Promotional Prep: Assessment Center Strategy and Tactics Ladder Company Operations

In our first article, Assessment Center Strategy and Tactics, Engine Company Operations, we listed and identified the task-based responsibilities for an Engine Company’s promotional assessment. These same responsibilities can also be used as an educational guide for the street-smart officer. In each of the listed areas, we provided the student with several measurable steps that may need to be addressed and discussed in a promotional exercise. From the simple tasks that we normally take for granted in our day-to-day operations to the more the complex, test candidates need to be prepared to address all areas. In our attempt to assist you further with your promotional preparation, we have enclosed a new list for you to study and prepare for. Task based responsibilities within an assessment center for the ladder company officer will focus around ten primary responsibilities.

(Acronym AL-VES-SCOUP)

  1. Apparatus Placement
  2. Ladders
  3. Ventilation
  4. Forcible Entry
  5. Search
  6. Salvage
  7. In Coordination with……….
  8. Overhaul
  9. Utilities
  10. Provide a Progress Report to Command


Apparatus placement: Apparatus placement responsibilities for the ladder company will focus around several size-up factors that will be present in the either the exercise text, the diagrams/simulations, or the actual incident. The most notably factors will include the building type, height, and square footage, the accessibility to the front and possibly sides of the building, the occupant life hazard, as well as the location of the fire. Seem like a lot? It is not!

To give you a brief example of what we mean by this, if you have a fire on a

lower floor in an occupied multiple dwelling, the first arriving ladder must attempt a position in front of the fire building to provide immediate access to the roof for ventilation of the building’s interior stair. This is a critical requirement in a building of this type. In another example, consider a similar type structure where an occupant is trapped in a window on an upper floor that needs immediate rescue. In yet another, depending upon the size of the building and accessibility to the front and surrounding sides, the first, and even possibly the second arriving ladder company may have the opportunity to place their apparatus turn tables on the building’s corners (AB corner, AD corner) so that they can reach multiple sides for either a rescue attempt(s), roof access, or elevated master stream operations. The point that needs to be made here is ladder company placement is critical. For an assessment exercise, ladder companies must be placed to max out their “scrub area” (reach potential) for any potential objective. Performance dimensions that measure your technical knowledge, adaptability, and initiative will be enhanced with this approach.

Laddering: With the above paragraph in mind, laddering the fire building is another critical task of an arriving ladder company that is often measured in an assessment exercise. Technical scores can focus around ground and/or aerial ladder selection, their placement, and the ladders intended objective. From the type, size, placement, and the intended objective; laddering the building for rescue, ventilation, or to provide an additional means of egress for interior members is a necessary knowledge and skill that all potential officers will need to exhibit.

Ventilation: Measuring ventilation knowledge within a ladder company officer’s responsibility will often focus around the type, the vent’s location, the how to, and the timing of the vent with the engine companies’ movement and direction.

A commonly used exercise to measure a candidate’s ability in this area is to assign the candidate as a vent group or roof division supervisor and require him/her to explain the steps necessary for an effective and safe ventilation operation for a structure fire. Taking the requirements further, the assessment board may also require the candidate to diagram the intended “cuts” on a blackboard as they explain each step.

The “how to” in this potential exercise will obviously be based on the building type and design, as well as the fire’s location within the building. To give you an example of how that may be presented, review the sample question:

Sample exercise: “You respond to a report of a fire on the top floor of a three-story residential wood frame. The building, which was built in 1930, measures approximately 20’x30’ and is at the end of a row six similar attached structures. As the Ladder Company Officer assigned to oversee roof operations - diagram, as well as explain for the assessment board how you would proceed with vertical ventilation operations.”


Before you view the following answer key and diagram, do it on you own.

Attempt this on a blackboard or piece of drawing paper and give a narrative describing your actions and objectives. The only way to become comfortable with an oral assessment exercise is to practice them. Many times!

What follows is a suggested guide to the answer and diagram. We have put the

answer key in an outline form to show needed content. It is important to remember when answering an oral assessment question that you use proper grammar, organization, clarity, and confidence with your response. It is difficult in the written word to give you a detailed narrative response, but the enclosed will at the very least organize your thoughts and emphasize what you will need to concentrate on regarding oral communications.

To start this process, I always advise our students to start with an introductory

statement/heading that introduces organization and clarity into their response.

Sample answer key: “Regarding question #1 and my responsibilities as the officer assigned to oversee roof operations, I would begin by……………………

  • Acknowledging the assignment.
  • Ensure my members are in full PPE, SCBA with all the necessary tools and equipment to handle the task.
  • Advise all members via an URGENT message that the electrical service in the front of the building is compromised and about to fail.
  • State that you would gain access to the building’s roof through the safest and quickest means available. (Be specific and state how)

Student/scenario note: Regarding roof access, note that roof access could be from either an aerial ladder(s), ground ladder(s), or both.

