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What To Do With The Ground Ladders on Fire Apparatus

By Ricky Riley

This month we wanted to talk about how we put ground ladders on our engines. These pieces of National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) required equipment fit into the long, skinny category when mounting them on your apparatus. This is one of those pieces of equipment that can create havoc on your engine design and functionality if you let it. For many years, we were satisfied with the standard mounting position, usually on the officer side of the rig above the compartments on that side and usually out of reach of those that might be vertically challenged. The majority of the ladders would extend past the rear of the vehicle, causing a hazard for firefighters operating around the rig and bringing the invention of the “Skull Savers”—the bright yellow head bumper.

We then began working with the manufacturers to design new ways to carry the ladders and had the best intentions when we started this process. But, the long, skinny pieces of equipment have to fit on the rig somewhere, and the location will have an impact on the design and operation of the apparatus if we allow it.

Manufacturers came up with a number of solutions to store the ladder for us:

  • Zico-style electric lowering devices.
  • Hydraulic style ladder racks over the hosebeds.
  • Flat under the hosebed.
  • Stacked inside the hose body sides.
  • Recessed through the water tank.
  • Under the water tank.
  • Recessed into the hose body between water tank and side compartments.
  • Tilted ladder rack.

These options all are good ideas and designs, but they all affect the apparatus in different ways. Engines and ground ladders are like balloons—when you squeeze one end, it pops out somewhere else. An example of this is storing ladders under the hosebed but not wanting them to run into the fire pump area. You can make the 24-foot ladder a three-section (yeah—don’t do this by the way), which shortens it up, but it also makes it taller and will impact the height of the hosebed, not to mention the operational downside of a three-section 24-foot ladder while trying to extend it.

Someone in the department or on the apparatus committee must make a decision on the planned use for these ladders operationally. Does your department even use the ladders from the engine on incident scenes? If you do use the ladders off the engine, how quickly do you want to deploy them? And, how easy are they to deploy from their storage location?

Does their storage location negatively impact another function of your engine company operation? An example would be that ladders stored under the hosebed push up the hosebed height, making it a climb to get a rear attack line or supply line off, thus creating a potentially unsafe operation for the firefighter and a delay in one of the crucial missions of the engine company: water.

Another issue is when we put them between the water tank and the compartment wall. This configuration impacts the storage space along the whole side of the rig, which is fine as long as you do not need the compartment space. But it is rare that a department does not need storage space on their apparatus. Once again, a decision will need to be made on the tactical advantage of this option and how it will affect the rest of the apparatus.

With all these possibilities of ladder storage and deployment, we always have to take into consideration the cost. Whenever you alter the standard configuration like water tanks, hose bodies, or compartments, it will cost you money. So, please assess your department’s tactical ground ladder deployment, how important that is to your operation, and how this storage could impact the rest of your engine company’s functions on incident scenes.

Ladders on your engine are valued tools and a requirement by NFPA. But, store and place them wisely and efficiently on your rig so as to not hinder other engine company duties. As always, have conversations with the firefighters, officers, and drivers that work on your rigs each and every day to see how the ground ladders are used on the fireground in your community. Make sure your chosen storage and locations are conducive to your operations.

RICKY RILEY is operations chief for the Clearwater (FL) Fire & Rescue and a member of the Kentland (MD) Volunteer Fire Department, where he served as chief of department. He also served for 20 years with the Fairfax County (VA) Fire & Rescue before his retirement in 2005.

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