First off as always it is good to see many different ideas and information presented from around the country and from various departments. I’ll add a little “2 cents” to this discussion on roof ladders from past experiences, training with them, from others experiences and what they’ve past onto me and from obstacles encountered.
Do we always need them? That word “always” has a bad habit of popping up in some peculiar places on the fireground. Like many of you stated if the roof is “walk-able” we’re prone not to use them because they become more of a nuisance; tripping hazard and obstacle to cut around if we’re doing specific types of cuts (i.e. louver). I agree but we also have to remember to size up our conditions first. Like in the top photo (my brother not me), the snow and ice played a big part on putting them up in addition to the steep pitch. Did anyone notice the snow melted on a certain section of the roof, is this from extension into the attic and possible compromise to the roof joist or from the heat trapped in the attic; we need to keep that in mind. Due to this house set off the road, the aerial and tower ladder didn’t reach and could have made cutting operation much easier in the snow. Although there are times you may decide to drive on the lawn to gain access, remember size it up first, is there septic tanks below or uncertain hazards below?
If you prefer not to use them because your making a quick cut and getting off or its walk-able make sure you have checked the stability of the roof often and make quick inspection holes with the saw (kerf cut) or poke holes with the point of the halligan. Just because someone may be operating on another section of the roof doesn’t mean your section is stable! In addition, two ladders should be placed to the roof for a primary and secondary means of escape. I agree with many of the comments made but would like to add one thing here on the do we need them section; we may not need them BUT maybe we should train on bringing them to the structure while we’re carrying our other tools, we can always lean them up to the building (and even open the hooks up if you like) and if needed we can quickly pull them up or put them into position for our safety.
Do they really help with safety? Yes they do, it goes back to the intention of what the ladder was made for, to support a firefighter’s weight while operating on the pitch roof. The hooks were made to “bite” through the shingles, sheathing and into the ridge pole and the butt end of the ladder is suppose to rest over the bearing wall to offer support at both ends of the ladder. Speaking of roof ladders the Buffalo, NY FD uses a roof ladder that has hooks at both ends! This way if they need to pull it up and over to the other side they can straddle the ridge and perform the maneuver, an in genius tactic! Also, there are departments that are equipped with lifebelts that have short cable leads on them so firefighters can stand with one foot off the ladder, on the rung or in between the rungs and then place their lower foot onto the halligan and cut the roof. One thing to mention about safety, stepping in between the rungs of the ladder could put you in harm’s way if the sheathing is compromised, so always check it first! If you don’t have a halligan with you to use to support your back foot, drive an axe into the roof as the footstep (the wider side feels better on the arch or toe of the boot then stepping on the narrow section). There should be one up there in case the saw fails or won’t run because of the smoke conditions on the roof! Speaking of your ladders hooks; are they ready for firefighting duty? If the ladder is lying on the ground and you can’t bang them with your boot to open them, you better lubricate them!
What does it not do? Well if we leave them on the rig and never get them to the building they won’t do anything for us!
How does construction affect it uses? In roof construction with joist, we don’t have ridgepoles and many of us say what good are the ladders then? I would still throw them or have them there; they still bite into the ridge on the opposite side of the roof and can still distribute our weight over a wider area. Personally, I prefer cutting out of the tower ladder or off an aerial on these structures but know that doesn’t or can’t be achieved at every structure. While teaching at FDIC one year we ran into a difficulty on some of the acquired structures. The ridge vent was an ornamental tin cap that kept the roof ladders off the roof and the tips didn’t get a good bite into the roof. We attempted to pull the tin off with the ladder’s tips, so the ladder would sit more flush to the roof and bite into the opposite side. It worked but took some extra effort and time. Our best tactic was to climb up quickly and tear the cap off with a hand tool, plus we drove the point of the halligan into the roof on the opposite side, now we placed the roof hook into the hole and we had a better bite. If you encounter roofs with slate and you have to work on them, a roof ladder is a primary safety tool if no tower ladder or aerial ladder is available! If you’re dealing with high pitch roofs as your primary structures, I suggest you look at departments like Buffalo and Milwaukee (throw 2 roof ladders a few feet apart from each other and cut in between) for guidance.
Do we need two ladders to the roof? Yes, again as reasons stated before, our secondary means of escape for our own safety. In our department’s “books” we’re taught that the two ladders in the front will also show the “boundary” of the fire. This is prevalent at a taxpayer fire, where there may be two separate buildings abutting each other and the ladder can tell you where the separation is. Also in this situation, throwing ladders to the adjoining roof is a good idea for access to another area of refuge. Remember, a ladder to each side of the structure only benefits us and you can always throw a portable much quicker than an aerial or tower ladder!
I appreciate the chance to respond to this post and to read the posts that are already here. Stay safe while operating on any roof. This post by: Mike Ciampo