Truck Company Tips: Tip #7: Single-Person Portable Ladder Raise

The use of portable ladders at the scene of a fire can make significant difference in the overall operation – if they are deployed properly. Portable ladders are an essential tool for ensuring safety when firefighters are operating above or adjacent to a fire that is not under control. If the...


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The use of portable ladders at the scene of a fire can make significant difference in the overall operation – if they are deployed properly. Portable ladders are an essential tool for ensuring safety when firefighters are operating above or adjacent to a fire that is not under control. If the situation goes bad, a portable ladder may be the only way for a member to exit a fire area or an untenable area of a fire building.

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Photo by Michael M. Dugan
Firefighters drill on the differences between a straight ladder and an extension ladder at Firehouse Expo 2003 in Baltimore. The extension ladder is more versatile for entry and search in a small apartment building or private dwelling.

Basic firefighting procedures and ladder company standard operating procedures (SOPs) require the use of portable ladders for improved firefighter safety. Basic firefighting practices dictate that for safety, ladders are required to be placed at windows or available mean of egress, at the fire floor and the floor above. At a private dwelling fire, exterior teams may operate exclusively off portable ladders to perform searches and if necessary rescues. This requires the exterior team to operate together until backed up by the second-due truck company, if one is responding. Uncommitted engine company firefighters may be used to perform or assist with this task, if necessary. This evolution can be very difficult and dangerous to perform alone, but might be necessary if a life is in jeopardy. This is especially important if a firefighter becomes trapped in a fire building. If set up properly, a single-ladder raise can be done quicker and efficiently with only one firefighter.

To do this properly we first must set up the ladder. As most of us know, the knot that is tied on the ladder can be any of group of knots, from the simple to the extreme, any of which may be difficult to untie. The time that can be lost untying a complicated knot can be costly to the firefighter or civilian waiting to be rescued at a window. How many times have we witnessed a member exiting a window onto a ladder with fire right behind them?

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Photo by Michael M. Dugan
The more versatile ladder is the extension ladder, and to get it off the fire truck the straight ladder has to be removed. If a firefighter is trapped and you need an extension ladder, then you first have to remove the outside ladder.

To set up the ladder for a one-person raise, the first step is tie the halyard off solid on the last rung of the bed section of portable ladder. Doing this eliminates the need for the ladder to be untied; thus, this eliminates one entire step and saves critical time. This is not done on the 35-foot portable ladder, as this ladder cannot be a single-person operation. The 24-foot and the 16-foot portable can become a single-person operation with the proper training. Your fire department or company must have a drill to determine what ladders carried on your apparatus can be a single person operation. Some departments have 26-foot, 28-foot and possible 30-foot extension ladders. Which ones can be handled must be determined by the chiefs and company officers based on size and weight of the ladder.

Once the ladder complements are determined, this must be the subject of company drills to ensure that all members know what has been done to the ladders and how they are to be handled. They cannot be lowered below grade or off the roof of a taxpayer without being retied, but for most of our operations they can improve safety for the firefighting forces.

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Photo by Michael M. Dugan
A firefighter raises a portable ladder with the fly section of the ladder facing away from the building. If the operation is being done alone, the firefighter will have a difficult time raising the ladder with the halyard toward the building.

The second step is training every firefighter in the company to use the portable ladder alone. A small amount of time is required to master the skills involved. Begin by placing the ladder solid against the building with the fly in. This is the one main variation that must be stressed to get this operation correct. When the fly is placed against the building, the halyard is accessible to the person raising the ladder. He or she can raise the ladder to the desired height by pulling the halyard that is in front while still maintaining control of the ladder against the building. Once the ladder is locked at the desired height, it can be rolled into the window and set into the proper position.

The other factor that becomes a consideration during this operation is the accessibility of portable ladders. Many fire apparatus have the 16-foot straight ladder on the exterior with the 24-foot extension ladder behind it. The most useful and the adjustable ladder is behind the ladder that we cannot vary. Why is that? Because the brackets are placed that way by the apparatus manufacturer. Can a fire department buying a new apparatus change this? Yes, by asking that the ladder bracket be reversed, thereby reversing the way the ladders are stored on the apparatus. The safety of the firefighters riding that apparatus will be improved if the most versatile and easiest-to-use ladder is on the outside. If your engine or ladder apparatus has the straight or roof ladder on the outside, it can be replaced easily and inexpensively by contacting the apparatus manufacturer for replacement brackets. It should be done on every apparatus that responds to fires first or second on the scene.

These operations may eliminate the entire step of untying the ladder knot or removing the straight ladder to get to the extension ladder. By doing this, you are saving time, which may be vital to the safe rescue and removal of a firefighter from an untenable area.

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Photo by Michael M. Dugan

A firefighter raises a portable ladder with the fly section toward the building. He now can raise the halyard while maintaining control of the ladder.

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Photo by Michael M. Dugan

The firefighter uses his forearms to maintain control of the ladder while he raises it. By using the halyard and both arms, he has three point of contact.

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Photo by Michael M. Dugan

A firefighter rotates the ladder into proper position after raising it to the desired height.

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Photo by Michael M. Dugan

The ladder halyard may still be secured before climbing by making a half hitch over a rung with the slack in the halyard. If the ladder is needed in an emergency, then this step can be eliminated.

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Photo by Michael M. Dugan

A member is pulling the ladder away from the building until he achieves the proper climbing angle. This can be done before or after rotating the ladder.

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Photo by Michael M. Dugan

The halyard is tied to the bottom rung. The halyard is now ready to be used in this fashion. The first member climbing the ladder is still responsible to check the condition of and the proper placement of the rung locks.

Michael M. Dugan, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a 17-year veteran of the FDNY, serving as a captain of Ladder 123 in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights. He is former volunteer firefighter in the Halesite, NY, Fire Department. Dugan has been involved with the fire service for 27 years and is a hands-on-training instructor at Firehouse Expo. While assigned as a firefighter in Ladder Company 43, Dugan received the James Gordon Bennett medal in 1992 and the Harry M. Archer Medal in 1993, the FDNY’s highest awards for bravery.

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