Since emergencies don't always occur at ground level many fire department vehicles carry some type of ladder. There are three common types of ladder material, wood, aluminum and fiberglass. Wood is the traditional material and was the primary material used until the late 1940's. Even though they may seem out of place in modern use wooden ladders are still fairly common on the fire ground. Most wood ladders are made from Douglas fir with hickory rungs but composite ladders with wood beams and metal rungs are also available. Metal ladders were introduced in the 1930's, these are primarily made from aluminum and are currently the most popular type due to easy maintenance and light weight. Fiberglass ladders started to appear in the 1960's, they have fiberglass beams and metal rungs. They are popular with electric utility companies and industry since they are safer around electricity but fiberglass ladders are fairly rare in the fire service. 

The most common type of fire department ladder is the extension ladder, these come in sizes from 8 feet to 65 feet in length (fully extended). The bottom section is known as the bed, the extending sections are known as the fly. Extension ladders 40 feet or longer have poles attached near the top of the bed section to help raise them, these are known as Bangor or Pole ladders. Short (12' >) extension ladders are sometimes called attic ladders, since they are useful for getting into attic hatches.

Straight ladders (also known as wall or single ladders) are simple one section ladders. They are lighter than extension ladders but are less maneuverable because of their length. They can be found up to 32 feet long but 16-20 feet are the most common sizes.

Roof ladders are straight ladders with folding metal hooks at the top. These hooks are used to secure the ladder to the peak of a peaked roof providing better footing to firefighters working on the roof. Roof ladders range from 12-24 feet but 14-16 foot ladders are the most common. The hooks are 3/4" diameter but some older ladders used 5/8" hooks.

Folding ladders are small straight ladders that can be folded lengthwise making a much smaller package. This type of ladder is easy to maneuver inside a building and are often called attic ladders. Folding ladders are also found on small vehicles and brush engines since they take up very little space. Folding ladders range from 8-16 feet, 10 foot ladders are the most common size.  

An unusual ladder is the Pompier or scaling ladder, unlike most ladders it has a single beam running down the center with rungs extending to either side. A pair of these ladders could be used to climb the side of a building going from ledge to ledge or widow to window. They are rarely seen today but were fairly common in the first part of the 20th Century. They are generally 10-16 feet in length.

The last type of ladder is the combination ladder. These are often called Little Giant ladders after one of the major manufacturers. This type of ladder resembles a folding step ladder but it can be extended to make it taller, it can also be folded out to make a straight ladder. These ladders are generally 8-16 feet tall, this refers to the height when formed into an A-frame, these ladders can make straight ladders twice this tall.


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24 foot aluminum extension ladder

This is a two section 24 foot ladder.

Detail of tip and halyard pulley

The rope used to extend the ladder is known as the halyard. The top of the ladder is known as the tip. Some departments use white paint to mark the last 6-18" of the tip.

Detail of foot and halyard anchor

The bottom of a ladder is known as the heel or foot, the little points used for traction are known as spurs. The 24 marked at the foot indicates the ladder length. Some departments use black paint to mark the last 6-18" of the foot.

35 foot aluminum extension ladder

This is a three section 35 foot extension ladder.  

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Detail of tip and halyard pulley

The halyard and pulley is similar to the smaller ladders but notice the cable used to raise the third section. As the halyard raises the middle section it drives the cable raising the top section.

Detail of foot and halyard anchor

This shows how the halyard and cable are anchored at the foot of the ladder.

Detail of halyard and rungs

Another angle looking up from the foot.

Detail of halyard and rungs

Another angle looking down from the tip.

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16 foot aluminum extension ladder

This is a 2 section 16 foot extension ladder. Smaller ladders like this are useful for small vehicles or for use inside buildings.

14 foot aluminum roof ladder

Roof ladders can be identified by the folding hooks at the tip. They are typically found in lengths from 10-20 feet with 12-14 foot ladders being popular sizes. Roof ladders are sometimes used on small vehicles that can't carry an extension ladder.

Detail of the folding hooks.

This shows the folding hooks. These hooks are used to catch the peak of a roof or other secure point. These hooks can easily support the weight of a firefighter even in a fully vertical position suspended completely by the hooks. Some departments mark the last 6-12" of the ladder tip white.

Detail of foot

This shows the foot of the ladder. It is much like the extension ladder with the length marked and spurs to help prevent slipping. Some departments paint the last 6-12" of the foot black.  


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 10 foot aluminum attic ladder

Attic ladders are typically found in lengths from 8-12 feet with 10 feet being a very common length. They are also known as folding ladders. The compact size makes them popular for small vehicles that doesn't have room for a conventional ladder.

Attic ladder (closed)

Attic ladders can be folded for storage and for easier maneuverability in tight spaces. Attic ladders have folding feet which are clearly visible here.

Detail of the locking mechanism

The locking mechanism holds the ladder in the extended position. This is a common style of locking mechanism known as dogs. It is used on aluminum or fiberglass extension ladders.


Detail of the locking mechanism

This is another style of locking mechanism known as pawls. It is generally found on wooden ladders. 


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Pompier ladder

Also known as a scaling ladder, the hook on these ladders was used to climb tall buildings by going from window to window or ledge to ledge. They are generally 10 to 16 feet long. These ladders are rarely seen today but were common in the first half of the 20th Century.


Combination ladder / Little Giant 

The combination ladder is a heavy duty A-frame step ladder. They are also known as Little Giant ladders.

Detail of tip

This shows the folding tip and the locking pins for the extension section. 

Detail of foot

This shows the foot of the ladder and the lower ends of the extension section.

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Combination ladder as A frame

This is the combination ladder set up as an A-frame type ladder. The fly section is fully retracted. The fly section is moved by hand, there are no ropes used.

Combination ladder as extended A frame

This is the ladder with the fly section fully extended. It has stops about every 14" for adjustment of height between the full extension and collapsed positions. The sides are independent allowing different lengths to be set adjusting for uneven surfaces.

Combination ladder used as a straight ladder

The ladder can be swung through 180 degrees allowing it to be used as a straight ladder. This is the retracted position, the ladder could reach nearly twice this height by extending the fly sections.

Wood extension ladder

Wood was the primary material for making ladders until the 1940's. While metal ladders are the most popular type, wood ladders do have their advantages. Because of these features (and tradition) many fire departments continue to use wooden ladders. Wood fire service ladders are generally made from a combination of Douglas fir and Hickory. Composite ladders using wood beams and metal rungs also exist.

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Fiberglass straight ladder

Fiberglass ladders began appearing in the 1960's. These ladders have fiberglass beams and metal rungs. They are popular with electric utility companies since they are less conductive than other types of ladders. While they have become fairly common for home owners and industry, they are are still uncommon in the fire service.

This is a straight ladder, this type ladder is very similar to the roof ladder but does not have the hooks. They are also known as wall ladders.

Head knocker

This is a padded cover used to prevent injury from striking the end of the ladders. There are various designs but most resemble this one.



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