It seems that most of the time when ground ladder training is mentioned a lot of firefighters are hesitant to get excited. The ground ladder is probably the most simple of all the tools we use as firefighters. We don’t have to mix their fuel, choke them, charge their batteries, or anything of that nature because they don’t require any of those items. Although they’re one of the simplest pieces of equipment we use; that doesn’t take away from their importance. There is always a time and place for ground ladders, and that time and place is on every single fire ground. They can be a bit of a hassle at times but there are some tricks of the trade to making these tools easier to handle and carry, either by you, or with additional firemen. The carries aren’t the only thing that you need to work on to perfect; the placement of these ladders at the proper working height is a must as well.
When a firefighter gets hired by their respected department they are sent to recruit school, and in that recruit school is where the basics of ground ladders and the foundation of their use is laid. They’ll be taught the basics, such as, the various one and two person carries, the ladders parts, the various raises, and over time and with repetition the recruit will slowly begin to master the ground ladder to complete that JPR and move on to the next portion of their schooling. However, did that recruit learn how to properly guesstimate the working height needed for the rescue of victims at windows? I would think not. There is a system out there known to some, but not many. It’s a basic and easy system to learn but the time it can save you when seconds count the most are what’s beneficial. We know that when we arrive on scene to faces in the windows or reports of trapped occupants in rooms the last thing we want to do is raise our ladder, go to place it against the building, and find out that it’s either not high enough, or too high. When we are making entry into a window for rescue operations the ladder has to be in the proper position for ease of window entry, and for the victim’s placement to crews on the ladder for removal. If the ladder’s placement is just a mere foot or more off in either direction it can make for a difficult time when attempting such a feat. In most cases the ladder will have to be pulled away from the structure and either lowered or raised to meet the needs of that situation. So, how do we avoid this embarrassment and put the tip of the ladder in the right spot just inches away nearly every time when lives are on the line? You use a quick method to judge target heights and then apply the click system.
Target Heights and Ladder Sizes
The firefighter(s) raising the ladder must first know the target height needed for that ladder placement. The last thing they want to do is select a ground ladder from their apparatus and carry it to the desired location just to find out the window needing entered is totally out of reach of that ladder selection. The old adage still rings true today; you can extend a hose line when it comes up short, but you can’t extend a ladder when it does. So, what is the definition of target height? The target height is the height where the tip of the ladder will touch the building when extended and placed at the proper working angle of 70-75 degrees. In the case of window rescues; the area used for this placement is just below the window’s sill. The proper angle will usually take away one foot of the total working height of the ladder for every five feet you pull the butt of the ladder away from the building; a good rule of thumb is 5 feet per floor. So a two story window on a commercial structure may put the butt of the ladder 8-10 feet away from the building to gain the proper climbing angle. The firefighter placing the ladder should be able to quickly tell if the proper angle is in place and not have to use the manual method to check their work. This is a time sensitive operation and standing there with your arms stretched out in front of you takes precious seconds away when needed most. There’s a simple way to judge target heights and that’s by knowing basic building construction. In commercially constructed buildings the height from the ground to directly below the first floor window sill is usually 6 feet. The height distance between the bottoms of the second floor window to the bottom of the first floor window is usually 10 feet. The same 10 feet goes for the height distance between the bottom of the third floor window and the bottom of the second floor window. This isn’t always the case; you could have commercial windows at 12 feet per se’. The list below is an approximation of what you could see on various residential or commercial occupancies of various building construction types:
APPROXIMATE WINDOW HEIGHTS
1. 1 Story Residential – 3 Feet
2. 2 Story Residential – 13 Feet
3. 3 Story Residential – 23 Feet
4. 4 Story Residential – 33 Feet
1. 1 Story Commercial – 6 Feet
2. 2 Story Commercial – 16 Feet
3. 3 Story Commercial – 26 Feet
4. 4 Story Commercial – 36 Feet
The extended and bedded lengths of the most common extension ladder sizes are as followed; along with straight ladder sizes: (Extended: Bedded)
• 24 Foot Extended: 14 Foot Bedded
• 28 Foot Extended: 16 Foot Bedded
• 35 Foot Extended: 20 Foot Bedded (2 Section)
• 35 Foot Extended: 15 Foot Bedded (3 Section)
• 14 Foot Straight/Roof
• 16 Foot Straight/Roof
• 20 Foot Straight/Roof
The TOTAL WORKING HEIGHT of EVERY ladder is two feet less than its total length. So, a 14 foot roof ladder has a total working height of 12 feet, a 24 footer has a total working height of 22 feet, 35 footer is 33 feet, and all the way across the board regardless of size, straight, or extension.
The two most common ground ladder sizes on any given Engine Company are more than likely the 14 foot straight/roof ladder and the 24 foot extension ladder. So, to place the ladder tip below the sill of the second floor window in a commercial building the firefighter’s selection should be 16 feet or higher (6+10=16). This leaves the firefighter on an Engine Company with one choice of ladder, and that is the 24 foot extension ladder because the 14 foot straight ladder will not reach directly below the window sill of the second floor window. If the firefighter was on a Truck Company and had the option of any or all of the ladders mentioned above; all but the 14 foot straight ladder would work. If their choice was an extension ladder they would just have to count their clicks for the proper working height and placement.
The “Click System”
The click system got its name from the sounds you hear when the dogs/pawls of the fly section(s) slide over each rung as an extension ladder is being raised. When a firefighter is raising the ladder they can listen for the clicks and know how tall the ladder they’re using is at any given moment because the spacing between each rung on a standard aluminum extension ladder is 14”. In the scenario above, where the firefighter needed a ladder of a least 16 feet to reach below the window sill of the second floor, the firefighter on the Engine Company was left with the option of the 24 foot extension ladder to reach the second floor window sill. This ladder would be raised two clicks (28”) to give them their target height of approximately 16 feet because the bedded length of a 24 foot extension ladder is 14 feet, and 14 feet plus 28” is ≈ 16 feet. Those mere inches off are erred to the plus side, or better yet just go 3 “clicks” and you can easily adjust and use a wider working angle. The only catch to the click system comes with the three-section 35 foot extension ladder. These ladders move twice the distance than their two-section counterparts. If the target height required two clicks on a standard ladder; the 35 footer would only require one because it’s being raised twice the distance with half the amount of clicks. This also means that any distance over two stories would need a click subtracted because the additional two inches on per click add up, so you would subtract that amount.
The “click system” has been around for a very long time. It’s one of the most basic means of aiding a firefighter in determining a good target height and placing the tip of the ladder in the proper location nearly every time. There will be times that things like ground slope and various building construction types may change the target heights of your ladders; the way to overcome these issues is getting out in your first due and training on placing these ladders to the windows of the buildings of your first due area. It is the responsibility of a good fire officer to make sure their members are set up for success and not failure, and when it comes to ground ladders and target heights, the click system sets them up for success and saves lives when seconds count.
Photo 1: David Polikoff