Reaching New Heights for Safety

Recently we were on our way to the local civic arena to test the latest crop of rookie in their job skills abilities. Our department uses this test to measure the skill level that a new person has achieved in the first year of joining our department.

Step Two: The Climb

Now that we have covered the PPE aspect of climbing the ladder, we are off and on our way up. The climb to the top can be long and challenging, just like our fire service careers. The main point of emphasis while climbing is simple: don't miss a step. Once again this can be carried over to our everyday operations. All of us have been trained on the proper techniques on how to complete different tasks. What would happen if we didn't take the time to hit each step? Just like missing a rung on your climb up the ladder, you may just end up falling or getting hurt.

A good example is as follows: you are assigned to vertically ventilate a single-family detached roof during a working fire. You arrive, grab your needed equipment and up you go. Once on the roof you lay out where the cut will go and you try to start your saw. Oops, you forgot to start it on the ground! Now what? By missing that short, simple step in ventilation could cause you physical harm and also affect the engine crew inside.

So how do we keep our focus while performing under pressure? It's simple, just like climbing the ladder you need to be aware of your surroundings while being totally focused on your task. Keeping your emotions under control is a big step in staying focused. The biggest step in not missing a step is constant training and drilling on each task to the point where you will not have to even think about it. It should be like second nature while completing the task.

Finally: The Top Of The Ladder

Now that you have arrived at the top of the ladder, can you still remain focused on safety? Since you're on the top does it mean that you can't fall off? Yes you can, and since you are at the top it means that you could fall that much further. But is also means that, now you are at the top of the truck, there is nothing around you to block your vision. You should be able to see everything around you.

This aspect can be applied to the incident commander (IC) who should be back away from the tactical level watching over all operations. The IC should not be directly involved in any fireground operations, such as hose advancement or ventilation. What they should be focused on is the big picture. The overall success and safety of everyone on the emergency scene is their primary responsibility. So, just like the view from top of the ladder truck, you should not let anything get into your way while commanding an incident. Your view should be of at least three sides of the structure, away from the noise, and if at all possible elevated as high as feasible.

Now that we have selected our PPE, climbed the ladder and made it to the top what have we learned?

First we have learned that before climbing on a ladder or onto your rig for your next run, PPE selection should be first and foremost on your mind. From turnout's to medical PPE it can and will make a difference. Second, while climbing the ladder we need to remain focused on the task at hand. The way to improve concentration for your tasks is constant training and continual drilling until it becomes second nature.

And finally, once you are at the top your focus shouldn't be blocked by anything. Once you have reached either the top of the ladder or the top position on an emergency scene you shouldn't let anyone or anything stand in your way of focusing 100 percent on safety. I hope that everyone takes these small hints and put's them to use in their everyday life. Reaching new heights for safety is not just a slogan for this article, but a motto that we should all embrace and put to use in our everyday routine. Be safe everyone and keep climbing the ladder of safety!

RYAN PENNINGTON is a firefighter/paramedic for the Charleston, WV, Fire Department. He is currently assigned to Station 7 and a member of the West Virginia Task Force 1 USAR team. He has over 15 years of combined fire, rescue and EMS experience. Ryan is currently a West Virginia State Instructor 2, Hazmat Technician, and Certified Fire Officer 2. Ryan was a guest on the Engine Company Operations in Today's Buildings podcast on Radio@Firehouse. You can reach Ryan by e-mail at