Aerial Ladder and Tower Ladder Placement and Operations

Michael Wilbur discusses the training and education needed to understand serial and elevating platform apparatus in the first installment of this new series.


Aerial and elevating platform apparatus of all kinds represent some of the most expensive pieces of equipment that we operate in the fire service. Yet, at the same time, they tend to be the most under-utilized and misunderstood pieces of equipment in our firefighting arsenal. Training and...


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Aerial and elevating platform apparatus of all kinds represent some of the most expensive pieces of equipment that we operate in the fire service. Yet, at the same time, they tend to be the most under-utilized and misunderstood pieces of equipment in our firefighting arsenal. Training and education are the keys to reversing this trend. It is in that spirit that this article, the first in a series on this subject, is published for your review.

0404aerial1.jpg
Courtesy Mike Wilbur
Photo 1. A pre-1991 aerial ladder with a 200-pound vertical tip load. In 1991, the NFPA 1901 Standard was revised and upgraded, which caused manufacturers to change the designing of aerial ladders.

The strength of an aerial ladder and where it can operate on the fireground (i.e., horizontal or vertical or both) depend on many factors - the type of material, its strength, and the way the structure was designed and assembled (riveted, bolted or welded). That, plus the weight of the unit and the jack spread, will ultimately determine the tip load of the aerial ladder you purchase.

Aerial ladders have tip loads at zero degrees that range from no load (most pre-1991 aerial apparatus) all the way up to 1,000 pounds. Until 1991, most aerial ladders built to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1901 Standard were rated at zero tip load, unsupported at zero degrees. Aerial ladders built after 1991 were designed to have a minimum rating of 250 pounds at the tip from any angle between zero degrees and maximum angle at full extension.

0404aerial2.jpg
Courtesy Mike Wilbur
Photo 2. A modern apparatus reflects the post-1991 changes. The apparatus tip load is 250 pounds on this 100-foot rear-mount aerial ladder. Note the tandem axle chassis and the different stabilizers that helped improve apparatus stability and safety.

Photo 1 shows a pre-1991 aerial ladder with a 200- pound vertical tip load. In 1991, NFPA 1901 was revised and upgraded, which caused manufacturers to change their aerial ladder designs (see photos 2, 3 and 4).

The pre-1991 light-duty aerial ladder shown in photo 5 was not designed to be used in a horizontal position. Note the tremendous bow in the ladder. This ladder is in danger of a catastrophic failure. The medium-duty ladder pictured in photo 6 was meant to be operated at the horizontal and even at a negative degree of elevation off the side of the truck.

0404aerial3.jpg
Courtesy Mike Wilbur
Photo 3. A medium-duty aerial ladder with a 500-pound tip load. Note the addition of another set of outriggers that appear before the tandem axles.

With the positive tip load improvements, however, come some operational impediments. In photo 7, note the deployment of the outriggers on the heavy-duty aerial ladder at a common suburban/urban scenario and the way that the street is completely blocked off. While manufacturers have dramatically improved ladder load capacities, stability and safety, we now need more area just to maneuver the apparatus and to deploy the outriggers and jacks.

Having conducted many aerial and tower ladder placement and operations classes lately, I have seen first hand how some aerial apparatus need to be set up on a flat, wide street on a sunny day before all the interlocks, micro-switches and safeties can be satisfied to get power to the turntable. This is great for firefighter safety, but if you are the civilian waiting to be rescued, you may have to jump as the operation becomes too time consuming and arduous to satisfy the safeties in a timely fashion.

0404aerial4.jpg
Courtesy Mike Wilbur
Photo 4. An aerial ladder with a 1,000-pound tip load. Note that the outriggers span the body, compared to the apparatus with the 500-pound tip load in photo 3.
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