Saturday, August 27, 2011

Tactical Safety: Scaling Ladders

Scaling Ladders

By Ray McCormack

There is a good chance your apparatus does not carry a scaling ladder. Pompier ladder is the more traditional trade name for scaling ladder, derived from the French. Scaling ladders are single beam ladders that can allow the user to scale a building from floor to floor. In that case, it is like no other ladder in the fire service. It has been successfully used to reach victims trapped beyond the reach of aerials and platform ladders, and to beef up “personal comfort” of recruits to new heights and self determination. Can it make a comeback into today’s fire service specifically for VES or VESS?

Scaling ladders have remained fairly traditional in their style over the years with minor changes in design. Modern scaling ladders are made from aluminum which helps to keep their weight down. If you have never held one, they are top heavy, with the hook at the top always feeling like it’s looking to smash into something - which for firefighters is a good thing. This ladder functions like a giant hook; and can be used to take windows; however that is not its primary function. Its primary function is to move firefighters into windows and that’s where its value with regards to VES comes in.

Think of VES graduating from its present state now injected with additional tactical safety and usefulness: VES-S the additional S for scaling ladder. Using VESS, firefighters could still select their window of entry, clear it and make entry. The scaling ladder would then be placed in the opening. Now the original ladder used for entry can be moved to the next window of choice and the steps repeated. How does this increase our tactical safety?

It increases it in several ways: for those that like to have a physical marker of where they entered the room to bump into, the hook portion of the scaling ladder provides such an identifier extending into the room by several feet. Your ladder will not slide along the siding and fall down because it’s held into the opening of the window. The scaling ladder provides perfect placement, every time, of the “top rung” and does not interfere with your entry or exit into the room. Once in place, other firefighters automatically know that a search is being conducted in that room.

Utilizing the VESS method places scaling ladders at multiple windows and protects firefighters. Should scaling ladders be further modified? I believe they should be further refined just for VESS. Imagine hanging several of these ladders on your apparatus stacked neatly, compactly, and ready for deployment. Once in place, the scaling ladder provides an alternative to rope-based bail outs while providing a means for additional firefighters to enter your space if needed - and leaves the adjustable ladder available for other duties.

The scaling ladder can also be used on porch roofs where firefighters generally perform VES. Using the scaling ladder just placed in the window provides a ‘guide rail’ for anyone to stabilize and increase their footing on this incline.

This next generation of scaling ladder would allow for more efficient and logical VESS. Not everything old is out of style until we say so. Looking back at the scaling ladder provides new alternative uses for a reliable tool on the fireground while increasing your tactical safety.

Next Tactical Safety – Forcible Frustration

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Tactical Safety: Hay Bales

Hay Bales

By Ray McCormack

I have never baled hay a day in my life, but I have burned with it. Most live burns use hay to function as the catalyst fuel source and fire development agent: to support combustion of wooden pallets, slower acceleration, as well as being used to ‘smudge’ areas. When damp, it creates a nice dark umber of a smoke (smudge). The other factor with using hay for live fire sets is that it is fairly predictable. The other factor about using hay for live fire sets is that it does not truly replicate the modern fire ground.

NFPA 1403 does not say that only hay must be used to provide the fire for the day: What it does state is that the burn materials used must have (known) burn characteristics. That is a fair policy and a sound approach to live fire fuels. If we wish to demonstrate to new firefighters what the modern fire environment is like, we should explore and investigate alternative Class A fuel packages.

The use of hay is not the real problem, hay is a great fuel. It can be easily placed, moved and spread about, it can be sprinkled and layered where needed, and it does a good job of creating and supporting fire. What it does not provide for students and instructors is the dense smoke that common home elements contain. Is that an issue, a problem?

Live fire training in many locations has been relegated to pit fires and flashover chambers. From the perspective of fire extinguishment, flashover chambers leave a lot to be desired: They represent a passive form of learning through observation of fire development. There are no turns or hallways to navigate with the hoseline; no coordinated extinguishment typical of a common house fire. Extinguishment of the chamber fire is typically handled by the training staff.

We need to examine realistically replicating modern fire conditions in a controlled live fire environment. We need stop vilifying the limited use of typical combustibles that are found in the modern house in live fire training. We need to validate the use of some alternative Class A combustibles that provide a more realistic, while safe fire environment, for firefighters. We should not run from using alternative burn materials, we should study them and find a workable mix that enhances live fire training.

When the use of live fire training is seen as too hazardous for new firefighters to experience, then we need to evaluate why that might be. If you just ban live fire training that may be the simple solution, but avoidance can cause a loss of firefighter awareness and skill development. If you want to know why some firefighters do not understand and operate properly at house fires, it is often due to a lack of basic fire knowledge gained through live fire training.

Model programs, that gradually takes students and instructors through the process of fire development, along with corresponding extinguishment techniques, helps to properly prepare our firefighters. If you think that live fire has no value, then you have probably never been exposed to a well-planned, comprehensive live burn program. If we think one cannot be developed, then we are selling ourselves short.

We have built live fire training classes on a hay and pallet foundation; we should now graduate to teaching current fire examples by tweaking the ‘mix.’ Give your firefighters and instructors the modern tools they need to stay tactically safe on the training ground and the fireground.

Next Tactical Safety – Scaling Ladders