Drywall Ladder Escape


Here is a post from our good friend Chris Huston of EngineCo22.  Check out the post and visit him at EngineCo22.net.


Options. On the fireground, the more the better. When talking Firefighter Survival, presenting viable options will lead to success. Over the last few years, many great methods of self-rescuing have been taught to the Fire Service. The most important, is staying out of situations that lead to needing them, which is quality performance of the basics. However, after you still did everything right, it can still go bad. Having several techniques to self-rescue is critical to ensure success.


One such technique is what I call the Drywall Ladder. This method is performed by kicking and punching holes into the drywall to create a ladder. You would perform this to escape out of high window.


The standard residential window is 18”- 44” off the floor, if it meets fire code for escape. Windows higher than 44” are not for egress and are used for lighting and ventilation. To use these windows for self-rescue you have an option or two. The first option if you just need a little “boost”, use your hand-tool to create a step. Halligans work great for this task. Once you are over and out, just make sure to reach back in and grab your tool. If the window is too high, this option may not be feasible.


Another option, create a ladder in the drywall. The first step is to determine where the window goes and if refuge can be made. Next, kick a hole into the drywall about 8 inches off the ground then another about knee high. Make sure you create these holes approximately the same width apart as your legs. After the first two holes are created, punch two more holes several inches above the first two with your gloved hand. Think about the distance between two rungs on a ladder. Please use caution when using your body as a tool, consider where the studs are. Can you see the pattern? This method is a distance relative of rock climbing. Be sure to keep your weight on your feet to decrease effort.


Other considerations:

  • Call the mayday first and get help coming.
  • Where is the window relative to fire conditions?
  • Will you and your partner physically fit through the window?
  • What type of glass/construction is the window?
  • Will taking the window draw fire towards you?



Next time you are performing self-rescue maneuvers in training consider trying this method. The more options you have and can quickly utilize one in a self-rescue the better.


  • Good post.  This is something we were going over the other day with our Pekel prop.  Definitely a skill to have in the back of the ol' noggin if you ever need it.  The Baltimore LODD in 2007 is a good example (while there were many other factors at play, knowing something like this may have helped the FF get up and out of the window).  Here's a link to a video of the technique being demonstrated.

  • Chris Huston says:

    Nate, thank you sooo much for adding the video reference! Excellent addition to this topic!

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Jason Hoevelmann

Deputy Chief/Fire Marshal with the Sullivan Fire Protection District, a combination department, and a career firefighter/paramedic with the Florissant Valley Fire Protection District in North St. Louis County.

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