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For the first 14 years of my fire service career I had never questioned the fly out instruction I had received in regards to extension ladders. I just assumed if it was so engrained it must be for good reason. During the ground ladders component of my department’s truck company operations academy the instructor presented us with a letter from Duo Safety (our ladder manufacture) regarding the use of their ladders in a fly in configuration.

                                                     Click on image or visit Duo Safety web site

To make a long story short Duo-Safety Ladders are not unsafe if used fly down, and will meet and/or exceed all NFPA standards at time of manufacture that would pertain to their use in the fly down position.

The ladders will meet or exceed all standards in either operation. “But we must warn they are approximately 4% less safe then if used in the fly out/up position.” When we contacted Duo Safety to get clarification on how this 4% less safe was defined they could not quantify it. They referred back to the 4% clearance between the two sections to allow them to slide but restated that there was no reduction in load capacity and that the ladders would still “meet or exceed” standards in the fly in operation. To further investigate this before I wrote the article I contacted a firefighter from a large city department where the policy is that ladders be thrown fly in. He stated that while they were presented with the same information regarding the 4% reduction in “safety” as a department they were experiencing more slips and falls with firefighters descending ladders and failing to step in completely at the overlap. It was the decision of that department when presented with the information on both sides that choice to change to fly in operations made for “safer” work. In a recent discussion with firefighters at my station regarding fly in versus fly out the concern was voiced that they would have to lift a victim out and over the tip of the base section while descending. Once again there are two sides to this, you would need to lift out and away while descending a “fly in” ladder but you would not have to step in. You would be able to keep the victim pressed to the ladder during descent in the “fly out” but you would need to remember to step in at the over lap with your body under an added load.

I may be going about this in the wrong way but it has been my experience that before people will open up to the potential benefits of “fly in” extension ladder operations you need to thoroughly address the “safety” concerns first.  So in order to bring the safety debate to a close, I think that you must weigh the costs and benefits of each side as they pertain to your operations just know that the decision is yours. It is not dictated by a standard or the manufacture, at least in the case of Duo Safety and the ladders many departments are currently operating with.

I made the point that we can utilize the extension ladder in a fly in fashion now I need to present to you some of the operational considerations. If you have never been allowed to think about the benefits of using the ladder in a fly in manner I hope that these few points will spark some discussion and testing.

When I am approaching my objective my eye is on my target the entire time. I do not have to visualize the target and then choose a point next to it to place the ladder first then roll. Please see video below for an example.

The fly in also makes operations in tighter locations such as alleys or side yards easier. Please see video below for example.

The fly in sets up halyard control for “shooting” ladders either against the building as demonstrated in the video, or in an extended and brought in to position fashion as you would to get under a carport then up to a balcony in an apartment complex is critical to the speed and success.

Fly in ladder operations were just short of a “taboo” for me just a few years ago. After a little education, experience and experimentation it has shown that in many of the cases we are presented with it provides more options and greater efficiency. I encourage you to make an effort to explore these options with your crew.

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Comment by Jonah Smith on July 3, 2012 at 4:17pm
I first saw the fly in application in a class taught by two others in this community, Ciampo and Dugan. Their statement was that it is an option as you said Brian. We must realize that asking questions isn't a bad thing in the fire service, how do you find out why something is done if you don't ask? Great job getting this information out there.

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