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Ladder Basics

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When we first get hired on the fire department, there is a lot time spent on learning about ladders.  There is a bunch of definitions like beam, halyard, dogs, and windward that we need to know.  Then when it’s time to put the ladder up it gets pretty complicated.  We learn a lot in the beginning, but we need to also keep learning and do a lot of refresher training to stay sharp.

There are a lot of different ways that we train on ladder raises.  Some good things and some pretty things about ladder training that I would rather forget.  Like any training session, it is important to practice like you play.  That means doing things that simulate as close as possible the conditions you will encounter at a fire scene.

Often we see departments practice raising a 35’ ladder using a smaller ladder because the 35’ ladder is too heavy.  Maybe with a new hire we can use that lighter ladder while the technique is practiced, but if we are expected to raise a 35’ ladder at a fire, we better use the real thing at training.  If the ladder is too heavy, we need to use a different ladder, get stronger or risk someone getting hurt raising the ladder.  If we don’t train with the 35’ ladder we shouldn’t use it on the fire ground.

Overhead wires are always a hazard when it comes to raising a ladder.  Make sure your crew all looks overhead for wires especially at night.  Some may think there is one person responsible for looking for wires, but it is every person’s responsibility to check for overhead wires.

There was a training officer that liked to play with windward leeward and other terms to talk about wind direction, all a part of trying to get someone to slip up with positioning a ladder.  The simple answer to raising a ladder in the smoke is to keep the ladder away from the smoke if possible. Don’t worry about windward and leeward, just use some common sense and put the ladder on the side of the window that is free of smoke.

Placing the heel of a ladder on pavement can be dangerous.  Ladders slide on pavement and it’s not fun being on a ladder when the heel kicks out and the ladder slides down the side of a building.  If a ladder is placed on a hard surface like asphalt or concrete, make sure someone is heeling the ladder whenever someone is climbing. If you have the option, place the heel on some dirt or grass where it will sink slightly into the ground and stay in place.  We all practice that knot that secures the ladder to the building but we never really use it on the fire ground.

One of the most important things to remember about ladders is to put multiple ladders when crews are working on the roof.  Deteriorating roof structure or shifting winds may block the ladder that was used to access the roof.  Add a ladder to each side of the structure and if possible use lighting to make all these ladders visible to crews on the roof.

Practice brings confidence, and when working on ladders confidence is important. It’s easy to see who is confident on the ladder.  The new guys legs tend to shake a lot when stepping off the ladder onto a third floor window ledge.  You don’t need to raise that ladder 100 times, just raise it 100% the right way.

By John Morse

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