Fire doesn't recognize gender -- it swallows everything in its path. In a field that is male-dominated, more women than ever are choosing to become firefighters. Female firefighters share the same duties as the men when it comes to firefighting safety and equipment responsibilities; fire departments expect a lot of their firefighters in this ever-changing and exciting, but physically demanding career. When you gain the knowledge of your ladder responsibilities, it can help you be a better and safer firefighter.
Women firefighters need to be as familiar with ladders and other equipment as they are with their makeup or hair products. Besides understanding the different types of ladders and their various parts, female firefighters need to know how to pick the right ladder for the job, position and carry it, and how to safely climb a ladder while wearing a breathing apparatus over already heavy protection gear. It also helps to know that the International Association of Fire Chiefs recommend positioning a ladder at a 75-degree angle. This includes knowing where to safely set the ladder against a building -- not over a window or door -- how to engage the safety locks, and how to carry or secure tools when using a ladder. A ladder is sometimes the only link a firefighter has to reach and fight a fire or rescue those trapped by fire.
Carrying and Positioning
Firefighting is a team effort and that includes managing and setting up equipment. The size of the ladder determines how many people need to carry and position it. Ladders 35 feet in length require three firefighters -- men or women -- to carry the ladder flat on their shoulders. After determining the safest place to put the ladder, the firefighter on the butt end usually decides where to raise the ladder. After raising, check to ensure safety locks are engaged and the ladder is secure. Before climbing the ladder, it must be secured by tying it or heeling it. One way to heel the ladder is to stand between the ladder and the structure it leans against and grabbing both beams at eye level and use your weight to pull the ladder backward toward the building.
If you're afraid of heights, then joining a fire department might not be the best choice for you. While you don't need to be a Flying Wallenda to become a firefighter, you do need to know how to climb and work on a ladder safely at different heights. This includes understanding the basic three-point contact rule when working on a ladder safely. Keep a three-point contact with the ladder at all times by using two hands and one foot, or one hand and two feet. You also need to become familiar with the dangers of transferring from a ladder to a roof or through a window. Make certain to follow department procedures to safely secure tools when completing a climb.
Inspection and Maintenance
Firefighting responsibilities don't end after the fire is over. Once you get back to the fire house, you need to inspect, clean, maintain or repair your ladders and other equipment after each use, which includes lubricating moving parts and slides or replacing worn halyards. Most departments also require daily inspection of ladders when not in use. You also need to follow the fire department's service and testing requirements for ladders on an annual basis, after rough treatment or after massive heat exposure. After cleaning, firefighters need to check all heat-sensing labels -- up to four per ladder in some departments -- for changes in color that indicate an unsafe ladder, and then store them away from moisture.
As a native Californian, artist, journalist and published author, Laurie Brenner began writing professionally in 1975. She has written for newspapers, magazines, online publications and sites. Brenner graduated from San Diego's Coleman College.