As with most departments, and mine is no different, trying to get guys in the habit of throwing ground ladders takes a lot of work. We know the benefits of doing this and there is a great article in the most current issue of Urban Firefighter Magazine that gives some great direction on how and when to use these valuable tools.
Typically, those throwing the ladders are the firefighters and officers riding on the trucks and not those that are driving them. There are some exceptions to this rule depending on how your department operates. In the area that I work, the apparatus driver is tasked with water supply and support.
Any time we have multiple stories we want ladders thrown. Any time we have people on the roof, we want ladders thrown. It is an important task and one that must be trained on and made a permanent part of your operations. However, this post is not about the actual act of throwing the ladder, but how we can make this job easier for those that do.
As apparatus drivers when we pull up to the scene of a working fire we are thinking about charging the appropriate line, getting the right gallons per minute to your interior crews and finding a water supply source before the tank water is exhausted. That is a lot to do and you normally do it all on your own. Well, there is one more thing I would like you to add to your list.
Depending on what type of configuration you have on your apparatus, the ladders on today’s engines and trucks are not convenient to get to. We have them on the top of the truck so that they have to be lowered to get to them. They are placed “through the tank” with an access panel on the rear of the apparatus which if you lay line can make them impossible to remove because they are blocked by charged lines coming off of the truck from a rear discharge. There aren’t many traditional stowed ladder configurations on apparatus anymore.
As operators we have to keep this mind. The photo I have posted shows the lowering arm that the ladders are stowed on. This arm is lowered for firefighters to gain access. One of the downfalls to this is that the access to compartment space is limited, but not entirely blocked.
Once we get water to our crew and have established a water supply, take a second to check overhead and on the side for obstructions and lower the ladder arm. If ladders are needed they are ready for deployment and easy to get to. The RIT crew can use them for preventative measures by throwing ladders to create an egress point for firefighters and rescue teams can use them to make quick access to upper floors for search and rescue.
What about the compartments? Before you lower the rack, take out the equipment that is most commonly used that must be deployed fast and have it ready to go. On this particular truck, the PPV fan, the RIT bag and some spare SCBA bottles would be removed prior to lowering the rack.
Get familiar with your ladders and how they are removed. Know what obstacles you might face in placing the ladders in operation based on your apparatus configuration. Be prepared and train on these facts.
As always, follow your local guidelines for operating on the fireground. We must continue to train and do the simple things perfect. Master the basics and don’t forget to use your ground ladders.