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Tillers and the Ladder Culture

By Ricky Riley

In this month’s edition of The Rig, I wanted to highlight one of those pieces of fire apparatus that all of us love and wish we could have in our cadre of equipment just for the cool factor—plus being able to drive the back of the rig like Kramer from Sienfield—and that is the Tiller Truck. This type of apparatus is starting to experience a resurgence across the country after a downturn in their production during the past 30 years. Some manufacturers I spoke to informed me that their production is up as much as 60 percent, and the orders are flowing in for this type of aerial apparatus. I hope to cover a production of one of these units in the future so we can take a close look at it from start to finish. But, this article is just about the trailer portion of the unit and the equipment that it can carry.

As we watch the fire service while traveling and constantly watching incidents from the computer screen each morning, we have seen an increase in ladder work. This art form had kind of gone by the wayside in recent years because of decreased staffing levels and the focus on other specialties and functions. Certainly there were departments that have always stayed true to this important fireground task, such as the Boston (MA) Fire Department and the San Francisco (CA) Fire Department. They have always understood the importance of ground ladders on the incident scene for rescuing civilians and for our firefighters’ safety.

With the increased production of tiller trucks, departments have also tactically set the rigs up to embrace the ladder culture. The tiller allows departments to adorn their apparatus with an insane number of ground ladders while still allowing them the compartment space to handle all their storage needs. One example of a recent tiller delivery is in my old department in Fairfax County, Virginia.

Its purchase of tiller trucks has taken full advantage of the space and length of the vehicles to fill not only the ladder tunnel full of various sizes and number of ladders, but it also placed them on the sides of the rig, all the while not losing the space needed to carry the equipment in compartments required for other functions on incident scenes. A department would not just buy a rig like this and put all the thought and design into the placing of ground ladders if it did not embrace the ladder culture. This department’s rig carries the following complement of ground ladders:

  • • Two 35-foot two section extension ladders
  • • Two 28-foot two section extension ladders
  • • Two 20-foot straight ladders with roof hooks
  • • Two 16-foot straight ladders with roof hooks
  • • Two 14-foot straight ladders (Are being added after delivery)
  • • One 12-foot straight ladder with roof hooks
  • • One 10-foot folding ladder
  • • One 8-foot folding ladder
  • • One Little Giant multipurpose ladder
  • • Two 24-foot extension ladders mounted on each side of the trailer
  • • One 100-foot hydraulic aerial ladder

That, my friends, is A LOT of ladders! And in recent years, they have put more focus on the deployment and proper setting of ground ladders on all their fire scenes.

There are many departments that are purchasing their units with large ground ladder complements in the tunnel, but the addition of the extension ladder on the side is making a comeback in many recent deliveries. I have always seen them on units purchased in Washington, D.C., but the spreading of this tactical positioning of an extension ladder on the side is really starting to become a common site. The distinct advantage of this placement is for when companies are operating in small, tight streets and operating areas in their cities or communities. This quick access allows firefighters to rapidly deploy the ladder without worrying about any blockage of the rear ladder tunnel and to quickly shoulder the ladder for placement on the building. This is a great option to include on your rig to give you choices for when you have to deploy these all-important ladders.

So when you make the commitment to purchase a tiller truck for your department, this is not a light decision. The cost of these vehicles can be very expensive, and if the proper options are chosen they can only raise the price. But if it is the right decision for your community or city because the unit has a tactical advantage for your fireground operation, that is not the end of the story. Now the department must put the investment in your standard operating procedures and more importantly your people! Ground ladder carrying and proper deployment requires training, training, and more training. We have to get all our personnel volunteer or career out and constantly working with these important tools on the fireground. The art of the ladder culture is not just words—it is a commitment by firefighters to be proficient and skilled in the tool that is the ground ladder. Having all these ground ladders on you apparatus is pretty cool and a tactical advantage. But if your department cannot deploy them, they are just expensive ornaments. Get out and train.

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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