Ladders and windows

Ladders and windows

Tom Brennan

Technical Editor

Fire Engineering

Cape Coral, Florida

I am compelled to write a few lines to question the tactical skill suggested by Rem Gaade, the chief of operations of Toronto (Ont., Canada) Fire Services (Letters to the Editor, January 1999).

First, let`s see where we can agree. Ladders should be above the roof level a significant distance so they may be seen from the roof operation area in time of escape or exit. The three, four, or five rounds that extend above the roof for that purpose also serve a secondary purpose–it is easier to get on and off the roof with the ladder in that position.

Now for the windows. Why do we raise ladders to windows? To look around for a drill site or estimate a paint job within the room? No! Access to the window is primarily for immediate entry for primary search of an interior exposure to a structural fire within the building. If terrain permits, that ladder should be placed as low as possible to the windowsill and even perhaps a little below it. Why?

If you want to procure a $1,000 bill that flew into a fireplace hearth with a cozy fire warming the room, how do you get it with all possible speed, reducing the risk factor that it won`t burn beyond recognition? Do you stand on the hearth and reach over the screen and into the firebox from the top? Well, not if it`s the second time you`ve spotted a $1,000 bill. (This time, you want to accomplish your goal.) You slide your hand and arm along the base of the hearth and along the side of the vertical wall surrounding the fire.

Getting into a room containing a victim in peril with the greatest probability of success the first time is to be able to “slither” from the ladder over the lowest part of the window opening–the sill. If you are stopped at the sill, you must get another window. But if you are stopped by fire and heat conditions because the ladder places you too high into the venting inferno, then shame on you for not giving the victim your best effort.

We are entering a fire building through a window that is no longer full of glass because you or the fire made a door out of it. Why do you have to check for the shards of glass that may be stuck in the window frame from a high vantage point, as recommended by Gaade? You give the window a final glass-clearing sweep with your tool before you enter for the search. And if the victim is in a position on the sill such that you may “kick” him–well, what can I say? Get glasses; or unfog your facepiece–you should have seen him.

Second random point: If the victim is in the window, where is the ladder that puts you higher than the sill placed? If it is placed high and adjacent to the opening (lordy forbid), how do you get the victim on the sill out to the ladder?

About climbing with the same hand and foot, leaving and returning to the ladder at the same time, imagine some vibration or shift of ladder with only your right foot and right hand in contact! More importantly, where is the tool you are carrying? How does that foot that needs that hand get to the next rung? And–if you work for me–where is the second tool? Hands belong in contact with the beams all the time while the legs and feet rapidly ascend to the task.

I am not trying to disagree with our brother training officer from Canada. I just want to tell you (after thousands of structural fires) what works!

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