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Your fire department has just determined it is time to replace the 1995 100-foot quint rear-mount ladder with a new apparatus. The current vehicle is equipped with 158 feet of portable ground ladders, including two 35-foot, three-section extension ladders and several 16-foot roof ladders.
While the apparatus committee is meeting with prospective bidders, one of the sales representatives mentions that National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus, now requires only 85 feet of ground ladders on quints and suggests that the group decide which is more important – a complement of ground ladders or a desired 500-gallon booster tank? How can you possibly ladder all four sides of a 2½-story private dwelling and the roof with 85 or even 115 feet? The reality will not support that. (In aerial ladder classes they conduct, the authors ask the participants how often they use portable ladders vs. the aerial device itself. The responses average out to be 7-1; for every one time that most fire departments use the aerial device, they use ground ladders seven times.)
When questioned on this issue, one of the senior members suggests that the committee review the first-due response area to evaluate structural conditions. While some on the apparatus committee thought this to be a waste of time, others suggested that the 500-gallon booster tank is a nice feature, but not critical in the department’s operations. After a few weeks spent touring the response area and measuring some building heights, a number of concerns came to light. Since the 1995 quint was placed into service, several townhouse complexes were built that are three stories in height from the A side, but due to terrain are four to five stories high on the C side. In addition, previously undeveloped farmland was turned into a residential subdivision containing 5,000- to 6,000-square-foot “McMansions” with limited access for aerial ladder trucks.
After considering the building and demographic changes to the response area, the truck committee decided to reevaluate the importance of ground ladders on the new apparatus. The NFPA 1901 requirements for the ground ladder complements on a quint or non-quint ladder have remained at 85 and 115 feet for a number of years. These suggested ladder complements are a minimum and must ultimately be determined by fire departments based on the buildings in their response districts, apparatus assignments, operating guidelines and fireground experiences.
The standard ground ladder complement on most pumpers is a 14-foot roof ladder, 24-foot extension ladder together with a 10-foot folding ladder. In addition to the traditional mounting on the right side of the apparatus, ground ladders can be carried on a hydraulic rack or enclosed in the body or through the water tank. The hydraulic rack works well when there is no overall travel height concern and permits longer ladders to be carried. Departments that wish to have the ladders fully enclosed within the body must sacrifice compartment space or contend with a three-section extension ladder if sufficient space is not available to accommodate a two-section ladder.
Aerial ladders and towers are commonly designed with a fire pump, booster tank and a hosebed for supply line. The hosebed may be located ahead of the aerial turntable or on the side of the body over the lower compartments. In either case, the quantity of ground ladders you wish to carry on the apparatus is determined by the available space under the turntable and outside of the body based on the water tank size, depth of the body compartments, amount of supply line carried and the location of other components such as the hydraulic oil reservoir and waterway piping. There is only so much space; if you fill it up with a pump, tank and hose, you cannot fill it up with portable ladders.