The Apparatus Architect

Part 43 At the scene of a fire in a three-story, wood-frame dwelling, the engine company is making a push into the attic to cut off the fire extension into this area. For some unknown reason, the attack line goes limp and the engine crew is without...


Part 43 At the scene of a fire in a three-story, wood-frame dwelling, the engine company is making a push into the attic to cut off the fire extension into this area. For some unknown reason, the attack line goes limp and the engine crew is without water. Due to the high heat, the firefighters...


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Part 43

At the scene of a fire in a three-story, wood-frame dwelling, the engine company is making a push into the attic to cut off the fire extension into this area. For some unknown reason, the attack line goes limp and the engine crew is without water. Due to the high heat, the firefighters back down to the second-floor stairwell where they attempt to regroup, radio to the engine chauffeur to call for water and prepare to make another push into the cockloft area.

Over their portable radio, they hear numerous radio transmissions about the loss of water from a supply line and realize that they are now cut off from the first floor due to heavy fire below them that is now advancing up the stairwell. The engine officer radios to the truck officer that the crew is now trapped on the second-floor stairwell and needs a portable ladder positioned on side B to escape from the advancing fire. The members of the outside truck crew, who were throwing ladders to the third floor on side C, rapidly deploy a 24-foot extension ladder from their apparatus and assist the engine crew through the window to a safe position outside.

What happened here? A set of circumstances that can and will occur at just about any working fire where portable ground ladders are used to not only provide a means of escape for trapped occupants, but most importantly and more often for our own personnel. There have been many friendly station kitchen table debates over who is more important on the fireground; the engine company or the truck. What is certain is that there is probably no more important tool at the scene of a working fire than a properly positioned aerial or portable ground ladder that could be used by firefighters to permit their rapid and safe egress from a structure when conditions deteriorate and things go wrong.

Ground ladders have been carried on fire apparatus since the horse-drawn era and over the years their use has become a lost art in most fire departments. While the deployment and positioning of ground ladders at various types of structures requires constant training and the development of basic fireground standard operating procedures (SOPs), in many cases, we find that the responding truck companies do not even carry an appropriate array of portable ladders to adequately cover all four sides of residential structure. There are several reasons for this.

In many departments, staffing levels on ladder companies is minimal and upon arrival at the fireground, there are simply insufficient personnel to simultaneously conduct a primary search, outside ventilation, control utilities, and position a sufficient number of ground ladders and the aerial device to cover all four sides of the structure. If your department's running assignments do not consistently provide for a minimum of 20 personnel on the first alarm, chances are there are important fireground task that are not getting done, leaving our personnel at risk.

If your department does not operate a ladder company or the unit is not staffed, then it is imperative that the responding units carry a sufficient number of portable ladders to cover the buildings in your response area. This may require having the engine company equipped with several extension ladders or having a special service unit outfitted with a complement of ground ladders, including 28- and 35-foot extension ladders and several roof ladders of different lengths, to supplement the ground ladder capability of the department.

Since 1914, when the first edition of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1901 Standard on Fire Apparatus was published, this document has guided fire departments on the minimum design requirements for new units. Remember here that the standard is a minimum standard and that your department should be looking to exceed this benchmark.

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