A lot of people are afraid of heights. The technical term for it is acrophobia. As firefighters most of us don’t understand why someone would be afraid of heights. We probably don’t understand it because we aren’t around people that are afraid of heights.
There is some logic behind being afraid of heights, if we fall from a high place it is going to hurt, we don’t need to be taught that. I don’t think we are born being afraid of heights, I think we learn it from other people reaction to being in a high unsure place. If we keep hearing about being afraid we will become afraid.
We as firefighters are always around ladders and heights so we really have no fear of heights.
Since firefighters don’t fear heights we need to remember to respect heights and stay safe. When we do something every day we forget the danger that is involved. Ladders and heights can be dangerous, especially when we are working in dark or smoky conditions.
I will never forget the story of one of our retired members. This happened before my time but it gets talked about whenever we hire a new firefighter.
Like most departments when we get a new guy we like to give them the ladder test. For some reason we always extend the aerial stick and make them climb to the top. I guess it is just our way of building their confidence, or maybe it’s just because we like to see someone get a little scared.
This particular firefighter got the last laugh. Before working with the fire department he was a circus performer. So, when he got to the top of the ladder he put a little fear into the guys that made him climb by doing a handstand on the top rung, while the ladder was extended. Obviously that was the last time they tried to have that kind of fun with him.
For more normal situations we need to remember a few basic things.
One of the most basic is that we always have someone heel the ladder. This can be an easy one to forget, especially when we run a little short of manpower and things are moving fast. It’s simple but no one wants to be the guy still on the ground where there is no action.
An alternative to heeling the ladder is to tie it off to the building. To be honest I have never seen anyone take the time to tie off a ladder in the excitement of a fire, but since we train like that I had to mention it.
You can help keep the ladder in place by pushing it into the ground a little bit before you climb. Just a little extra push can set the heel into the ground, especially if the ground is a little soft. Of course this doesn’t work on hard surfaces.
If you are climbing to the roof make sure you get the tip of the ladder 3 or 4 rungs over the roof line. Getting the tip over the roof line does two things, first it makes it easier to get on and off the ladder.
Secondly it makes the ladder easier to find in smoky conditions. Ladders have reflective strips to help us find the end, now they even make ladders with battery operated lights on the tip.
Always have ladders on multiple sides of the building in case conditions get bad and you can’t get to the ladder you used to get there. Throwing a second ladder is a good job for a RIT crew while they size-up the building
Like everything we do, practice makes perfect. We don’t all like throwing ladders but make sure you stay sharp, and know everyone’s ability when it comes to ladders. If we practice often we will be proficient, and not afraid.