Out of reach of fire ladders

  • Wed Dec 14th, 2011 1:59pm
  • News

By Rikki King

The ladder truck is the big daddy of fire vehicles, topped with the fat, folded ladder. Some of those ladders have a bucket on the end. In the movies, they’re most often used to pluck people out of burning buildings. So if a building catches fire, the ladder will reach you, right? Not always.

Snohomish County’s tallest building is Providence Regional Medical Center Everett’s new tower, which tops out at 197 feet.

The Everett Fire Department says its ladders can reach a maximum of 95 feet. The crews estimate they can’t reach the roofs of about a dozen buildings in the city.

It’s not just height. Deploying an aerial ladder is a middle-school math problem, compounded by the intensity of an unfolding emergency.

Most buildings have what firefighters call “setbacks” — the distance between the building and where the truck can park. In addition, they have to navigate around trees, parked cars and power lines.

If the truck parks 20 feet away, some of the ladder length is used to reach over the distance, limiting its height.

Remember the Pythagorean theorem from geometry class? Where a² + b² = c²? Yeah, that.

In addition, the bucket can hold only 1,000 pounds. Two firefighters plus gear easily weigh half that, Capt. Joe Desmond said. If the bucket’s water pipe is spraying, the weight of the water must be added in.

If the ladder won’t work, and you’re still trapped, you should know of other escape routes, Everett Fire Marshal Rick Robinson said. Many modern high-rise buildings have fire-resistant stairways. Most others have fire escapes.

In recent memory, a helicopter hasn’t been used for a fire rescue in Everett.

At a fire, ladder trucks also are used to get a better look at the flames. They provide roof access for “ventilation” — cutting holes to release heat and toxic fumes.

It’s not an easy parking job. The truck can’t be too close, or the building could collapse on it. Room also must be left for the “outriggers,” metal structures that extend from the truck and bear weight. Without them, the weight of the ladder could topple the truck.

When firefighter/driver Jason Brandvold steers a ladder rig around town, he’s always thinking ahead about where to park if different buildings catch fire, he said.

Online, more about fire ladders

To learn more about fire ladders and rescue, look up the article called “Safe and Effective Aerial Ladder Operations” at FireEngineering.com.