I have a 'continuing' discussion with a few people (all of whom have only ever worked with/on ladders since joining the department) about the right way to foot (or heel) a ladder.  Granted I was "taught" the fire service way -to stand beneath the ladder holding the rails- but when I'm footing the ladder I stand facingit (and when climbing I'd prefer the footer do the same).  

I've done carpentry/construction for years and have never seen anyone stand beneath a ladder.  The risk of being hit by dropped tools/materials is too great.  Yet the fire service still teaches this method.

In my opinion, footing the ladder while facing it allows the footer to watch the FF climbing, be aware of any hazards (including dropped tools) and, under conditions or situations where the ladder might slip, allow the footer to actually stand on the bottom rung for additional ballast.

I'm not looking for a poll as to which way you do it but rather, sound arguments for one way or the other.

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I won't deny the logicality of your arguments but (there's always a butt, pun intended):

1. If the ground surface is slippery the force of the ladder moving away from the building will slide you along with it You have no traction to resist, either). By facing the ladder, one can either put their feet against the ladder pads -which will help resist the slipping action- or one could stand on the bottom rung -putting more downward force on the ladder.

2. As for being safer, by facing the ladder you can see objects as they start to fall (tools, glass, firefighter) and dodge (if necessary) while still keeping a foot on the pad. Facing the ladder likewise increases (dramatically) the FF's situational awareness (thanks WP). Also, if the ladder happens to be positioned in front of a first floor window and FF's inside decide they need to make a fast exit, they may be blocked by the FF beneath the ladder and, whether pushed or moves voluntarily he is no longer 'footing' the ladder.

3. Assigned to foot a ladder may be a temporary assignment or more long term (depending on the situation and tasks being performed.) But in either case, being able to see what is going on is essential for everyone's safety and simply knowing when it is safe to walk away (see the video).

Reg, like I said, your arguments are logical, it's just a matter of which method may be more logical. Personally I have a lot of experience with ladders and I find (and trade most people in the building trade would agree) that facing the ladder is the best method. IMHO
Hey jack,

Your points are extremely valid, but they are exceptions to the "run-of-the-mill" assignment to heel in a ladder. Anyway, here's my reBUTTal!

On slippery(assuming muddy?) surfaces, by heeling in from behind, your weight is directing the force on the ladder downward, further anchoring the heel of the ladder into the ground. And because your fulcrum point(your body) is closer to the bottom of the ladder, I believe it would take more than the weight of one fully loaded FF to move the ladder at all.

Your second scenario is a distinct possibility, but again, I believe it would be an unusual exception to the rule.

On your third point, even if you heel in from the front, you should never look up to watch anyone ascend or descend the ladder. This is due to falling debris(little stuff) glass bits and the like from falling in to your eyes from their boots.

I truly believe that the reasons many people still heel in from the front is it seems to be the most logical way, and also(perhaps) the old superstition about passing under a ladder.

But to prove a point, here is an experiment I encourage all of you to try. Throw a ladder and put a body on the roof. Have someone heel it in from the front and instruct them to do their best to prevent any ladder movement. Then have the person on the roof push or pull the ladder from side to side(I would recommend using a pike pole for safety). Then perform the same actions, but with your "heeler" working from behind the ladder. This experiment should reinforce my argument about heeling in from the back side being more stable.

In addition, an earlier poster mentioned the danger from falling glass if heeling a ladder from someone taking out a window while on the ladder. Whoever it was needs to go back and re-read the section on taking out windows. If the person heeling the ladder is directly under the window, then the person taking OUT the window is directly under the window...not the proper precedure for removing a window!

And another thing, if you DO decide to try my experiment, while your roof guy is up there, have him take a picture of the "heeler" both in front of, and behind the ladder. You'll might be suprised at the amount of coverage all those rungs and rails provide!

Okay, now I'm up to about 7.5 cents on THIS topic!
First off let me say I prefer heeling while facing the building, but since you are looking for valid points against your argument, let me take a whack.

Fire service ladders are generally rated for 750 pounds. Therefore, more then 1 person can be on the ladder at once. If you have someone on the fly section of a 28' ladder and the heel man steps aside to allow another member up to help support the hose line, there will be a span of time where there is no one heeling the thing. Obviously a dangerous situation.

The heel man has a critical job while performing his task. Unless mechanical means of heeling are sought, he can not falter so long as someone is on the ladder. If he is not paying attention to the ladder, and instead, facing the building and trying to direct people, or trying to help push the hose up the ladder, he becomes a danger to those he was scheduled to protect.

