Aerials, Apparatus, Petrillo

Pros and Cons of Ladders vs. Platforms

Issue 4 and Volume 21.

No matter what fire department you walk into in the United States, you’ll find a preference for one type of aerial device over another-straight ladder over platform or vice versa.

While there are advantages and disadvantages to both ladders and platforms, firefighters typically choose to use the type of aerial vehicle that matches up best with their department’s circumstances, but also occasionally they choose a type of aerial based on department history with one type or another.

Decision Process

Chris Wade, director of aerial products at E-ONE, says E-ONE doesn’t recommend one type of aerial over another for a fire department but tries to find the truck that works well for it. “We ask them what they want their truck to do for them,” Wade says. “We also want to know if there are any predefined limits on the truck, like with overall length or height.”

Jason Witmier, product manager of aerials at KME, says the decision of ladder vs. platform usually comes down to the customer’s preference and the cost of the vehicle. “For many fire departments, if they can afford it and their area will support its size, they like the platform, especially because it gives them a better surface to work from for aerial operations like venting the roof and setting firefighters down on a roof,” he says. “A platform gives more security for those types of operations.”

1 E-ONE built this 100-foot rear-mount platform for the Sarasota (FL) Fire Department. (Photo courtesy of E-ONE
1 E-ONE built this 100-foot rear-mount platform for the Sarasota (FL) Fire Department. (Photo courtesy of E-ONE.)

Tim Smits, national sales manager for Pierce Manufacturing Inc., says that ladders are trending to be more popular right now than platforms. “One year ladders will skyrocket, and the next year it might be the complete opposite with platforms rising,” Smits observes. “Also, right now, tractor-drawn aerials (TDAs) are on a big rise, and we categorize them with ladders. But every year is different.”

Paul Christiansen, aerial sales manager for Ferrara Fire Apparatus, says Ferrara always goes with what fits the customer’s needs. “Some fire departments have always worked off of either a straight stick or a platform,” Christiansen points out, “and they feel uncomfortable with the other type of aerial.” He notes that platforms typically are thought of as both rescue and fire suppression vehicles, with stable platforms at the end of the ladders and typically large waterways. “But, ladders also have a rope rescue pulley option that’s controlled from the turntable,” he points out, “so you’re able to have a rescue function with a straight stick too. However, with a platform, you will get a higher water flow-up to 2,000 gallons per minute (gpm) from a rear-mount platform-while a straight stick will be in the 1,250- to 1,500-gpm range.”

2 KME built this 79-foot AerialCat ladder quint for the William Cameron Fire Co. in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. (Photo courtesy of KME
2 KME built this 79-foot AerialCat ladder quint for the William Cameron Fire Co. in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. (Photo courtesy of KME.)

Smits notes that fire departments should look at the building where the aerial will be housed. “They should check the length and height of the bay, the door height, and the floor structure to be sure it can support the weight of the aerial,” Smits says. “They also should look at the types of structures they have in the area and whether they need high water flow for commercial or industrial facilities or rescue capability for hospitals and nursing homes.”

Wade points out that while it’s impossible to plan for every type of incident, it’s important for a department to identify what the aerial is to do on a fire scene. “With a platform, you can have it elevated for a long period of time and flow more water from it, which increases the envelope of firefighting and rescue for the department,” Wade says. “But, there may be a lot of obstacles on the scene, so a straight ladder is better for threading its way through obstacles like trees where a platform would be too large to go.”

Pros and Cons

Witmier says that KME sells more ladders than platforms, perhaps because of their maneuverability. “Ladders are typically more maneuverable than platforms,” he notes. “You can stay with a single rear axle to reduce the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) or go with a higher GVWR and carry more equipment.”

Smits notes that the advantages of ladders include less gross vehicle weight, greater water tank capacities, easier positioning around obstructions, greater maneuverability, shorter overall length, longer ladder lengths, shorter stabilizer stance, and less cost. Advantages of platforms, he says, are higher water flow capacities, dual monitors, higher payload capacities, a safer work space when elevated, a safer evacuation method for young and elderly persons, more rescue options at the tip, greater maneuverability with the platform, safer use of Stokes rescues, and lifting eyes at the bottom of the basket as elevated anchor points.

3 The Spring (MO) Fire Department chose Ferrara Fire Apparatus to build this 100-foot midmount platform that has a 99-foot horizontal reach at zero degrees, a 1,000-pound dry tip load, and a 500-pound wet tip load flowing 1,500 gpm. (Photo courtesy of Ferrara Fire Apparatus
3 The Spring (MO) Fire Department chose Ferrara Fire Apparatus to build this 100-foot midmount platform that has a 99-foot horizontal reach at zero degrees, a 1,000-pound dry tip load, and a 500-pound wet tip load flowing 1,500 gpm. (Photo courtesy of Ferrara Fire Apparatus.)

Ladder disadvantages, according to Smits, include less payload and water flow capacities, the need for personnel to climb the ladder, no heat shield protection at the tip, limited rescue features at the tip, no dual monitors, and the inability to move from window to window with firefighters on the tip.

Smits says that platform disadvantages are a bigger apparatus, greater GVWR, the platform hanging out in front or behind the apparatus, higher overall height, longer overall length, wider stabilizer stance, and higher cost. “However, some departments find a type of aerial vehicle that fits them perfectly, and they stay with that type,” he says. “For example, the Los Angeles (CA) Fire Department is all TDAs, which essentially are ladders, while the Orlando (FL) Fire Department is all platforms. The requirements in their communities drive what type of aerial vehicles they use.”

Product Offerings

Ferrara makes platforms in midmount models of 75-, 85-, and 100-foot lengths and rear-mount platforms of 85 and 100 feet. Its ladders include 57- and 77-foot single-rear-axle models and 107- and 127-foot tandem-rear-axle ladders.

Pierce makes a 75-foot midmount platform and 85-foot and 100-foot rear-mount models. In ladders, it makes a 100-foot midmount and rear mounts in 55-, 65-, (both Skybooms), 75-, 100-, 105-, and 107-foot lengths.

4 Pierce Manufacturing Inc. built this PUC 105-foot rear-mount ladder for the Taylor (TX) Fire Department. (Photo courtesy of Pierce Manufacturing Inc
4 Pierce Manufacturing Inc. built this PUC 105-foot rear-mount ladder for the Taylor (TX) Fire Department. (Photo courtesy of Pierce Manufacturing Inc.)

E-ONE makes platforms in 92- and 100-foot rear-mount models and a 95-foot midmount. In ladders it makes the 50-foot Teleboom and rear mounts of 75, 78, 100, 105, 110, and 137 feet along with a 100-foot TDA.

KME offers two rear-mount platforms (95- and 102-footers) and three midmounts (81-, 95-, and 100-footers). In ladders, KME makes midmounts of 75 and 100 feet, and its rear-mount ladders are made in 79-, 103-, 109-, and 123-foot lengths.

ALAN M. PETRILLO is a Tucson, Arizona-based journalist and is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. He served 22 years with the Verdoy (NY) Fire Department, including in the position of chief.