Tactical Ladder Placement for Firefighters

April 23, 2024
Charlie Hendry says preplanning and drills are vital to firefighters’ ability to know what ladder to choose for the varied potential needs on the fireground.

What is a good way to tell whether a department and/or company is operating efficiently? The answer: ladder placement.

What is ladder placement? It’s the positioning of a ladder where it can be used to accomplish one or more fireground tasks.

Looking at photographs from fires, you often see an aerial or tower ladder thrown for a photo op and not necessarily for an intended purpose. When we place a portable ladder or aerial device, we always should have an intended purpose.

Ladder for life

In private dwelling fires, there usually is a high life hazard. Therefore, we ladder for life. We do this by providing access to perform searches and to provide egress for firefighters who might need to evacuate the building.

In most areas, the go-to portable ladder is a 24-foot extension ladder, which usually can reach the third-floor window sill and is manageable for a single firefighter.

A good way to remember this is looking at ladders that are stored in the apparatus with the butt ends facing out toward the fire and locating the “24” sticker on the 24-foot extension ladder. A way to remember that a 24-foot extension ladder can reach the third floor: When counting, the number “3” follows “2” and precedes “4”—an extension ladder that’s “24” feet long can reach a window sill that’s on the “3” floor of a building. This also works with the ladder that’s “35” feet long, which usually reaches a window sill that’s on the “4” floor of a building.

Some departments that are located in flood zones consider the 28- and 35-foot extension ladders as the “private dwelling ladders” because of foundations being raised.

The key is to know your response area and that of neighboring departments.

Ladder four sides

Tactically, we should attempt to ladder all four sides of a building on the fire floor and the floor that’s above it.

We should do a quick size-up while responding or on arrival, to see where we might be able to use building features, such as a front or wraparound porch, a rear setback or an adjacent roof, to ladder to access multiple rooms.

A good ladder for accessing multiple rooms by using building features is a 20-foot straight. Among the benefits of its use: You can have three points of contact while mounting and dismounting the roof. A 35-foot extension, which usually is 20-foot bedded, works well to accomplish this, too—if it isn’t needed for upper floor access.

The rear of the fire building can be difficult to access unless it’s a corner building. The 35-foot extension might be preferred because of its height and stable working platform.


Aerial ladders and tower ladders are good to reach upper floors, but trees and power lines can create a challenge. A good chauffeur should be able to spot the turntable in a way that permits operation under, around or through these obstacles and to avoid wires.

The key for the tower ladder is to set up to reach two sides of the building. A driveway is a good place to spot the turntable for coverage, because driveways usually are unimpeded by trees or parked cars in the street.

A-frame ladder

A ladder that’s under-utilized is the 15-foot A-frame extension ladder. In the bedded position, it can reach a first-floor window and usually can make a second-floor window. The ladder is extremely light, which makes it well suited to take to the rear of a building and around and over obstacles. This ladder also can be used on a roof or setback to access the floor above.

Preplan and drill

Members should know the ladder complement that’s carried on their apparatus and know what ladders work with the different types of buildings to which they respond. This can be done by preplanning and drills. It’s vital to share important information and to drill to be more efficient in deploying these ladders.

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