladder’s tip pulls down on the ladder’s last rung to create the see-saw motion and gain the best mechanical advantage. He may be able to pull down on a lower rung if he can handle the weight and move the ladder. Once the ladder is horizontal, he pulls on the rung while walking slowly backward, dragging the ladder and the victim out of the building. Using an underhand grip works best for pulling and helps in the last movement of the maneuver. Remember, don’t run or pull too fast; control the removal, and make the transition of the victim over the sill flawless.

When the ladder is clear of the sill and the two firefighters start lowering the other end of the ladder, keep your grip on the rung. Don’t lower this end of the ladder; maintain an upward position so it acts like the pivot point as the other end of the ladder moves toward the ground. Once the victim has reached the ground, then you can lower this end of the ladder. With a high window, the ladder will often be hard to reach because of the height and angle at which it’s inserted into the window. The firefighter at the end should use a hook to pull down on the farthest rung from the building to increase the leverage and be able to grab onto the ladder for removal. In training, some firefighters switched their hand position to the rails once they stopped pulling the ladder out of the building. Do what is most comfortable for your body style (photo 12).

(12) The firefighter switches his hands from the rungs to the rails after pulling to help during the lower/pivot motion.
(12) The firefighter switches his hands from the rungs to the rails after pulling to help during the lower/pivot motion.

The see-saw ladder removal technique is by no means flawless. During training on firefighter removal operations, extra gloves, knives, and flashlights all got hung up on the windowsill. The problem was quickly resolved by sliding the ladder back in and repositioning the victim or sliding it back in and lifting up on the ladder near the sill to clear the obstruction. This maneuver is relatively easy to teach, learn, and perform, but it won’t work in situations with limited space between structures or objects that block the removal lane of the ladder.

Ladders are for more than just climbing. Use them to your advantage when you can. They might make a difficult removal quicker and easier.

Additional Links

Drill of the Week: Drag Rescue Devices

Fallen firefighter drag rescue

RIT ROPE DRAG

MICHAEL N. CIAMPO is a 29-year veteran of the fire service and a lieutenant in the Fire Department of New York. Previously, he served with the District of Columbia Fire Department. He has a bachelor’s degree in fire science from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. He is the lead instructor for the FDIC Truck Essentials H.O.T. program. He wrote the Ladder chapter and co-authored the Ventilation chapter for Fire Engineering’s Handbook for Firefighter I and II (Fire Engineering, 2009) and is featured in “Training Minutes” truck company videos on www.FireEngineering.com. His Bread & Butter Portable Ladders training DVD is available from Pennwell. He authors the monthly back page column On Fire.

Michael N. Ciampo will present “Ladders: Operational Strategies with Portables, Aerials, and Towers” on Thursday, April 23, 3:30 p.m.-5:15 p.m., at FDIC International 2015 in Indianapolis.

More Fire Engineering Issue Articles
Fire Engineering Archives

No posts to display