Training on the Pedestal
Many fire departments across the country perform “in-house” training for pump operator and aerial apparatus driver training. If you’re lucky, your department has a training course setup that is designed to give you the operational skills needed to operate the apparatus as well as drive the apparatus.
Some departments have members go offline and report to the training academy to learn how to operate and drive the apparatus. These classes are great for larger departments that may have numerous different types of aerial apparatus (aerial, tiller, and tower ladder) because it gives the firefighter knowledge of each of the apparatus’s physical differences as well as their different tactical operations. In whatever training you provide, creating a qualified operator who can skillfully operate the apparatus while responding to and working at a fire or emergency should be our common goal.
With the onset of the computer age, we are less likely to provide all our students with handouts, and we just let them see a photo on the screen of a particular item. Sure, that works well in a lecture atmosphere, but does it really let our students learn and memorize a specific item? If your department operates a few different types of aerial and tower ladder apparatus, the pedestal can be much different. The main control levers are usually the same compared with years ago, but other switches will be in different locations. Giving your students a drawing of each apparatus’s pedestal will enable them to study the control and switch locations. Our goal in teaching students the location of the pedestal’s main control handles—extension, rotation, and hoist—is so they can operate the ladder apparatus without continually staring or glancing downward at their hand and lever position to operate the controls. This might seem trivial, but they’ll be operating these expensive apparatus when a life is at stake at a window or on a fire escape and have to operate around wires, street lights, and tree branches to reach those trapped.
So, our first pedestal training lesson should be to teach the operator the three main control handle locations and functions. The levers are three-position levers with two distinct movements from the center safety/neutral position. If the lever is either pushed away or pulled toward the operator, the lever will perform one of two functions. To learn the lever locations, we should teach the students the “E-R-H” acronym: Extend-Rotate-Hoist. The first lever, working from the left to the right, is for ladder extension and retraction; the middle lever is for rotation (left or right); and the right lever is for hoist position (raise or lower the level of the boom). Some levers may have safety mechanisms on them that must be lifted as the handle is moved or it won’t release from the neutral position. Others may have a button that must be pushed on the top of the handle to move the lever into the desired position. Others may have nothing but a lever that must be moved to operate the ladder. Depending on the type of apparatus your department operates, a “dead-man” foot switch may be located on the turntable. The pedestal operator must stand on this switch for the pedestal controls to function. This switch, when engaged, will also take away power from a tower ladder bucket’s controls.
Many ladder and tower ladder apparatus will have common lever controls, but others will vary. The first lever for extension most commonly has the operator push the lever forward to extend the ladder and pull it toward him to retract the ladder sections. The middle lever is for rotation, and among manufacturers this is the most common one that may differ. You’ll have to learn your particular apparatus lever to learn which way the right and left rotation function operates (photos 1 and 2). The last lever is for the hoist or boom level function, commonly referred to as the angle of degree. Pulling the lever back toward the operator will raise the angle of the boom, while pushing it away from the operator will lower the boom.
A quick trick in apparatus pedestal training after the students have been taught the “E-R-H” acronym and feel comfortable operating the apparatus from the pedestal is to take the training up a notch. Prior to the student beginning the next segment of training, cover the control function designations with colored painter’s tape or place a piece of cardboard over the functions so the operator can’t see the instructional designation functions printed on the pedestal. Now, when the operator gets up on the pedestal and goes to glance down at the handles, he won’t be able to see what direction the handles must be moved for ladder positions. This is where the training should kick in, and he should remember the E-R-H acronym and how he must move each lever.
Some think this might be a little drastic to do to a student, but this isn’t performed on the initial training. It is done once he has grasped the operational skills in operating the ladder and is ready to learn how to concentrate on the ladder’s and tip’s position in a pressure situation such as a rescue or removal. As a training instructor, this instruction should only be performed at a training facility and not around live wires or areas with other severe overhead obstructions. This is for teaching students the value of knowing their controls inside and out because they will be operating in our world of stressful situations. This training will benefit not only them but also the people they are rescuing. In the real world, it is OK to glance down to double check your movements, especially when operating around live wires at a fire, but we should be stressing the value of memorizing our pedestal’s control lever functional positions. After all, when you compare this to operating a ratchet with a socket or how to tighten or loosen a nut or screw, everyone in the fire service knows the clockwise and counterclockwise operation. “Righty Tighty-Lefty Loosie” can be memorized—so should your pedestal levers!
