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Curb Appeal, Iron and Steel: Basics for Heeling the Butt of a Ladder

Ground Ladders are part of the basic fundamentals that make up the initial Firefighter Training
Curriculum as identified in NFPA 1001 (Standard for Firefighter Professional Qualifications)
and have an abundance of uses and purposes in the fire service.

Many view ladder training as a tedious and monotonous task due to their thoughts and beliefs
that ladders are basic and a bread and butter tool of our trade. The truth is, ladder selection,
deployment, and placement can actually be a perishable skill when not practiced often or
performed on the fireground frequently while operating on scene.

Whether you are on the job in Middlesex County Connecticut or volunteering in with the Magee
Fire Department in Mississippi, chances are that ground ladders are being implemented daily on
the fireground in an effort to successfully perform tasks pertaining to ventilation, search,
RIT/FAST, or even specialty tasks such as confined space.

Nevertheless if you are throwing a roof ladder or a multi-section ladder, for ventilation or rescue,
it is paramount that prior to ascending the rungs to the overhead objective, the ladder must be secured at the butt (or butt spurs) by heeling or footing the ladder which is typically taught and
performed by a lone firefighter who chocks the butt with a booted foot or secures it in place by
shifting their weight by placing a foot on the first rung.

While this is the most commonly taught and performed method, with staffing levels low for
many responding apparatus or the need for multiple functions to take place on the fireground,
taking a firefighter “out of the fight” to heel a ladder is neither conducive to the overall
objectives or outcomes desired. Having said that, it is crucial that firefighters learn to adapt to the
staffing and surroundings they are being exposed to and find alternate means of securing the butt
end of ground ladders while performing on the fireground that do NOT require the use of a
staged firefighter.

The consecutive approaches are commonly used and can easily be adopted with little to no
additional tools and can be implemented in an appropriate time frame without hindering progress
of the tactics at hand.

Curbing and Parking Blocks

Often departments are responding to commercial properties or apartment complexes that are surrounded on multiple sides by asphalt due to the influx of needed parking to accommodate workers, patrons or residents.

Unlike dirt or grass lawns that have the ability to sink the butt spurs into the soft soil for heeling purposes, paved lots can make it more difficult to stabilize ladders after they are thrown and prior to climbing.

Utilizing curbs and parking blocks which are solid and fixed structures, the butt of the ladder can be left unattended and operations can continue without staging a firefighter and taking him/her away from performing vital tasks on scene.

1" Tubular Webbing - Tying Off

In some circumstances, paved lots might NOT have curbs or parking blocks available; however they often have fixed objects such as railings and stanchions in place for ramps/stairs and protecting onsite services (meters, FDC, etc.).

With nothing more than a shot of 1" tubular webbing with an oversized carabiner, a thrown ladder can easily be secured in place at the correct operating angle by tying it off from a lower rung with a girth hitch and securing the working end to a railing or around a stanchion.

The Iron Man 

Most Firefighters will dismount their respective piece of apparatus with a cache of tools and equipment, most notably a radio, flashlight, TIC, and a set of irons. Once the ladder is thrown to the target objective, the likelihood that a married set of tools will be needed for forcible entry is fairly slim considering this will lead to performing ventilation, entering, isolating and searching the compartment in which the ladder leads to.

By utilizing the Halligan Bar to heel the butt end of the ladder, in conjunction with the soil, the Firefighter is able to ascend the ladder with the remaining tool (flat head axe or 6' roof hook) that can be used to take out the window and sash, sound the floor prior to entering, extended to secure the door to the compartment, and lastly to assist with performing a successful and rapid search.

Simply place the Halligan Bar at the butt of the ladder and across the width of the base with the pike towards the ground. With a booted foot, the Firefighter can drive the pike into the soil, securing the ladder in place, and continuing through his/her required task.

Wooden Chocks and Wedges

A common trend I have seen lately in the fire service are companies (more often a Truck Company) staging a short piece of 2"x4" and a 4"x4" wedge paired together with a section of kernmantle rope and implement them with their ladder throws when uneven terrain is met in an effort to level off a side of the ladder prior to ascending. 

With the wedge readily available and a soft ground is used as a base, the 4"x4" wooden wedge can be placed at the butt spur in an efficient manner and prove to be effective in keeping the ladder in place at the desired operating angle and prevent it from kicking out while being operated on.


Similar to many aspects of the fire service, there are a "thousand ways to skin a cat" and the end result will be the same, heeling or footing the butt end of a ladder while it is being operated from can be done in a plethora of ways. Ultimately you are limited to the tools and resources at your disposal, but more importantly your ability to be creative and think outside of the box. 

There are added and increased benefits when staging a Firefighter at the butt to heel a ladder (identifying smoke/fire behavior, looking for other obstructions, performing needed communications with the working firefighter) but the benefits of freeing up an able bodied Firefighter to perform needed tasks such as putting a handline in place or making a grab will prove to be more conducive to the overall objective of protecting lives and property in safe and timely manner.

AB Turenne is a 24-year veteran of the fire service in Eastern Connecticut. As a Certified Level II Fire Service Instructor, AB's training curriculum has proven to be conducive with the operational needs of those he teaches and in turn has improved the human capital knowledge of many. A graduate from the Master of Public Administration program at Anna Maria College, AB has continued his efforts in training and education by contributing to the Fire Engineering Training Community.

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