Roof Operations and Operating off Ladders.

Could you get this done with only two firefighters? Photo by: Steve Clark

Why is this ok? Why is this not ok? How do you determine when to work off roof ladders and aerials? When do you not? When do you wear your hood, chin strap, and have your mask on when operating on a roof? Do you use your aerial on one story buildings? How many ladders and what sides of the building? READ!!! Mike Ciampo's advice/post at bottom. I requested his thoughts/opinion.

What is the aerial and roof ladders providing?

How can an Aerial assist you more than a ground ladder on a one story?How about the Haligan and Ladder? Good Stuff.

Roof Ladders

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

Do you position your aerial for use everytime?

10 thoughts on “Roof Operations and Operating off Ladders.

  1. Excellent post Mike. This is just the type of information I was looking for when I thought you would be a good resource on the topic. Thank you for all you do for the fire service.

  2. Mike, as always great job! I always enjoy reading your input. I like the Buffalo trick – hooks on both ends of the roof ladders. That can definately be useful for many of us. I was propsed with a question duing one of my recent FE Blog Talk radio shows;
    “what is your opinion of a 2 person roof crew taking the following action at a priovate dwellng. Each FF takes their own ground ladder 1 goes to A or 1 side the other to C or 3 side. They throws their ladder and meet on the roof with their assigned tools ready to work.”

    I thought this was a good tactic as long as it is practiced on and both FF have the ability to communicate with each other and the necessary tools make it to the roof. The piece they would be lacking would be roof ladder deployment unless they can deply both a ground and roof by themsleves. What do you think?

  3. When the need for vertical vent arises on the suburban fire ground, the tactic has to be expedited, often times with a crew of 3 to 4 operators. Like every other tactic on the fire ground, efficiency and proficiency are crucial. While suppression operations are paramount, the ability of the Incident Commander to support that function by allowing a crew to operate on the roof is an important option to consider. But as the Incident Commander, who do you get to do this job? You are going to commit people to work on a comprimised roof where just under the shingles, tar paper, and ply-wood, is approxiately 1,500 degrees of hot stuff that wants to ignite with the first breath it can get from the outside. The people you send to do this function better know how to get this job done quickly, efficiently and proficiently as mentioned earlier. In the Suburban setting these people may not come from a specific type of apparatus. Designated Truck or Engine assignments may not exist meaning all the firefighters on the fireground will be responsible to perform all the tasks that may be required from forcible entry, suppression, vent, search, & RIT. The crew that conducted the vent job by Ladder 12 were ready for the task at 0200 hours the morning when we got the call. With a crew of 3, we got the truck positioned, staged equipment, made the roof, got the cuts needed for the interior crew to finish the push down the hall, L-12 driver took the garage doors with the K-12 saw, then got a 2.5” line in service to knock down the fire in and above the garage all within a matter of minutes. Hopefully as the IC on the Suburban fire ground, you have these resources at your disposal when specific tactics are required to be done right the first time, yesterday.

    • I was a beneficiary of the above mentioned venting process by Ladder 12 that morning…we were working the attic space and seemed to be making little progress…mainly due to the lack of an experienced nozzle team inside with us…the nozzlean and I were working hte space with a 15/16″ sb and handling our part…the two pics with the crew on the roof at night is the fire I am referring to…we heard the saws and knew things were going to improve…when the hole was opened the louver fell into the space and landed across the rafters and temporarily blocked our stream…thank God for the sb nozzle that was short lived…I left the nozzleman with another fireman to advise Command face-to-face that things were imroving and what exaclty was going on…it was then he handed me a 2 1/2″ sb and I took it an pinned it in the living room and began to knock the tee total piss out of the fire…the cooperative efforts of L12, E14 L34 and along with a few others allowed this house to be “saved” along with the resident’s personal belongings and memories…

    • Scott, while I agree with your post unfortunatley many if not most departments do not have 3 or 4 firefighters to send to the roof. Many departments send less than what actaully needed however thiose FF’s must still get the same tools deployed and the same job completed as efficiently as the departments that send 3, 4 and 5 FF’s to the roof. Your point of “The people you send to do this function better know how to get this job done quickly, efficiently” couldn’t be more accurate. The roof is no place to learn! You must nail down the skills in training so when you get to the roof the job gets done.

  4. I feel two means of egress are a must. We train to have a 16′ double hook roof and 24′ ladder to the rear or side of ventilation. I don’t always feel its necessary to put the roof ladder on the roof. As long as conditions are assessed and often a quick up to cut and back down can get the job done safely!

  5. The ladder truck set up on this single story house provides multiple things. First real life experience set up a ladder truck on a working structure fire. That experience carries over to the BIG fires. Second the angle which you step off on to the roof is better than a ground ladder. Third you get to step off at the peak where the cut is needed. If the roof gets unstable before you finish the cut you can step right back on it and finish the cut it conditions permit it. Last that I can think of would be a high point in case a fire fighter falls in ( maybe one leg ). Would give him something to pull him self out of the hole. Perfect example is the photos that BC Grace sent out the other day.

  6. Disregard the previous post. Spelling errors!

    Ladder 12 set up on this single story house provides multiple things. First, real life experience setting up the ladder on a working structure fire. That experience carries over to the BIG FIRES!! Second, the angle which you step off on to the roof is better than a ground ladder provides. Third, you get to step off at the peak where the cut is needed. If the roof becomes unstable before you finish your cuts, you can step right back on the ladder. From there finish the cut if conditions permit it. Last thing I can think of would be a high point in case a fire fighter falls in ( maybe one leg ). Would give him something to pull him self out of the hole. Perfect example is the photos that BC Grace sent out the other day.

  7. The very core of your writing whilst appearing reasonable at first, did not settle perfectly with me personally after some time. Someplace throughout the paragraphs you actually managed to make me a believer but just for a very short while. I however have got a problem with your leaps in assumptions and one might do nicely to help fill in those gaps. When you actually can accomplish that, I would certainly be amazed.

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