Most fire service folks don’t get too excited when you start talking about ground ladder training. But there shouldn’t be any doubt about the importance of ground ladders. Just look at the time we set aside for ladder training during basic recruit school and the amount of space dedicated to ground ladders in every fire service training manual.
Ground ladder training in recruit school provides the foundation. We teach the basics, such as ladder construction and the types of raises, through hours of repetitive drills, by raising and lowering ladders until we can do it with our eyes closed.
If you watch fire departments that really take pride in their ground ladder work, it’s a thing of beauty. Those departments don’t get that way by just having a great recruit school. They constantly reinforce ground ladder skills at the company level.
If you’re a company officer or just the member chosen to conduct this week’s drill, a ladder evolution is an excellent topic.
Where to Start
Before taking the ground ladder skills sheet out of the training manual, think about your target group.
Remember: Most drills are designed to reinforce a task already learned. As trainers, we should always work to add some new information or tricks of the trade to help make every drill interesting.
If you’re conducting a company-level drill, everyone involved has completed Ladders 101, so don’t spend much time or effort reviewing ladder parts or how a ladder is built. Focus instead on the skills needed to place and raise a ladder to perform a rescue.
Look for the Everyday Moments
Good company officers are always looking for opportunities to reinforce skills and enhance learning through daily activities. Ladders are a great example. During apparatus maintenance and clean up, instruct the crew to pull the ladders off and give them a good once-over. Every ladder should be visibly inspected daily and tested for functionality at least once a month—a great chance to get in a little training. These small efforts will pay big dividends on the fireground.
Similarly, when you’re returning from an incident or performing pre-fire plans, take time to talk about ladder placement and needs at different buildings. During preplanning, raise ladders as you would during an incident to look for dead loads on roofs. Quiz your crew by selecting buildings in your response area and asking which ladder(s) would best be used.
We use a lot more scenario-based training these days. Be sure to look for ways to tie some ground ladders into your training in context. This type of training allows your crews to put all the pieces together using PPE, SCBAs and ladders.
Most engine companies will carry 24' or 28' extension ladders with some type of shorter attic ladder. Know the buildings in your area—especially those with life-hazard issues, such as three- or four-story apartment buildings—where your complement of ladders isn’t enough. In addition, know what size ladders your mutual-aid companies carry.
When selecting the right size ladder for the job, provide your crew with the following rule of thumb: Take the first digit of the ladder length as a guide. For example, a 14' ladder will reach the first floor, a 24' ladder will reach the second floor and a 35' ladder will reach the third floor.
This rule of thumb also serves as an easy reminder on how many firefighters a ladder will carry safely: two on a 24', three on a 35', etc.
In the last 15 years, the fire service has spent a lot of effort working on rapid intervention team (RIT) operations. Ground ladders are a key component in any RIT operation, especially the pre-deployment of ladders around the structure covering every level on each side. Be sure to take time to discuss ladder deployment and placement during your RIT training.
Many of the techniques used in RIT operations, such as the emergency ladder bailout, must be drilled on regularly. RIT training also provides another opportunity to reinforce basic ground ladder operations.
A Final Word about Safety
Last but certainly not least, don’t overlook safety while working with ground ladders, especially when working around or close to electrical lines. Also, use caution when asked by members of the community to provide ladders at non-emergency service calls. Always perform a risk assessment before committing to such operation.
Train on ground ladders often, and hone your crew’s ladder skills by tying them into your daily activities.
Drill 1: Rules & Policies
Step 1: Cover the basics of fire service ground ladders. Remember: This is a drill, not basic recruit school.
Step 2: Cover the rules of thumb for selecting the proper length ladder.
Step 3: Discuss your department's policy concerning placement of ground ladders.
Step 4: Identify buildings in your area that would require larger ladders than are carried on the first-due apparatus. Ask crewmembers to determine how they should respond in such situations.
Drill 2: Preplanning
Step 1: While out preplanning, select a building that will require the deployment of a ground ladder.
Step 2: Ask the crew to place the correct size ladder to the roof and look at dead loads that may be present. Always note location of overhead wires.
Steps 3: Discuss where your company would place ground ladders if it was operating as the RIT.