Portable ladders are among the most frequently used tools on the fireground and during firefighter training. Portable ladders let us climb both up and down and into and out of buildings, descend into confined spaces and reach locations above ground for rescues and other emergencies. When we are trained to use portable ladders properly and we use them correctly, they can be some of the most helpful tools we use. So what is being “trained correctly”? Let’s take a look at a few tactical issues.
Every portable ladder should be stored on an apparatus where its length can be easily seen by a firefighter who will remove it for use. Since we store most portable ladders with the butt end toward the rear of the apparatus, the length marking should be painted or lettered where it can be seen – easily seen. Easily means with little effort! A firefighter standing and looking at a group of ladders on a rig should be able to see and read the length of each and every ladder without having to bend or look at it sideways. This sounds simple, but I have seen ladders that were not marked, were marked with half-inch-high numbers or were marked with black paint.
Halyards are the next topic of discussion. No, they are not ropes, they are halyards. Of course, halyards must be maintained and changed when necessary, but the larger issue is how we tie them. First, they must be tied so we don’t have 15 feet of a halyard dragging behind the firefighters carrying the ladder.
The next obvious question concerns which knot to use. There is no exact or correct knot. Rather, a knot that can be tied simply and, more importantly, untied quickly. Incidents have occurred where firefighters needed to jump from a window because the portable ladder being raised to assist them took too long to get there because of the “double-softball” knot the last firefighter tied onto the halyard. A clove-hitch or half-hitch knot will work well.
When you actually start using a portable ladder, there are a few things you need to get right. After you select the correct ladder and remove it from the apparatus, it must be carried correctly. Carrying the ladder correctly will help you use it correctly, more easily and more quickly. The butt or foot end of the ladder (remember, this is where we label the length) is carried first. This lets the firefighter with the lead end stop at or under the desired location for the ladder. The butt end can be set down and butted, and the ladder can be raised relatively quickly. The lead firefighter should hold the ladder one or two rungs back from the end. This lets the crew reach out and stop another firefighter from walking into the end of the ladder. Both firefighters must carry the ladder at arm’s length (like a suitcase) or on their shoulders. If a larger ladder is being carried by four firefighters, then two of them will carry at the butt or lead end and two at the back end, again on their shoulders or with straight arms.
When the ladder is being raised, it must be butted. That can be done by a firefighter or it can be done with the ladder butted or pushed up against a building, fence, tree, bush or other secure object. This simple tactic cannot be overlooked. The firefighter who is butting the ladder as it is being raised from a flat position on the ground (both beams on the ground) should stand on the bottom rung. That puts the most weight and control on the ladder and lets it be raised quickly and properly. When the ladder is being raised from a position where it is on one beam, the firefighter butting it must step on the beam that is on the ground with the closest foot while reaching toward the tip and grasping the upper beam and helping pull the ladder to a raised position.
If you are raising a ladder to a window to rescue a victim or enter that window, the tip should be at or below the window sill. This makes it easier to both enter and, more importantly, exit the window and get onto the ladder. I’ve seen ladders positioned beside a window and a firefighter stepping from the ladder, horizontally to the window sill. I’m not sure who thought that up but, but just forget it and place the tip at or below the window sill.
When the ladder is going to a flat roof, the tip should be several rungs above the point where the ladder touches the building. This lets the firefighter get on and off the ladder more easily and safely and also puts several rungs above the roof where it can be seen from a distance.
I’ll be back in a future column with more on portable ladders. n
John J. Salka Jr. presents “Command Objectives” and “You Are Not in the Front Seat to Beep the Horn” at Firehouse Expo 2014.