Trust your team.


"This is a big bitch!"

"Ugh… you ain't lying," I grunted as I drove my body upward and pushed the weight over my head. 

Side-by-side, Bill and I were in the process of raising the largest extension ladder that DCFD has. A six-man operation, extending the forty-five foot monstrosity of the fire service and placing it against a building is a tedious operation. Ideally, two personnel are at the heel, keeping the base from going anywhere; two are near the tip, actually pushing it up into the air; and two are driving it up with the stabilizing poles mounted on the sides (also known more aptly as "tormentors").

Rumor has it that it's been done with just four people, but I've found no conceivable scenario where it could be thrown with less than that. Hey, maybe it's possible… you never know. 


According to the Duo-Safety Ladder Corporation (motto: "Use a good ladder or stay on the ground"), the Series 1525-A three-section solid-beam extension ladder with poles weighs 240 lbs.—and its current MSRP is $1,854.00, if anyone's curious.

Even with six people, it's still a big pain in the ass. Nevertheless, our intrepid recruit class made it through today without incident—although there was a moment where we thought we were going to drop the fully extended ladder onto Truck 15, which was awaiting the driver training course at the Academy. Needless to say, the crew who was watching us hopped in the cab and moved their piece pretty quickly.



Would you climb this? Come on, there's a couple guys holding it at the bottom, I promise.

Do you remember when you would go to summer camp, and they did that team-building exercise where you fall backwards off a picnic table and all your cabin mates catch you? 

This was that exercise on steroids. 

Called the "steeple" or "auditorium" raise, this was invented when some sadistic (yet clever) bastard figured out that you could make a ladder stable enough to climb without leaning it against anything. Like a Maypole from hell, ropes are hitched to the beams at the top and pulled taught while additional personnel hold the ladder at its base.

Thirty-five feet, straight up; and not even a nice comfy windowsill to greet you at the top. No, this time you have to climb over the top rung and descend on the other side. 


"Trust your classmates" was the phrase of the day. In truth, they're the only things holding you upright, so you have to hope and pray they're being attentive to their respective lines. I didn't have too much of a problem with that; the issue was feeling comfortable when perched on the top, swinging my leg over. It definitely wobbles a bit (I could count the number of comfortably stable ladders we've climbed during our tenure on one hand), but it's surprisingly stable.


Not a single recruit stepped off that ladder with a steady hand;
everyone's heart was pou
nding as we proclaimed it one hell of a time. As one instructor said today: this entire experience is about pushing yourself to do something new and exciting while learning as much as you can. Every day, we're out here with amazing, unique opportunities; I plan to keep taking advantage of them for the next five weeks.

Outside of our comfort zone? No problem. We do it every day—and we love it.


1 Comment

  • Ray says:

    Man, great (if terrifying) post! Makes ‘Big Louie’ look like a step stool!
    I guess if this firefighting thing doesn’t work out, you can always join the circus :)

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Alex Capece

Washington, D.C. Firefighter and Paramedic

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"For anyone who ever wanted to grow up and become a firefighter... from someone who did just that."
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