Where have all the Ladders Gone? (Part 1)

It seems that a certain phenomenon has occurred to the fire service, one that has not benefited the safety and efficiency of our personnel on the fireground.

There is a noticeable lack of ladders thrown at the scene of today’s fires.  How many times have you arrived on scene of a structure fire to find a single ladder thrown to the roof for Roof Division?  Have you ever been told that we don’t have the available staffing to throw ladders to windows for rescue or potential firefighter egress on two story occupancies?  Better yet, when was the last time you witnessed a company in the field throwing ladders as part of their performance training?

The bottom line remains, the fire service as a whole has gotten away from the tradition of throwing multiple ladders on the fireground and made excuses as to why we have done so. As a rule we always have taught our personnel to throw two (2) ladders to a roof for means of access and egress from that area, yet, how often does that occur?  More often than not, the second-due truck will use the same ladder that was thrown by the first-due truck as their means of access to the roof.  This should be regarded as criminal.

In addition, we have gotten away from throwing multiple ladders at the scene of working incidents.  Although, not a scientific answer, we have added so many other components to our list of “have to do’s” on the fireground, we have taken an already understaffed fireground and tasked them with more objectives.  Hence, we have cut back on items that have been incorrectly viewed as non-essential in an effort to check the boxes of the things, which has deemed to be an essential task on the fireground.

Let’s look at a few ways of getting the ladders back as part of our arsenal of safety and efficiency equipment list. First-Due Trucks & Second-Due Trucks

Ladder Size Up/Profile or establishing a Ladder Package is the primary tool for all truck companies.  It should be pre-established who throws which ladder and what ladders are thrown based upon the occupancy group i.e. residential vs. commercial, and occupancy specific i.e. single family residential vs. multi-family habitational.

It should be well established within your organization that the fastest and safest one person ladder is the aerial, yet, all too often the aerial is seldom used at the scene of the fire until the incident has gone defensive.  Generally this is due to the apparatus not being capable of capturing the spot to utilize or set up the aerial for offensive operations.  This is a training and procedural issue within the organization.  First-due company officers all too often think they need to position their apparatus with the cross-lay lined-up with the front door. This is a huge mistake. Remember, you can pull an extra 100’ of hose.  The aerial only has so much ladder and believe me, you will thank the truckies for the fast aggressive ventilation when the interior clears up and is more tenable to make your attack.

Next, First-Due Truck Company personnel not throwing two ladders on multi-story occupancies is unacceptable, all first-due truck companies should be capable of throwing at a minimum the aerial and a 35’ft ladder to a multi-story occupancy and perform ventilation operations in a timely fashion.  The key to success in this operation is known, well established set-up procedures, positional riding assignments, Ladder Packages based upon occupancies and the last but most important item of all is, TRAINING!

Most truck companies should be capable of throwing two ladders of any type and accessing the roof in less than 2 minutes 30 seconds from time of arrival.  This is an acceptable standard. This includes full use of PPE and all necessary equipment operational on the roof.

Regarding Second-Due Trucks or units assigned to assist Roof Division, any company that has been assigned to the roof to assist with roof top operations, shall utilize their own means of access and egress, even if this is a single-family dwelling.  If things go bad and multiple personnel need to egress off the roof, one ladder per company is the bare minimum. 

If you are assigned to the roof as a second-due company, and the first due truck was only able to throw a single ladder for access and egress, make it a point to throw two (2) ladders for a total of three (3) on the incident.  Also known as a WORKING SET.

Roof Division is responsible to assess the working area and if no WORKING SET LADDERS have been thrown to the operational area, he/she shall call for a complete ladder package. This ladder package includes two ladders thrown in the area in which Roof Division is working on the incident to be utilized in case of need of an emergency egress from the area.  This was clearly illustrated recently, in which three Firefighters had to lunge for the parapet after the Captain noticed the roof was about to collapse. The three firefighters clung to the parapet and had to wait for ladders to be thrown for their completed egress. For those of you, who are fire historian, remember the Cugee's Fire in Los Angeles and the subsequent death of Apparatus Operator Thomas Taylor. This recent incident brings back those memories, and the need for working ladders to be thrown in the operational area.

A SAFETY NOTE:  Never move an established aerial from its original position unless you are the individual that placed the aerial there in the first place or your have made direct contact with the company/individual that did and you have absolute permission to do so. 

As always, sit back and "Have a Cuppa".