The Apparatus Architect: Part 44

In the January installment of The Apparatus Architect, we began covering some considerations for the use of ground ladders on the fireground, together with reasons why your department should carry additional ground ladders on your ladder company units.


In the January installment of The Apparatus Architect, we began covering some considerations for the use of ground ladders on the fireground, together with reasons why your department should carry additional ground ladders on your ladder company units. Each year, there are several stories that...


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In the January installment of The Apparatus Architect, we began covering some considerations for the use of ground ladders on the fireground, together with reasons why your department should carry additional ground ladders on your ladder company units.

Each year, there are several stories that highlight the importance of good truck company operations and ground ladder use at the scene of seemingly "routine" fires. Carrying the proper ground ladders and equipment together with adequate training and unit staffing will go a long way to making the fireground a safer place for our personnel.

One of the first considerations to determine when evaluating ground ladders is the appropriate length of ladder to carry and style of ladder to be carried. While we recognize that a number of departments operate with wooden ground ladders built commercially or supplied by their department shops, this article concentrates on aluminum ground ladders for comparison purposes.

First, let's look at a two-section, 28-foot extension ladder and differences in construction and dimensions. One manufacturer of aluminum ladders offers a pumper-style ladder with a solid beam that is 22 inches wide, 16 feet seven inches in length when closed, with a banking thickness of just under six inches. This ladder weighs 114 pounds and can easily be thrown with two personnel. The same ladder with a truss-style design is 22¼ inches wide, 16 feet six inches in length when closed, with a banking thickness of 67/16 inches. The weight of this ladder is 118 pounds, not significantly heavier than the solid-beam extension ladder. Compare these two-section ladders to their three-section counterparts. While the overall closed length shrinks to 13 feet four inches, the width increases to 25 inches, banking thickness increases to 8¼ inches and the weight dramatically increases to 145 pounds for the solid-beam, pumper-style ladder. So why are all of these dimensions and weights important?

When competing for space inside of the apparatus body, the available area for ground ladder banking is largely determined by the other components that share this area, such as transverse compartments, the water tank and hosebed storage. The critical dimension that limits ground ladder banking is the available length inside of the body. For this reason, many apparatus manufacturers prefer to use three-section ladders for 28-foot and 35-foot extension ladders. While the retracted length of the three-section ladder affords some benefits, the banking thickness requires more space and the weight increases as well.

In addition, there are significant differences in each of these critical dimensions and weight of these ladders between the two major producers of aluminum ground ladders that supply their products for fire service use. For this reason, it is important that the apparatus committee carefully study the characteristics and dimensional differences in each product to determine which model and style of ladder will best meet their needs. Most manufacturers possess the capability to produce detailed ground ladder banking drawings prior to contract to enable the department to visualize exactly how the ground ladders will fit within the available space on the apparatus.

Ground ladders can be stored in a number of locations on the apparatus, including inside of the body under the turntable on rear-mount devices, on top of the body compartments where the ladders would be exposed and can be deployed without consideration to apparatus, and on the ladder or aerial device itself. There are advantages to each of these mounting locations that must be considered when designing new apparatus. When all ladders are enclosed within the apparatus body, they are generally protected from road debris, salt and other hazards that can increase ground ladder maintenance. While this may be the preferred method for ground ladder storage, there are practical limitations as to the maximum number and size of ladders that can fit into this space as well as fireground considerations where apparatus placement can dictate how easily the ground ladders can be removed from the unit and deployed at the incident.

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