This is the first of hopefully many follow-ups to the Boston Ladder Culture article. After the Aerial or main ladder there are only 2 ladders of consequence on a truck; the 35′ and the 50′. The rest of the ladders; 40′, 28, 24, roof, pencil, Baby Bangor, Little Giant are almost all considered second tier or specialty ladders. For the building stock in Boston the 35′ ladder works the best and if the 35′ does not reach you go for a 50′. I’ll talk about the 50′ another time, today it’s all 35′ all the time.
It’s hard for me to imagine a better ladder for the fire service than the 35′. Just look at it, it’s a thing of beauty. The 2 section, which is the only “real” 35′ in many firefighter’s minds, is 20′ long when stowed, and weighs between 130 and 160 lbs depending on manufacturer and cleanliness *1. Duo Safety says their 35′ extension ladder is rated for a 750lbs load with 4:1 safety factor, that’s huge! It’s good they say 750lbs because NFPA 1932 calls for it. We typically say a ground ladder is properly loaded with 1 person on each section. If you use 300lbs per firefighter then 2 members plus gear will still be way under the rated load. I should be careful quoting NFPA because they also call for securing the ladder’s tip and frown on rolling a raised ladder.
Calling the 35′ the workhorse of the Boston Fire Department is an understatement to say the least. The 35′ ladder is THE ladder of the BFD. If someone asks for a ladder they are asking for a 35′. Think about the typical housing stock in the older residential sections of most towns and cities. What do you have?
2-4 stories, most often 2 1/2 or 3 story wood framed buildings.
The 1st floor of the house is 3-5′ above grade for snow, to reduce basement flooding and to allow for some light via a few small windows into the basement.
Assuming an average floor height of 9-10′ that puts the bottom of a 2nd floor window around 16’ and 3rd floor windows at around 26′.
1932 says “75.5 degrees optimal” for a ladder climbing angle so if you are still following along I’ll give you a break and do the math for you. The 2nd floor requires almost 17′ of ladder to get to the sill and the 3rd floor window sill is inches away from 28′ of ladder length needed. The 28′ ladder will reach the 2nd floor and maybe it could work could work for the 3rd floor, but we aren’t in the business of “maybe”, we are in the business of success on the first attempt. The 35′ ladder will be a couple of rungs into a second floor window if the ladder is thrown at 70 degrees and will have no problem with the 3rd floor. Success on the first attempt is a 35′ ladder. You may not be cutting many roofs from it but egress and ventilation of the 2nd and 3rd floors are definitely possible with a 35.
If we have to walk up to an incident as a truck company my crew is going to bring a 35′ ladder with us, not just because the SOP calls for it, but the trucks in the front of the building aren’t guaranteed to still have ladders left on them. If the incident needs ladders, it needs 35′s. The only way I would stray from that standard is if I hear something on the radio concerning ladder’s not being long enough or if I know it’s one of the areas of the city where the rear may be 2 stories lower than the front, then it’s time for a 50′. The other reason to stray would be an odd building requiring smaller straight ladders to 1st floor windows.
2 man 35′ throw
There is hardly a reason to have more than 2 members raising the 35′ ladder. The job does go quicker with 3 people but usually the 3rd person gets in the way. The best use of a 3rd member, if you have him/her available, is as a mule, that firefighter can carry tools and be the safety lookout. On our job the man at the butt controls the operation; the other one or two guys are for lifting, stabilizing and ladder adjustment. The biggest issue with 3 members is the extra communication required. It’s one thing for 2 people to agree on a plan of action with a nod, a point, or a simple “Yup”, but with 3 people involved communication has to be more deliberate. Just the addition of the 3rd member doubles or triples the communication required and starts getting you closer to the need for loud, verbal commands and requires more effort to control the crew. Another issue with 2 guys on the tip is they have to be coordinated, both have to lift and raise at the same time, same speed or risk jeopardizing the whole operation. If the 2 members on the tip are not close to the same size they need have enough experience with each other to go at the right pace. Granted it will go smoother after some practice but at an actual incident you will have to consider the mindset of an additional person who may or may not be able to focus on the task at hand, and the additional stress and distractions of the scene.
