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Back to Basics: Ladder Dating: When to use two firefighters

April 15, 2021
By Mark van
Photo 1: The two firefighters are carrying two 24-foot ground ladders at once. Utilizing the suitcase handle, they are able to double their efforts in one travel as opposed to carrying one ladder at a time and making two trips. Photos by Mark van der Feyst

In our series on ground ladders, we have focused on the use of one firefighter for ladder carries, deployment, and working off when on the fire ground. Many, if not all firefighters, have been taught to always use two firefighters when carrying or using a ground ladder. While I have been advocating the use of one firefighter in these instances, there are times when two firefighters may be available or needed to be used for ground ladder operations. 

When two firefighters are available for ground ladder assignments, their efforts need to be maximized to be effective on the fire ground. This will involve using both sets of hands to carry required tools, equipment and ground ladders. 

One such instance of where two firefighters will be needed is when there are two ground ladders to be carried. In the first photo, you will see an example of this. The two firefighters are carrying two 24-foot ground ladders at once. Using the suitcase handle, they are able to double their efforts in one travel as opposed to carrying one ladder at a time and making two trips. This can be done for any ground ladder combination, such as 28-foot ladder and a 24-foot ladder, or a 14-foot roof ladder and a 24-foot ladder.  

Another situation for using two firefighters to carry a ground ladder is when there is a need for longer-than-normal ground ladders, such as the 36-foot ground ladder or a 40-to-50-foot ground ladder. Any three-section ground ladder will be heavy, requiring two firefighters to carry – although I have seen one firefighter carry a 36-foot ladder. The ladders that have stay poles attached to them will definitely need two or more firefighters to not only carry it, but also deploy it against the building. Even with a 36-foot three section ladder, two firefighters will be better than one to raise and set it against a building. 

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Using two firefighters to carry any one or two-section ground ladder is a waste of manpower on the fire ground. If this is the case, there must be an abundance of firefighters on scene who can be used for this assignment. Usually, fire departments are struggling for available hands to complete critical assignments, which involve laddering a building. Fire departments must prioritize which assignments will be completed first based on available manpower. Fire departments need to learn how to operate using one firefighter for several tasks that do not require having two.

I mentioned earlier about using all available hands to carry ground ladders, as well as tools and equipment. There are many ways a firefighter can arrange their tools or equipment with a ground ladder to carry both at once. Examples would be the roof hook or pike poles – they can be mounted along the lower side beam of the ladder and tucked into the space between the firefighter’s leg or shoulder when carrying it. (See photo 2) 

Another example would be to arrange the two ground ladders on top of each other like a stretcher, then place the needed equipment on top of the ladders, such as the saw, axe, halligan, pile pole, or roof hook. Once loaded up, one firefighter will grab the tip end of the ground ladders, and the other will grab the butt end of the ground ladders and walk it to their needed position. The third photo shows an adaption of this by using only one firefighter to drag the ladders along, but a second firefighter could be used to help carry them.

Another area where two firefighters are needed for ladder work is with heeling the ladder. Depending on the surface of the ground, the ground ladder will need to be either heeled or not heeled. If the ground is a hard surface like concrete, the ladder will definitely need to be heeled. If the ground is soft like grass or asphalt, the ladder can be used by one firefighter without heeling it. The butt spurs of the ladder will dig into the soft ground and hold, providing the ladder angle is not at an extreme deviance from the normal 75 degrees. We looked in more detail about heeling the ladder back in November 2020 – you can refer to that article for more information on it. 

Depending upon what the task is being completed using the ground ladder, a second firefighter will not be needed for heeling it. If the ladder is positioned below a windowsill on soft ground, that ladder is not going anywhere. If the ladder is being used to gain access to a roof, and there are a number of rungs above the roof line, the ladder may need to be heeled. The firefighter climbing up the ladder needs to be aware of how high they climb above the roof line before stepping off the ladder and onto the roof. If they climb up two or three rungs above the roof line, the ladder will most likely kick out. Yet, if they only climb up to the roof line and step off onto the roof, the ladder will not kick out. The firefighter’s work experience will dictate whether they need to have the ladder heeled or not. 

There is certainly a place and a need for working in teams of two on the fire ground, but there is also a time and place for when the task can be accomplished with using one firefighter, especially when there is only one available. Departments need to train like they play. If they are playing with a limited staff situation, they need to practice looking at what one firefighter can do and when they  could use two firefighters.


Mark van der Feyst has been in the fire service since 1999 and is currently a firefighter with the FGFD. He is an international instructor teaching in Canada, the United States, FDIC and India. He is a local level suppression instructor for the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy and the lead author of Fire Engineering’s Residential Fire Rescue book and other DVDs. He can be contacted at Mark@FireStarTraining.com.


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