Ladder companies are sometimes called "truck" companies, "hook-and-ladder" companies, "aerial" companies, and "snorkel" companies. Such labels might partially describe ladder company apparatus, but they do not even hint at the planning, personnel, equipment and training that are coordinated in an efficiently operating ladder company. A ladder truck and a driver do not make a ladder company, any more than a pumper and a driver make an engine company.
The ladder company provides access to, and exits for, all parts of a fire building. Ladder company crews also are responsible for removing heat, smoke and gases to allow greater visibility and permit engine company crews to move rapidly and safely within a fire building or exposed buildings. These examples do not by any means include all the duties of a ladder company, but they do illustrate two important points about ladder company work.
Ladder work is required at every fire.
Ladder operations either accompany or precede engine operations.
Ladder company apparatus and equipment have been designed to permit ladder crews to function effectively and quickly in accomplishing the five fire fighting objectives. Listed in the order in which they must be accomplished, these objectives are:
Confine the fire
Extinguish the fire
Overhaul the fireground
All but the last of these objectives are carried out in an atmosphere of flame and smoke. Therefore, it is essential that fire fighters understand the nature of fire and the factors that affect its spread, including building construction, type of occupancy, and types of fuel available to the fire.
Through thorough training and experience, ladder company personnel must acquire knowledge, skill and judgement in performing the nine basic duties usually assigned to ladder companies. These duties are:
Checking fire extension
At some fires, it might be necessary for a ladder company to perform all of these operations; other fires might require only some of the duties. Just as situations vary, procedures for each situation will also vary. With the exception of rescue, the duties are not necessarily performed in the order given above; that, too, depends on the fire situation.