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The Basics of Ladders Part 1

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By John Morse

There is a lot to learn when you decide to be a firefighter. All of the different topics and requirements makes it difficult to remember the basics. Sometimes all the specialty training gets in the way of the basics of firefighting.

The first thing that comes to my mind when it comes to ladders is overhead wires. I have never had a close call with wires, and there is no real reason for it to stick in my head. I guess someone stressed it when I was a new guy. Electrical wires seem to be everywhere and when we are laddering a building they always seem to be where we want to put up the ladder.

You can work around wires if you need to put the ladder in a specific location, but when it comes to wires your best bet is to find a different part of the building. If possible throw the ladder away from wires, if not possible make sure everyone knows about the wires. Wires are even more difficult to notice after dark. A good habit for apparatus operators is to put some light on the wires when the get an opportunity. We have generators, handlights, spotlights, and all kinds of lights on our rigs, make sure you use them.

Ladders seem to have gotten a lot heavier as I got older. Some would say it is old age, but ladders have actually gotten a lot heavier. A 35 foot ladder that used to be two sections is now three sections, and a lot heavier. For some reason these three section ladders feel twice as heavy. Another issue with the three section ladder is that there are twice as many dogs to lock the ladder in place. It can be pretty difficult to get all the sections locked. It is especially aggravating when the top set of dogs is dirty and gets stuck open. Make sure you keep them all properly lubricated, you will appreciate it when you need them.

There was a firefighter that had a rather big nose, and that lead to a little rhyme when it came time to throw ladders. “Watch your fingers, watch your toes, (insert name) watch your nose.” There are a lot of moving parts on ladders and a lot of places to get your fingers pinched or your toes smashed.

The best way to prevent injuries when using ladders is with good communication. There are formal commands like “carry ladder one” which work fine, but once you work with a crew for a while it doesn’t need to be that strict. Just make sure you all talk and know what is going to happen with the ladder. Some of the more advanced ladder maneuvers like rolling a ladder can really get you hurt if one person is going the wrong direction.

There are a lot of technical ways to talk about wind direction, windward, leeward, and whatever else they dream up. If you are putting up a ladder you don’t need to know the definition of windward. You just need to know enough to put the ladder on the side of the window away from the smoke. Maybe they were just trying to trick us with those terms.

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