Back To Basics: Portable Ladders

One of the most underutilized and readily available tools we have on the fireground is the portable ladder. This article is a good refresher for ladders, which are often left on the apparatus for the duration of a fire incident.


If we are using the ladder to access a roof, we want to have at least two rungs above the roof or parapet for easy mounting and dismounting and so we can find it quickly in an emergency. If we are using it to free up a crowded fire escape, we should place it to the opposite side of the drop ladder, one to two rungs above the railing on the building wall or if placed on the fire escape railing itself one rung slightly above the railing.

When placing a portable ladder, we try to get it at a comfortable climbing angle that is 65 to 75 degrees. An easy way to achieve this angle is to place the ladder away from the building one-quarter of the total length of the ladder. (For example, a 16-foot ladder would be placed four feet from the building.) Or place your toes against the ladder butt and while standing straight, reach out and grab the rung that is naturally in front of you, so if you can grab the rung and your back is straight the proper climbing angle has been achieved.

We must also remember that if we are using aluminum ladders, that they can conduct electricity on aluminum siding and they can also conduct heat very rapidly.

Try not to place a ladder over a window, that, when vented would create an auto exposure or trap a member operating above. Also remember that ice can buildup on portable ladders from weather conditions and fire operations, so use caution climbing and try to keep your feet to the beam side of the rung to avoid slipping.

Remember that like any other tool, ladders require maintenance. Check the ladders for cleanliness and if need be, wash with soap and water. Check for nicks and burrs and inspect the heat sensors found on the inside of the beams. Make sure the fly section operates smoothly and does not need to be lubricated. Check for any loose nuts, bolts or rivets. Check for bent or loose rungs, cracked welds or discoloration from heat. Also check the Halyard for any fraying or twisting.

With roof ladders check roof hooks and make sure they operate well and are clean and oiled. We should visually inspect these ladders at least once a week and after each use. If we take care of this important tool we will operate a lot more efficiently and safely on the fireground.