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Tim-Bits: July 2012


July 6, 2012
By Tim Llewellyn

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An essential fire-ground skill set that is often left to pass is  selecting, carrying, raising and placing ground ladders.

An essential fire-ground skill set that is often left to pass is  selecting, carrying, raising and placing ground ladders. During recruit schooling, instructors spend a lot of time lecturing, demonstrating and drilling students on ground ladder setup. Yet, after graduation, ground ladder skills are rarely practised. Even more to the instructors’ dismay, on the actual scene of a fire, ground ladders are rarely thrown. Here are a few bits of laddering advice that I’ve learned and used over the years that will help to simplify and encourage ground-ladder use during incidents.

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An essential fire-ground skill set that is often left to pass is  selecting, carrying, raising and placing ground ladders.
 Photos by Mark van der Feyst


 

A ladder is a tool that helps firefighters move higher or lower or, in some instances, across a span, to perform a task. In other words, ladders help us with egress. They are essential fire-ground tools that should be deployed even they’re not immediately needed. There is plenty of footage on the Internet of firefighters in distress at upper-floor windows of an involved single-family dwelling, or trying to assist a victim cut off by fire in need of another way out and calling for a ladder. It seems that in every video, it takes forever for the ladder to be placed to help the firefighter. If the ladder had already been placed or was nearby before the firefighter came to the window, the results would be different.

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A ladder angle of 65 to 70 degrees provides a more stable working platform; firefighters can distribute their weight across their feet and lower legs better.


 

An important command tip: If you, as the incident commander or company officer, are going to commit the lives of your firefighters to an upper floor of an involved structure where egress is limited to one or two unprotected stairwells, you must ensure that there is at least one ground ladder quickly placed to the base of an upper-floor window on each side of the structure to provide an alternative way out. With a little bit of hustle, and a little bit of quality repetitive training, one or two firefighters can ladder all four sides of most residential dwellings in less than three minutes. This proactive approach to laddering, termed laddering for life, involves the placement of ladders in a ready state for anticipated, but not yet needed, use. 

Now that it’s clear that ladders are necessary, let’s discuss how to place them. Back in recruit school, firefighters were taught how to set ladders for a proper climbing angle of 70 to 75 degrees, and how to place ladders against buildings in order to accomplish various tasks (rescue, ventilation, hose operation). As our training, experience and knowledge of firefighter survival, rapid intervention, and structure fire rescue tactics has increased, and as the concept of laddering for life has evolved, it has been determined that ladders placed at slightly lower angles offer unique benefits. While still stable when placed on firm ground, a ladder angle of about 65 to 70 degrees offers the following advantages: 

  1. A more stable working platform – firefighters can distribute their weight across their feet and lower legs better, giving them increased stability;
  2. An easier departure angle for emergency bailouts – a firefighter who needs to bail out head first will appreciate a lower slope; and
  3. Decreased workload during victim rescue – when using the cross-arm victim rescue technique, the lower angle allows  a ladder at this angle to take more of the victim’s weight of the victim than a ladder at a steeper angle.

When laddering for life, it is imperative that the tips of the ladder rails be placed just at or slightly below the bottom of the window sill. This ensures that the window is completely free of obstructions once the panes and frames have been removed. A ladder that extends into the window can obstruct firefighter movement or victim removal.

The decision to vent the window once the ladder is placed is a command or tactical decision based upon a number of factors, including location of the window with respect to the fire, location and progress of the interior hose team (are they putting water on the fire?), approximate location of potential or known victims, prevailing wind conditions/direction, standard operating guidelines, and so on.

Lastly, the windows of a fire building should not be ventilated indiscriminately. But, that is an expansive topic for another column. Until then, let’s ladder for life and make every residential structure fire safer for firefighters!


Tim Llewellyn is a career firefighter for the Allegheny County Airport Authority in Pittsburgh, Penn. A volunteer firefighter since 1989, he currently serves for the Adams Area Fire District in Pennsylvania. E-mail him at llewllyn.fire@gmail.com


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