These arguments are not meant to be persuasive, but I think they stand the straight face test as a sound argument.
I've always faced (and taught others to) the ladder when footing.

The only time I have anyone under the ladder supporting it is when a ladder slide is being performed.
Having seen too many ladder collapses at construction sites I wouldn't put myself under a ladder to "foot" the ladder. Ladders rarely go backwards when they collapse so now your entertaining a collapse hurting not only the firefighter on the ladder but the firefighter whom is footing it as well. Footing the ladder is just what it sounds like, FOOTing it. Relying on only arm strength is a losing battle when you have a firefighter weighing 270 pounds dressed.
I agree with Jack, that ladders should be footed in front. My only argument for footing from behind was already mentioned. I think you would have more control over sideways movement if you were behind it due to body position and body weight. Being in front and trying to stop sideways movement would be a little harder I suspect, because I don't think that you could get close enough to get the leverage it takes to stop it. Obviousely I haven't been in this situation yet, so my thoughts are just that, thoughts.
As for sliding, definately footing from the front is better, I think. More force on the foot will increase friction. Hopefully enough to stop the slipping.

As for the vid. posted, I've been on a few ladders and have footed a few ladders, and I know what it feels like. The guy "footing" the ladder in the video obviousely wasn't paying attention. He should have felt the FF still moving on the ladder. And he still could have given a quick look up to make sure. And as for glass falling in your face or eyes,. you should be wearing your goggles or have your shield in place.
I think Jack was on to something about food arriving.
This is the argument I've always heard. It keeps the "footer" out of the way of people going up and down the ladder, hoses, tools, etc. Also, you can put more force on the ladder hanging off the bottom of it than leaning against it from the front. We were taught to stand with our feet against the ladder if we were in front of it to keep it from kicking out.

I think the proper answer is that it's more stable to foot from behind the ladder, and you never need to let go. That said, sometimes it makes more sense to foot from the front, so teach both and use your head!

When you say "...hopefully enough to stop the slipping", that is not exactly a ringing endorsement for footing the ladder from the front.
OK, how many of those ladder collapses at construction sites were fire service ladders, manufactured to NFPA standards, and tested annually for NFPA compliance?

I'm betting that the answer is "zero", and I don't think your example is valid for the fire service.

I've heeled ladders from the back for 35 years and in busy departments that caught a lot of fire, and I've never seen a fire service ground ladder collapse. I have seen several firefighters footing the ladder from the front get injured by firefighters slipping and falling onto them, having tools dropped on them, and being hit by the nozzle from a dropped hose line.

A ladder collapse is a rare event. Firefighters slipping or dropping tools or hose is common.
We shouldn't ignore the common hazards while protecting ourselves from rare ones.

As for strength - well, proper heeling the ladder from the back doesn't just rely on arm strength - it uses the firefighter's entire body weight to keep the ladder foot in place. The arms are just the connection point. A foot simply doesn't apply enough force to keep the ladder in place if the ladder is footed into mud, on a hard, smooth surface like concrete or asphalt, or especially on oily or icy surfaces. Firefighter weight on the ladder's back side works under all of those conditions.
I was taught both ways. I use whichever seems appropriate at the time. Most of the time it's hangiing my weight under the ladder - but I don't hold onto the rungs, too close to the heavy boots! I think tha ladder is far more secure with me under it, than it could be with my feet placed on the heels of the ladder. Stuff falling? The ladder will help there. I also keep my head still and have my visor down.

I beleive if this was footed from the front (And the other firefighter didn't walk away) then this would have less chance of happening.

If a member is hanging on from the back, I don't beleive they could have the strength or proper positioning to stop this sliding momentum.
True Luke, but if he hadn't let go, I don't think the ladder would have slipped, it doesn't start sliding until the 'footer' has moved clear. Well, it probably wouldn't have started sliding if he'd had his wait on it, not simply standing there holdiing it! If it was slippery underfoot, I'd probably have stood facing the wall; if not? As I said, I'll use the method that best seems to suit the moment.

I've footed ladders between two walls where facing the wall wouldn't have been possible, too close to allow wall facing, yet too far apart to allow the ladder to be propped between the two walls.

With the foot of the ladder placed in a garden bed, or on a soft grass bed, the ladder feels far more secure to me when I'm under it. Somebody with a lot less body weight than me? Who knows, but then they also may not have the strength nor body weight to hold the ladder with their feet?

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