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Back to Basics: December 2009


November 16, 2009
By Mark van der Feyst

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In November we discussed the importance of looking up before raising ground or aerial ladders. Raising ladders requires planning and skill; we have to consider the height of the building, the destination of the ladder, the condition of the ground, access to the area and the purpose of laddering the building.

In November we discussed the importance of looking up before raising ground or aerial ladders. Raising ladders requires planning and skill; we have to consider the height of the building, the destination of the ladder, the condition of the ground, access to the area and the purpose of laddering the building. It’s time to incorporate all the details that we have discussed in the last few columns and put them into practice.

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Photo 1: Hooking a rope to the bottom rung of the ladder allows a firefighter to walk the rope and hold the ladder from slipping.
 
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Photo 2: Hook the rope around the bottom rung then attach the rope to the rung using a small carabineer.  
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Photo 3: Start to raise the ladder by grabbing the tip and
walking along the rope to secure the ladder.
 
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Photo 4: The result is a ground ladder being raised, either by beam or flat method, by one firefighter.
Photos by Mark van der Feyst


 

From basic training onwards we were taught that raising a ground ladder is a two-person job. Even though there are techniques for one-person raises, we generally push the two-person raise. In textbooks and on the fire ground we always see two people raising a ground ladder. Using two people to raise a ladder is a safer option. The second person heels the ladder as it is being raised and acts as a spotter helping to gauge the height of the raise.

Though there are many different ways to raise a ladder, there are two main techniques: a beam raise and a flat raise. November’s column on overhead obstructions featured a picture of an alleyway that presented a challenge for raising a ground ladder. In that situation the beam raise would probably be the best choice as the space was quite narrow and the overhead obstructions were plentiful. 

So, why do we insist so heavily on using two people to raise a ladder? I believe that we should train firefighters to raise ground ladders of between 24 feet and 28 feet by themselves. (Most of our ground-ladder raises involve ladders of between 12 feet and 28 feet. It takes two people to raise longer ladders.) There are often manpower issues on the fire ground and there are not enough personnel to dedicate two people to raise a ladder. In truck company operations, the driver of the truck usually conducts outside operations and ladders all sides of the building. One firefighter with a ground ladder can be very effective on the fire ground. At house fires, firefighters usually deal with two storeys. Even if there is a third storey, one firefighter should be able to raise and extend a ground ladder to the third storey. Ladder math is used to determine the height of the ladder extension and the size of the ladder needed. Overhead obstructions dictate what type of raise will be used. The purpose of the operation (rescue/access or firefighter survival) determines how the ladder is placed against the building. One firefighter can accomplish this task very easily; it is just a question of training.

So, how can a firefighter raise a ladder without someone to heel it? Building features can help; bases of walls, curbs and steps can prevent the ladder butt spur from moving. But what if we these features are not available?  Photo 1 shows a 24-foot ground ladder with a piece of orange rope beside it. By hooking the rope to the bottom rung of the ladder, firefighters can walk the rope with their feet to hold the ladder from slipping as they raise the ladder into position.

First, hook the rope around the bottom rung. Attach the rope to the rung using a small carabineer (see photo 2). Wrap the rope around the bottom of the butt spur and walk it out to the tip of the ladder. 

Now, start to raise the ladder by grabbing the tip and walking along the rope to secure the ladder (see photo 3). The end result as shown in photo 4 is a ground ladder being raised, either by beam or flat method, by one firefighter. Now the firefighter can position and extend the ladder to be placed against the building.

Always remember to have your body facing the building when raising a ladder. Remember this by saying “Body to the building”. This was taught to me by Lt. Mike Ciampo from the New York City Fire Department, and can be accomplished by making sure the ladder is positioned our outside shoulder. This gives you a full view of the building when you are raising the ladder. Having the ladder on the inside shoulder results in a blind spot that prevents you from seeing the whole building. This method works best when conducting a beam raise. The beam of the ladder can rest on the outside shoulder, allowing you to pivot the ladder if you need to reposition yourself.  Ensure that you watch the building as you raise the ladder. Conditions and situations can change. Initially, there might not be anyone in the window at which you are positioning a ladder for access; the next second there might be someone needing to be rescued. Keeping the body to the building will help us catch these changes in conditions and situations and adapt accordingly.

Training is still the key to perfecting our skills. Practising one-person ladder raises will ensure that anyone on the fire ground can complete this task. We do not want to be conducting training on the fire ground when the seconds count. 


Mark van der Feyst began his career in the fire service in 1998 with the Cranberry Township Volunteer Fire Company, Station 21, in Pennsylvania. He served as a firefighter and training officer for four years, then joined the Mississauga Fire & Emergency Services, where he served for three years as a firefighter and shift medical instructor. He is now with the City of Woodstock Fire Department in Ontario and can be reached at mvanderfeyst@gmail.com


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