Laddering with Purpose Part 1: The Problem

What is it that prevents fire departments from throwing ground ladders or aerials? Why do ground ladders remain on the apparatus and aerials remain in their beds at fire calls? Why are RIT teams allowed to stand around like yard gnomes, not being proactive? And on that same vein if 2 in 2 out is your thing how can we justify the “2 out” members standing the front yard contributing nothing to the overall operation?
This needs to be fixed. This is the first in a series about laddering with a purpose.
Part 1: The Problem and a Good Start
Part 2: The Reasons to Ladder
Part 3: Report from the Roof
So what is the problem exactly? At issue is the age old problem of bringing life saving equipment to a fire scene and not using it. We could compare this to not running additional lines when you have the manpower available because both evolutions go hand in hand. Every department has ground ladders, not every department has aerials. But to have ground ladders on the apparatus and basically allow them rot is a disgrace. And I say rot only after many discussions on that very subject. Let’s do better for our crews and the occupants. Why are you carrying them?
Are ladders needed at every fire? I would say yes. But a more important question than that is do you know how to use ladders at every fire? That is where the disconnect seems to be. That is the root problem with mandating laddering through S.O.P. whether its to an outside vent or another similar position. They get stuck going through the motions to accomplish the orders but not the thought process that went into those orders. Throwing random ladders and laddering to accomplish a task or a tactical goal are two very different things. But getting the ladders to the building is a very good start.

First due truck removed aerial from roof after venting.  Lines over ladders. Billy Noonan photo

First due truck removed aerial from roof after venting. Lines over ladders. Billy Noonan photo

There are a variety of methods that can be employed to increase laddering. Some departments have attempted to remedy poor laddering practices with SOP/SOG’s. Some of these do a good job of laying out the general goals of laddering. These SOG’s remove some of the confusion that can be involved when a renewed emphasis on laddering is implemented. Issues such as whose responsibility it is, the minimum standards and the time when the task should be accomplished should be covered if that’s the route your department decides to go. These SOP’s accomplish one of the most difficult and time consuming part of laddering; getting the ladders off the apparatus and to the building.
That in itself is a win. Ladders are at the building and available for use. If a ladder needs to be redeployed it’s not a problem as long as that ladder is on the scene. The time saved versus having to make a special trip back to the apparatus to retrieve a ladder can mean the difference between life and death.
One of the issues with this is the “Check the Box” mentality that it breeds. The idea that is born from firefighters not appreciating the importance of the function they are providing. The desire to get the job or ‘the nonsense my chain of command wants’ accomplished so they can go inside. I don’t have a problem with the core of that reasoning because hopefully at its heart it is focused on the search for occupants.

PG/Kentland laddering each floor.  From Kentland VFD Page

PG/Kentland laddering each floor. From Kentland VFD Page

Remember WHY we are laddering. I don’t mean those existential generalizations “life safety,” “Risk Vs Reward,”etc.
I mean Egress for the companies working on the fire floor and floors above.
Throwing ladders in support of engine company operations like lines over ladders or a platform from which to attack a fire.
Using the aerial to send a member or crew to the roof to monitor conditions and report changes or (GASP!) to ventilate.
We as a fire service need to move on from this “Check the box” laddering that seems to have taken the place of non-laddering in the fire service. But it is a great step in the right direction and I’ll take it.
In the next part we will look a little closer at the reasons to ladder and ways to accomplish them.

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