The job assigned to a Ladder Company at a fire is determined by the arrival sequence of the ladder. For this discussion, we will consider an assignment to a report of a house fire. This type of assignment would include two engines, one ladder, and one assistant chief.
The first ladder to arrive at the scene of a working fire will assist the first engine with gaining access to the building: "forcible entry." Once entry is made the crew will do a quick search of all areas which can be entered. They are looking for victims and for fire. They will advise the engine as to where they should stretch hose lines. As they search, they will ventilate the building as they go opening windows to remove the smoke. If the fire is on the top floor, the ladder crew will go to the roof to ventilate it. After the crew has completed a primary and a secondary search they are assigned to open up the walls, ceiling, and floors to look for fire which may be burning out of sight.
The ladder operators (drivers) are assigned to position the truck to be able to use and if needed raise the aerial ladder. It is critical and often very difficult to position properly as it must be close enough to the building to reach it and due to obstructions, like parked cars, trees, overhead power lines and in some cases other emergency vehicles. Once that is completed, the drivers team up to perform outside ventilation and to set up portable ladders, and lighting. Outside ventilation usually includes breaking the windows in the fire room from the outside. This ventilation will remove some of the heat from the fire area allowing engine companies to get close enough to extinguish the seat of the fire.