Locating the tip of the ladder or tower ladder bucket for an objective such as a window, fire escape, or roof is one of the most practiced skills we perform. Students will usually master some of these skills early in their training after repeated training maneuvers at the academy tower. If your training tower or building has a mock-up of power lines, they will add to the reality of placing the device with this dangerous overhead obstruction. After the students become familiar with the aerial device and spotting it, we can take the training to another level with cone-to-cone training drills.
Our first step in cone-to-cone training is to get a piece of utility rope and feed it through the small hole at the top of a traffic cone. Then tie a knot large enough so the rope won’t slide through the small hole. Next, tie the cone onto the tip or top rung of the aerial ladder or from the bottom of a tower ladder bucket, with about five to seven feet of rope and the traffic cone dangling below it. Now the apparatus is ready for the drill to begin. While setting up the apparatus, place other cones at multiple locations on the drill field. These cones should be placed at various distances, heights, and locations to resemble different areas the devices will need to be placed during a fire or emergency. As in all drills, do not practice this evolution near energized wires. In the event of irregular movements by the pedestal operator, the dangling cone could come in contact with the wires and cause a true emergency resulting in apparatus damage and serious injury to personnel.
Once the stationary cones are in place, the operator will move the ladder device to all the cones in succession, placing the dangling cone on top of the stationary cone. The methodology is to move the apparatus with precise, slow movements so the dangling cone isn’t swinging like a pendulum, knocking the stationary cone over. The idea of the drill is for the operator to have slow and decisive hand movements over the controls to move the apparatus with skill and precise movements. This simulates approaching a window with a victim trapped or one ready to self-exit, moving a tower ladder with an injured victim in a Stokes basket, and positioning a device out onto a frozen pond with a victim through the ice. The drill also teaches depth perception on how far an object is from the turntable and height perception on how much distance there is between the ladder device and the objective.
One thing to keep in mind when performing the drill is to watch the weather—if you’re performing the drill on a windy day, the dangling cone will be swinging in the air from the wind’s speed and make the drill more difficult to perform, causing frustration for the operator. Often, this drill will turn out to be a friendly competition between the participants. There will be chatter among them, creating a little stress for the operator, which can mimic some of the stress he’ll be under while operating at an emergency scene. After each student has performed the drill and gained some insight on how the controls operate when moved slowly and deliberately, do the drill again but this time record each student’s time. Repetition adds some friendly competition to the whole process, but it also ramps up the student’s speed and agility in moving the controls and cones from spot to spot.
Another simple cone drill is to place the cones in various places but in a different pattern. If you’re using a tower ladder apparatus, put the bucket at a few locations during setup and place a cone on the outside of the bucket (on each side) with a few inches to spare on each side. For parapet placement, allow about a foot on each side, but if you’re placing the bucket on the ground, make it a bit tighter (about six inches on each side) and have the operator place the bucket between the cones. The same can be done with an aerial ladder, but the cones can be a bit closer together because the operator will be able to see both sides of the ladder’s tip from the pedestal.
During tower ladder training, you can allow another firefighter to spot the opposite side of the bucket from the opposite side of the pedestal control firefighter to help positioning. One tip to remind the students is that the tighter and closer they are to their side will allow the bucket to fit between the cones. With both tower ladders and aerial ladders with bucket/tip movement controls, this drill can be performed by the operator controlling the apparatus from the bucket or tip controls, adding another dimension to apparatus operator training.
Another fun method of teaching this is to put some large plastic soda bottles filled with water with their caps down into the holes on top of the traffic cones. If the students hit the cones too hard during the evolution, the water bottles fall out of the cones. Just use caution that no one is in the area below the cones so they don’t get struck with a falling water bottle.
These three evolutions are ways to teach pedestal operator training and provide students with more hands-on drills in their initial learning period. Remember, the training shouldn’t stop at these drills. When you’re out at an automatic fire alarm, on building inspections, or when faced with a unique positioning obstacle, talk about apparatus positioning and set up the rig to become proficient in operating your apparatus in your response district.
MICHAEL N. CIAMPO is a 33-year veteran of the fire service and a lieutenant in the Fire Department of New York. Previously, he served with the District of Columbia Fire Department. He has a bachelor’s degree in fire science from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. He is the lead instructor for the FDIC Truck Essentials H.O.T. program. He wrote the Ladders and Ventilation chapters for Fire Engineering’s Handbook for Firefighter I and II (Fire Engineering, 2009) and the Bread and Butter Portable Ladders DVD and is featured in “Training Minutes” truck company videos on www.FireEngineering.com. He also writes the back page column “ON FIRE” in Fire Engineering.