I've written before about this subject and I've even had some good and interesting conversations about this activity but, I still see it often in the pages of fire service magazines and in newspaper coverage of fires. It's the image of a firefighter, atop an extended aerial ladder, working with a ladder pipe.
Let me get this right out there up front. This is a stupid and extremely dangerous tactic that produces little if any positive results. Now that I've said it let me make my case:
1. If you are using a ladder pipe or just about any other elevated master stream, your fire operations have not produced the desired results. In plain English, you are conducting an outside attack, or a defensive operation and the building is either extensively damaged or a total loss. Why are you risking a firefighters life for a building that is a total loss?
2. Ladder pipes on aerial ladders work just as well without a firefighter perched at the top of the ladder. Yes they can see much better where the stream is going or where it may be needed, but does it really matter? This is an outside elevated stream. We are not looking for perfection here. And, the firefighter can't even fully operate the stream. They can only move the stream up and down. The turntable must be rotated from below for the stream to be moved horizontally. So we risk this firefighters safety to move that stream up or down?
3. I don't know what type of ladder trucks are available around your area, but lots of departments now have a tower ladder or bucket or other piped-in master stream on their boom or ladder. Even if you have to request mutual aid or additional alarms from distant departments, use the types of apparatus that were designed for elevated master streams. Firefighters can safely be positioned in these baskets where they can operate the stream in any direction without fear of the ladder failing and collapsing.
4. Aerial ladders with ladder pipes attached and in operation do collapse. We have an aerial ladder that can be extended too far or at too low of an angle, and then we add the tremendous weight of several lengths of hose, the water in that hose, the ladder pipe appliance and the firefighter. Do the math, it's a risk that is not worth it. I recently saw a photo of an aerial ladder being used as a ladder pipe with two, yes two firefighters at the top of the ladder. I also recently saw a picture of an aerial ladder laying down the middle of a street, collapsed and crumpled, with a hoseline running up the ladder and a ladder pipe at the tip.
Wake up chiefs, the safety of your firefighters, the reputation of your department and the value of your apparatus far outweigh the tiny benefit you might realize by using a ladder pipe with a firefighter at the tip.
What do you think? Share your opinions below.