With the recent injuries, and deaths involving ladders (I know they were aerialladders) I felt that this month it would be a good idea to return to some basic drilling and go over some safe ways to climb ladders.
Lets face it climbing ladders is tough on a normal day, people fall from ladders all of the time and they do not have to wear PPE, SCBA,or carry tools, and rescue victims.
Unfortunately climbing ladders is something I feel we take for granted especially from an engine company perspective. Think the last time your ladder came off the engine? It probably only comes off to check it, or to clean it.
So now lets look at some important points when climbing ladders:
1. Always maintain three points of contact with a ladder: This is accomplished by using the beams instead of the rungs. When your climbing let your hands slide along the beams, this way you always have 1 foot and 2 hands in contact with the ladder at all times, making it easier to catch yourself if you were to slip. This also in my opinion makes the climb smoother. When you use the rungs the ladders tend to bounce a lot due to the shifting of your entire body weight from one side to the other, you really see this in your straight stick aerials and longer extension ladders (35-40 footers). If you slide up the rails if takes some of the bounce out making the climb easier. This also makes victim rescue techniques easier.
2. Slide the tools: This goes along with the above but we should never be empty-handed on the fireground, so we need a way to carry tools up the ladder. With smaller tools like the halligan and axe using the same slide technique as mentioned above works well, and maintains ladder contact. With longer tools like hooks, simply use the length of the tool and hook it on the highest rung you can reach. When you reach the head of the tool repeat until you have reached your destination.
3. Use Rope: Were we really get into trouble is carrying saws to the roof. Saws are heavy, they take a hand away causing us to break contact with the ladder, and they can through us off-balance. In this case rope is the answer. Take a rope bag (I carry a 50 footer on my air pack at all times) tie or clip the rope to the saw, then start climbing (with the bag attached to you of course) while you’re climbing the rope should play out. Once you reach your destination you can then hoist the saw up. Utilizing this method allows for you to climb the ladder safer, more efficient, and faster than having to lug the saw up. It also allows you to carry your hand tools as well.
4. Aerial Ladders: Climbing Aerial Ladders is a different animal all together. Some of the same techniques work (using the beams when at low angles, and using the hook method for long tools) but all together it is different. If you have a bucket try to utilize it as often as possible. This will reduce fatigue (easier to ride than climb), allow you to carry all of the tools you need, and give you a relatively safe working platform. If you must climb an Aerial ladder then you must be equipped with a ladder belt, or some sort of fall protection device
5. Footing the ladder: It amazes me that people are still getting taught to foot the ladder from the rear. The best place to be is in the front. You can see what is happening to the building, you can see what is happening to the firefighters climbing the ladder, you are in the perfect position for victim rescue (firefighter or civilian), and you can assist in taking the bounce out of the ladder. In addition you can keep an eye what is going on, and avoid falling debris.
Bottom line is climbing ladders is a serious, and dangerous part of our job. It should never be taken for granted, and should be practiced often. Take some time this month to pull the ladders off the rig and climb ladders. You should of course be doing this in full PPE and SCBA in order to get the full effect.
Do not forget to keep following along on twitter @averagejakeff
As usual thanks for reading, spread the word, and STAY SAFE!