My raise of choice is the beam raise; it’s a bit harder than a flat raise but works in tight areas and behind power lines. Actually, I’m a big fan of the beam raise, 2 guys tilt the ladder up and the job is done, no rotating, no extra steps. When my crew practices ladder throws this is the one we do. The flat raise is fine if you can walk straight up to a building and toss the ladder into place, but if you are in an alley, a walkway or have power lines the flat raise is out of the question. The beam throw can be used in every place the flat raise can it just takes a slightly bit more skill and practice. Why practice the easier way when it is less versatile? This makes no sense, that’s like training and practicing for outside fires and hoping to use that same skill set at a building fire. Don’t train for the best case scenario, train for the worst case.
When carrying the 35’ as a 2 man crew the butt end goes first with the halyard to the building you want to ladder. When you get to the closest edge of the window you are going to ladder plant the butt and the tip guy raises it. Our version of the beam raise involves the butt man grabbing the ladder and leaning back after footing it. He can pull and add some torque to the evolution and in this position seems to be better able to stabilize the ladder. Once it’s vertical the butt man raises it to the desired height and it’s put to the building.
I love watching videos of how to raise ladders; the thing that sticks out the most is the sheer number of commands. I don’t get it. Some firefighters think yelling is a requirement at an incident. Too much pomp and circumstance, not enough work getting done. If you, as a boss, require commands to be called every time while raising a ladder you may be focusing on the wrong aspect of the evolution. Sure the first couple times during practice you may need to get everyone on the same page, but we as professionals should be able to get the job done without someone barking orders at us every step along the way.
1 man 35′.
The single man 35’ ladder throw is not done for the thrower’s use. If the 35’ ladder is being thrown by 1 person it’s for rescue or ventilation. I don’t think it’s the safest evolution but I do think everyone should know that it can be done, and they can do it. It is not pretty. Don’t try this the first time with all your gear on, gloves and helmet should be enough for your first time. Make sure the first time you try this you have 1 person on each side of you to grab the ladder if you fail. These backup guys should be in a position to grab the beams and help finish the operation as needed.
One of the biggest problems with the single man 35’ ladder is caring it due to the rung alignment. You cannot hang one beam over your shoulder easily because there is no “Middle” space, there’s a rung there. With shorter (even length) ladders there is a space in the middle for your shoulder which works great for a low shoulder carries it. Granted smaller ladders can be carried high on the shoulder, the 150lbs+ of a 35’ is a bit of a different story. If single man ladder carries are a necessity on your job you should consider marking the middles to save time getting into and adjusting the carry.
There is an easier way than caring the ladder but it’s not pretty and it may actually be more work, but it will get the job done. Drag it butt end first. I told you it’s not pretty. I have tried bear hugging it and tried to shoulder it and also drag it. Guess what? They are ALL difficult. The main idea I’d like to convey is if you are tasked to complete this evolution it needs to get done. If you find yourself staring at a 35’ ladder as your only option you need to make your first attempt a success. If you think it won’t work, you are correct. If you think it will work, you are also correct. But remember just getting off the piece may be the hardest part. So once you get it off the truck you may as well be half way done.
I say drag it butt first fly section down so you do not have to spin it, flip it or anything before throwing it. When you make it to the building put the butt as close to the building as possible, halyard up so it is ready for a flat raise. Next up is the “squat at the tip and tell yourself this IS going to happen” step. Once you decide to go its commitment time, keep the momentum, don’t stop. Your goal should be to slam it into the building as hard as possible, and then to hold it there. You can attempt to adjust the ladder now while it is at a 90degree angle, although I don’t recommend it. Pull the butt out to stabilize it before you adjust the height as you raise it let the tip slide up the building the siding is usually not a big deal to slide a ladder up. Then do whatever you need to do; roll it, bounce it smash windows etc….
While I was putting this together a member from my firehouse threw a 35′ by himself at a building fire. He said he couldn’t get the aerial around the power lines so he gave the 35′ a shot and it got him to the roof without help.
The 35′ is THE ladder that works. Every ladder placed to a building is a justified evolution. If your crew is going to deploy a ladder make sure it’s one that can do more than what it was initially called for. Every ladder has the possibility to be moved and redeployed as the incident progresses so make sure you use the most versatile ladder from the start.