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One, Two, or Three Sides: Laddering the Building

When it comes to ground ladders, some say throw them until one of two things happen:

  • You run out of ladders.
  • You run out of windows.

I must say, I do agree with this opinion. The placement of ground ladders allows firefighters to access areas they wouldn’t be able to, create a means of egress if needed, give roof access for ventilation crews, allow firefighters to search rooms, and give civilians a way to exit a building that’s on fire. I got these pictures from West Metro’s Facebook page. This is a prime example of how to ladder a building. In the next few sections we’re going to talk about sizing-up a structure for ground ladder placement, where to begin placing them, and how many sides we should aim for. There is a method to the madness and ladders need to be thrown in certain areas first, and then build away from that area until one of the two things above take place. Let’s take a look.

Where does the first ladder go? Well, I look at it like this; everything on the fire ground revolves around the seat of the fire. The first line is pushing towards the seat of the fire. The primaries are going to start as close to the seat of the fire and work their way back, and so on. If there aren’t faces in the windows or people at balconies for an immediate rescue, the first ground ladder is placed as close to the seat of the fire. This is the usually the fire window and all windows closest to that area. If firefighters get in trouble they will be in that vicinity and will have quick escape routes, also, if they find a victim close to that area the ground ladder at a window may be closer and quicker for victim removal versus dragging them all the way back through the house and down the stairs. So, the first ladder goes to the fire side of the house. This is what I call a one sided ladder throw, because currently in this state we only have ladders on one side of the house. In the first picture you see ground ladders on the Alpha side. This photo shows the Alpha side of a basement fire that West Metro (CO) crews responded to; it looks good so far doesn’t it? They aren’t thrown to the fire window because the fire was in the basement, but this will start the discussion of one, two, and three siding the building with ladders.

We don’t want to settle for one sided ladder throws on the fire ground. We are aiming to at least get fifty-percent of the structure’s sides covered with ladders, plus roof access and egress. This is paramount because firefighters operating inside, or on top of the structure, will have a fifty-fifty shot at finding a window or roof point with a ladder if needed for an emergency or victim removal. Just wait, it gets better. If we take a peek around the AB corner of this structure we see more ladders. The Bravo side of this structure is covered as well. If we look now at the final picture we can see that the Alpha and Bravo side windows all have a ground ladders thrown to them individually and the roof has a ladder to it for access. This is a good example of a house that’s been “two sided” with ladders. We see that every window on two sides has a ladder, the roof is covered, and all this is done with five ladders. If a firefighter in the basement needed a ladder for themselves or to place a victim on and do a ladder slide up and out of the basement one of the shorter straight ladders could be used. They’re in the area and would be rather quick to access and place to execute a basement removal.

We don’t have pictures of the rear of this structure. I can’t say if this structure is three sided, but we know it is for sure well covered on two with roof access, which is what our minimum standard should be. If the companies on scene had the resources with ladders they could continue this same approach to the rear of the structure with a couple more ladders and three sides would be covered. This would be amazing and is very possible. I want to show you a few more photos. I was in the middle of this blog writing about this fire when news broke of West Metro (CO) crews battling a fire at Applewood Retirement Community.  This building does not have sprinklers and we can see they have heavy fire on the second floor. In these photos we see that West Metro crews did more amazing work with ground ladders on this structure. The first few ladders they have thrown are at the fire floor balcony apartment, the floor above, and a window to the fire apartment. This goes right along with my earlier statement about throwing the first ladders as close to the seat of the fire as possible and working your way around there. If we make one more note we notice the 24 foot ladder falls short on the third floor balcony, but crews adapted and overcame the issue to get searches completed on the floor above the fire. I want to commend West Metro Fire Rescue for their amazing work in the past few weeks and thank them for the use of their photos in this blog.

In conclusion, our aim should be to at least two side every structure with ground ladders, and more if we have the resources to do so. We should follow the “throw ladders until you run out of windows or ladders” at every fire, even the small ones. If you practice on every fire, regardless of size, it will become second nature and you’ll execute on the big ones too. The ground ladder is a basic tool we use, but very important, and the basics are what make this craft the best.

Photos: West Metro Fire Rescue Facebook Page

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