Laddering with Purpose Part 2: Primary Laddering

In the first section we talked about the lack of laddering at fire scenes and the changes some departments have made to address the issue. Bringing ladders to a fire building is the first step in remedying the problem. The next, and probably more difficult, step is to place them where they will most likely be used.
I’m not going to waste your time talking about rescue, RIT and all the cool shiny things that go along with it, that has been beaten to death. Discussions about using ladders for rescue and RIT are plenty and extremely comprehensive. I’m going to talk about a basic plan for prioritizing ladder placement. The day to day operations that seem to fall through the cracks but are actually some of the most important.
“Paint the building in aluminum” is a classic line, but the process should be more intelligent than that. Again, I don’t have a problem with eventually getting every ladder to the building, and then looking for more places to ladder. But initial companies on the scene of a fire need to start by focusing on prioritizing ladder locations until more help arrives.

Ladders as a shortcut and to reduce congestion in the stairways.  50' ladders aren't thrown randomly.  Audubon Circle, November 2, 2014. 4 Alarms on Box 232 Billy Noonan Photo

Ladders as a shortcut and to reduce congestion in the stairways. 50′ ladders aren’t thrown randomly. Audubon Circle, November 2, 2014. 4 Alarms on Box 232 Billy Noonan Photo

Barring immediate life safety concerns, laddering priorities should be:
1. Ladder like you search
2. Fix access/egress restrictions
3. Ladder where the fire will spread.

Ladder like you Search
Getting 1 ladder per side per floor is a great start and in some departments, the ultimate goal. But is that what we really need? Do we need ladders on the floors below the fire? Probably not, but we may if we are using them as a shortcut or as a replacement for interior stairs, probably not going to be a priority for initial companies. So lets start at the fire floor. Can we start our ladder operations the way we start our primary search? If we change “Laddering” to “Primary Laddering” for initial companies would that change their focus? I hate to invent a new term but maybe it will help. If we consider the first few ladders to the building a primary laddering where would we start? Probably the same place we would start our search, at or near the fire.
Laddering a window with fire venting out it is not a smart use of our equipment unless we are using the ladder as a platform to make a fire attack. I’ll get into lines over ladders in the 3rd part of the series. Consider where the interior crews are and where they will go if in trouble. The crews should be making their way towards the seat of the fire. If a window has fire blowing out the chance of our crews using that window for egress are slim. But, if they have to back out or make a hasty retreat where will they go? The next room over or back the way they came most likely. In my city hallways running front to back are extremely common, so we could ladder the opposite end of the building, down the hall from the fire and have the most likely secondary egress route covered. But if a floor plan is broken up, confusing, or the situation so dire crews are likely to duck into the first room they come to and shut the door if they can. So ladder the windows beside the ones that have fire showing, that’s where the crews may go. If fire isn’t showing from a window or room near the seat of the fire, ladder it.

Every attic window is laddered.  Roof ladder deployed.  Billy Noonan Photo

Every attic window is laddered. Roof ladder deployed. Billy Noonan Photo

Ladder Where The Fire Will Spread
If the other priorities are met we can start to work on getting ahead of the fire. Just like laddering the attic at a basement fire in a balloon frame we need to anticipate where the fire will spread and ladder ahead of it. As crews arrive and join the fire attack we need to increase the routes of egress access. This is when we will ladder the floor above and start working our way around the building. Initial crews on scene will start searching on the floor above the fire, if crews are there without the protection of a line we need to make it as safe as possible. We cannot change the way the crews are operating, but we can increase the likelihood of getting them a ladder in case things go wrong. We also need to ladder for fire attack. Long lays and restricted engine company access need to also be addressed. More complex operations like ladders over ladders for roof work or set backs take time and should be addressed before they are needed.

Throwing ladders at a building without a plan is better than leaving them on the apparatus, but we can do better. Reasons to ladder include Rescue, Egress, Hero Support (Engine company) and Ventilation. Good aggressive truck work allows for good aggressive engine work. They skills go hand in hand. Remember every ladder you throw, no matter the initial purpose, becomes an egress route. In the third part we will talk about lines over ladders, and the importance of the report from the roof at every fire call. Until then remember the best thing an arriving truck company can do is carry ladders to a building. While taking that first walk to the building bring a ground ladder along with your hand tools. Even if that ladder is thrown to a side without any real purpose that ladder is available for use in a RIT or bailout situation and will save time having to make a trip to the apparatus to retrieve it.
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