San Francisco firefighters favor wooden ladders


San Francisco firefighters raising a ladder.
Photo courtesy of the San Francisco Fire Department

Adapted from The Vancouver Sun

 Level 3

Only two dozen fire departments in the U.S. still use wooden ladders.
These ladders are strong, safe and long-lasting.
Most fire stations changed to aluminum ladders 50 years ago.
Metal ladders are cheaper, lighter and need fewer repairs.
They last 15 to 20 years.

San Francisco, however, is the only fire department which makes
and repairs its own ladders.  A crew of three men build 13 different types.
They keep a record of almost 400 ladders in a book
which is nearly 100 years old.

Why wooden ladders?
The city has narrow, winding streets and old wood houses.
There are many power lines for buses and streetcars.
If a wood ladder touches an electrical wire, no one will be hurt.
The heavier wood ladders will not move in the wind.
They hardly bounce if a person climbs quickly.
If one end of the ladder gets hot, the rest stays cool.
The inside of the wood parts stays strong even if the outside chars.

The worst fire in this city was in 1906. This was after the famous
San Francisco earthquake.  More than 3,000 people died
and 28,000 buildings were destroyed.

What kind of wood are the ladders made out of?
Douglas fir, from the Pacific Northwest, is used for fire ladders.
The wood has to sit in the shop for 15 years before it is ready.
“No one’s been injured on one of our ladders,” says Jerry Lee proudly.

Lee has worked in the shop for 27 years.
He and Qing Du are pattern makers.
Michael Braun, shop supervisor, said, “To find replacements
for gentlemen like this is not easy.”

The oldest extension ladder, called “B3”, is 15 metres long.
It weighs 160 kilograms. This old-timer is 96 years old!