  • Ensure the stability of the cornice before stepping on - better to step over.
  • Ensure the stability of the roof deck before stepping on it.
  • Establish at least two means of escape from the roof.
  • Remove any natural ventilation openings in the fire building.
  • If applicable, determine and report any concerns with the roof deck support system.
  • Determine the location on where to place the primary ventilation hole. Note: In this exercise it should seem obvious, but on a less obvious exercise, state that thermal imaging can help.
  • Plan the cut and inform all members.
  • Consider roof rafter run, top floor room layout, and the anticipated fire travel with the plan.
  • For enhanced safety establish a “guide firefighter” with the “saw firefighter.”
  • Keep the wind at your back.
  • Do not step on your cuts or the projected opening.
  • Cut roof deck, minimum size hole should be 4’x4’.
  • Instruct members to pre-cut opening to enlarge/expand the primary ventilation hole. 7-9-8 cut works well and is a good visual aid.
  • Cut and pull the opening
  • Push down the ceiling.
  • Enlarge hole as needed from precut sections.
  • Report observations and progress to Command and Fire Attack.
  • Ensure that all operations are coordinated with fire attack and Command.
  • Determine the need for a trench/strip cutting operations through use of inspection/examination holes in the roof deck as well as opening/removing any return walls in the adjoining building(s) scuttle or skylight openings.

(the return walls within this scuttle opening are brown in color)

  • If inspection holes, visual observations, as well as reports from the Interior indicate fire is traveling horizontally, establish the location of the trench.
  • The placement of the trench/strip should be at least 20-25’ from the primary ventilation hole. The distance intent is to allow enough time to cut, pull and push the trench
  • The trench/strip should be 3-4 feet wide from the front to rear walls of the structure.
  • The trench should also be pre-cut (crosscut) every 4 feet to assist with the speed in pulling the opening.
  • It is important that the primary ventilation hole be cut, pulled, and pushed before pulling the trench.
  • State that the primary ventilation hole is the offensive opening, the trench is the defensive opening.
  • View rear and side, and report fire conditions, trapped or jumped occupants, exposure concerns, and accessibility options.
  • Other creditable responses noted by the assessor.

Does the above answer and diagram seem a little lengthy? It is not! Remember this is an oral assessment exercise. The time used to present your response will seem like it is flying by. When presenting your response, you must be aware of your time. Time management is important, especially when presenting with a drawing/diagram. Your oral presentation must be coordinated and timed with your drawing as you illustrate the necessary steps. This is the type of assessment exercise where practice really pays off.

Forcible entry, search, salvage and overhaul:  Forcible entry, search, salvage, and overhaul responsibilities for the ladder company officer in an assessment center will focus around the candidate’s ability to recognize the need and describe how to carry out the task.

Within the forcible entry responsibilities, a fireground scenario can involve a commercial building that has a late night, early morning incident. A potential assessment question could require the candidate to address the tools needed to gain entry, identify how the tools would be used, and describe how this task would be coordinated with other operations.

Search responsibilities within an assessment exercise will most notably focus around the technique required for an efficient and safe operation. As an example, fire officers must direct their firefighters to search differently in a warehouse and factory type occupancy, as compared to assigning firefighters to search a private or multiple dwelling. The building’s size, square footage, and layout are some of the factors that will influence the candidate’s responses.

Assessment questions that focus on salvage and overhaul will test the candidate’s ability to plan early, identify their knowledge with procedures, equipment, and use, as well as to show how the tasks would be coordinated with other fireground operations.

Coordinate: Just as we have stated with the engine companies list of responsibilities, the ladder company must also coordinate their efforts with the advancing engine company. This is a crucial consideration for any company officer. We can further emphasis its importance in an assessment center scenario when a fire involves a lower floor of a building. Committing firefighters to search the floors above the fire is a calculated risk that must be coordinated with the stretch of the initially placed hoseline(s). Committing your firefighters above the fire to conduct a search, and not eluding to any type of coordination with a nearby hoseline will bring about a poor score by assessors. 

Utility Control: Utility Control is a task that we often associate as one of the responsibilities of the ladder company. To eliminate confusion and a missed opportunity, we always advise our students to state that they would “control all utilities within the building, specifically the gas, electric, and the water.” Now, it is without doubt, that if specific information within a scenario identifies the need to prioritize one utility over another, you should. However, to begin thinking like a test taker and eliminate a possibly missed answer/opportunity, you should address all utilities.

Progress reports: Finally, just as we did with the engine company, we need to stress the importance of providing Command with progress reports. It has often been said in the fire service, that the eyes and ears of the Chief Officer come from the ladder company. From their assignments, tasks, and overall operations, they are often in the best position to relay specific information about the incident. As with any emergency incident, the information that is relayed from the companies to the Incident Commander helps in the decision-making process.                                                                        *

            Oral assessment exercises that are designed to measure the knowledge, skills, and abilities of a fire officer in a company officer position will require a comprehensive response. Having an organized approach is the first step in scoring well on your promotional exam. We hope the enclosed helps with your promotional exam and your operations in the street.


Author: Michael Terpak has been in the fire service for 44 years spending the last 36 years with the Jersey City Fire Department where he recently retired as a Deputy Chief and City-Wide Tour Commander. He is the founder of Promotional Prep, a New Jersey based consulting firm designed to prepare firefighters and fire officers studying for promotional exams. He can be contacted at or 973-726-9538