Blog by Ed Hadfield
It seems that a certain phenomenon has occurred in the fire service, and it’s one that has not benefited the safety and efficiency of our personnel. Has anyone noticed the lack of ladders thrown at the scene of fires in recent times?
How many times have you arrived on scene of a structure fire to find a single ladder thrown to the roof? Have you ever been told we don’t have the available staffing to throw ladders to windows for rescue or potential firefighter egress on two story occupancies? When was the last time you trained by throwing ladders on actual buildings?
We have moved away from the tradition of throwing multiple ladders and we have made excuses why. We have always taught personnel to throw two ladders to a roof for means of access and egress. Yet, how often does that occur? Unfortunately, the second-due truck will use the same ladder thrown by the first-due truck to access the roof. This should be regarded as criminal.
I’ve been asked why we have moved away from throwing multiple ladders at working incident scenes. Although not a scientific answer, it’s my opinion we have added many other components to our list of responsibilities, taking an already understaffed fireground and tasking it with more objectives. As a result, we have cut things viewed as non-essential, all in an effort to check boxes of things deemed essential.
Let’s look at a few ways to get ladders back as part of our arsenal of safety and efficiency equipment list.
First- and Second-Due Trucks:
Establishing a ladder size up is critical for all truck companies. It should be pre-established who will throw ladders and what ladders are to be thrown. It should also be established within your organization that the fastest and safest one-person ladder is the aerial; however, the aerial is seldom used until the incident has gone defensive. First-due company officers often think they need to position their apparatus with the cross-lay lined-up with the front door. This is a mistake. Remember, you can pull an extra 100 feet of hose, the aerial only has so much extension of ladder and believe me, you will thank the truckies for fast, aggressive ventilation when the interior clears up and you are more tenable in making your attack.
All first-due truck companies should be capable of throwing, at a minimum, the aerial and a 35 foot ladder to a multi-story occupancy and performing ventilation operations in a timely fashion. The key to success in this operation is an established set of procedures, positional riding assignments; ladder packages based upon occupancies and most importantly: training, training, training!
Most truck companies should be capable of throwing two ladders of any type and accessing the roof in less than two minutes, 30 seconds from the time of arrival. This is an acceptable standard. This includes full use of PPE and all necessary operational equipment on the roof.
Second-due trucks, or units assigned to assist Roof Division in 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 ladders for a total of three.
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 have made direct contact with the company/individual that did and you have absolute permission to do so.
A primary purpose of RIC Companies is the elimination of hazards. One such method is the placement of ladders for means of access on the structure. If the first-due truck is operating on the roof with only one means of access, the RIC Company Officer should direct his personnel to throw one additional ladder to the area nearest the location of the members on the roof.
If the RIC Company Officer is aware of operations above ground on the second floor, they should identify the area closest to the potential of a hostile event or structural failure and have additional ladders placed at windows at a 65 percent angle for firefighters egress. All members operating in that area shall then be notified via radio of the ladders placement and area.
Squads, Rescues and First Due Engineers:
Based upon response configuration, many organizations respond to incidents using medic units with two firefighters as part of the original assignment. If this company is not generally assigned to establish a medical group, it is typically assigned to assist with some other fireground function.
Unfortunately, they are often given the task of RIC and never supplemented by a full company. Yet, these individuals can be given the task of laddering the building or throwing additional ladders upon arrival. These tasks include secondary search, assist RIC, extension or medical group. Once again, the Incident Commander needs to think proactively and eliminate those hazards that are glaringly obvious before deploying an RIC or medical group.
First-due engineers should know once a water supply has been established and lines are stretched in-service, they have a moment to identify hazards and take proactive action. One of those tasks could be throwing an additional straight ladder to the roof of a single-family occupancy near the window as personnel may need immediate egress due to deteriorating conditions.
Finally, it’s key to recognize the importance of aggressive laddering operations for all personnel, not just our truck companies. Personnel need to be well versed in aggressive ladder placement and ladder packages related to occupancy groups and types. The importance of providing means of access and egress points on all above ground areas will greatly increase personnel safety.
Company Officers should take the necessary steps to assure personnel have the ability to effectively perform laddering operations and to ensure they have a solid understanding of ladder tactics as it relates to differing type of occupancies. Nothing can take the place of real-world ladder operations and training in full PPE, not just helmets and gloves.
When we start wearing just helmets and gloves to structure fires, then our training should mirror that level of PPE. But we all know that’s not a viable option. We need to train the way we fight fire and we need to train as though lives depend upon it, because they do.
About the Author
Ed Hadfield has more than 26 years of fire service experience after rising through the ranks from firefighter to division chief. He is a frequent speaker on leadership, sharing his experiences within the fire service and also with corporate and civic leaders throughout the United States. For more on Hadfield, please check online at www.firetowntrainingspecialist.com.