- Spencer Jelinek Photography

Spencer Jelinek Photography

Recent Facebook posts have indicated a resurgence in apparatus built for their traditional roles rather than multipurpose “do it all” apparatus. Specifically they discussed engines (pumpers) with low hose beds that make “engine work” easier and safer. Also discussed was a resurgence in tillered (tractor-trailer) aerial apparatus for both maneuverability and because they could carry a lot of ground ladders.

Since most of this series tends to focus on suppression, this seemed like a good time to review the need for aerial apparatus at industrial fires. The focus here is the municipal aerial apparatus, not the refinery type aerial that can now flow upwards of 5,000 GPM (nearly 20,000 l/min).

Those industrial aerials play a vital role but are not typically available at the average industrial facility. This article will address four topics:

  1. Maneuverability and access
  2. The aerial device itself
  3. Ground ladders
  4. Building access features such as built in stairs and ladders that can be difficult to us

Maneuverability and Access

Tillered aerials were originally built for their maneuverability and this is still a major reason they are used. Today there are single axel short-wheelbase and all wheel steering options available. Large tandem axel quints might not be able to make tight turns at the site.

Whatever aerial apparatus is immediately available, it should be tested to be sure it can get where it needs to go. This should be done regularly. There have been cases where adding a guard shack meant that larger vehicles could no longer make the turn. It might be necessary to call for a more maneuverable apparatus from further away. Besides turning ability, some aerials are quite tall and might not fit under pipe racks, conveyors, pedestrian bridges, etc.

The Aerial Device

Besides applying water from an aerial position (covered in an earlier article) rescue, and roof access, an overlooked feature is its use as an observation platform. Much valuable information on what is happening inside, (especially with regards to sprinkler performance) can be determined by monitoring the roof. This is best done with an aerial platform. Drones offer additional observation opportunities. Thermal imaging can be done by the observer, a drone, or an aerial mounted camera and offers even more insight.

Ground Ladders

The use of outside ground ladders is rather obvious; however, the longest typically carried today is 35-40 feet (about 10-12 meters). This won’t be long enough to reach many roofs or other objectives. Fifty-five foot (almost 17 meter) ladders were once commonplace but are rarely carried today because they take 5-6 firefighters to raise. The need for longer ground ladders should be assessed for locations where the aerial cannot gain access. It will probably be necessary for special call apparatus to carry ladders longer than 40 feet.

An often overlooked use of ground ladders is inside access. We have heard stories of firefighters trying to climb racks or other structures to gain access to a fire that was controlled by sprinklers but still needed final extinguishment and overhaul. Ground ladders can be used here if the structure will support their weight. Aluminum ladders conduct electricity and cannot be used if they can contact live electrical equipment.

Built in Building Stairs and Ladders

Building ladders are frequently difficult to work with. Besides a poor climbing angle (straight up), the safety cage makes climbing them with breathing apparatus — especially while advancing a hose line — very difficult.

Stairs are a much better option. They would usually need to be part of the planning process. I recently toured a 100 foot (30 meter) high warehouse in Germany that had wide heavy-duty stairs installed all the way to the top. A standpipe with high quality hose and nozzles were also provided. These stairs provided good firefighter access and were installed with this need in mind.

Going back to engines with low hose beds for a minute, they make extending hoselines deep into industrial facilities significantly easier than engines with higher hose beds.


As with all aspects of industrial fire protection, firefighter access via ladders needs to be preplanned and practiced. Since not all departments have aerial apparatus, the added time for them to respond from further away needs to be considered.

John Frank is Senior Vice President of the XL Catlin’s Property Risk Engineering / GAPS Loss Prevention Center of Excellence, where he is involved in loss prevention research and loss prevention training.