The Amazing Pompier Ladder

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The Amazing Pompier Ladder



What is a Pompier ladder?

The "pompier ladder" (pronounced pom-peer) is probably named for French firefighters known as "Pompier" (pronounced pom-pee-yay). It is reported as "invented" by a St. Louis Lieutenant named Christ Hoell. In some fire departments it was also known as the "Hoell Rescue Device."

It turns out that this ladder was just one part of the "Pompier Life-Saving Service". This was a system published by Christ Hoell and introduced into the St. Louis Fire Department on Dec. 19, 1877.

According to Lt. Hoell's great-grandaughter, the device was used in Europe before the U.S. It was when Hoell was working for the Elberfeld, Germany fire department that he became acquanted with the ladder. When he came to America he brought the design and created and marketed a training manual and ladders. To read more about this amazing story and see some excerpts from the manual, go here.

FDNY bought many and place them in service in 1882. The first documented rescue, using a Pompier ladder, was in 1884.

Read more about the French Pompiers on our History page.

Firefighters would scale the upper stories of buildings by reaching out a window and crashing the ladder's hook in a window of the floor above. The firefighter would then climb up the outside of the building, enter the window, or just stand on the sill, and repeat the process. There are many documented rescues, using this tool, on record. While this sounds very dangerous today, it was practiced for decades and there are probably firefighters serving in the US today who have done this. It is probably safe to assume that it was only done in practice. Many firefighter rookie schools required recruits to climb pompier ladders and jump into life nets as part of their training, well into the late twentieth century. (In the 70's and 80's.) I actually have video of a rookie class demonstrating the use of pompier ladders. The Boston area fire departments may STILL use them in training schools today.

Boston Recruits

It is reported that pompier ladders were still carried on
FDNY apparatus until July 11, 1996.

The Dallas Fire Department Museum has dozens of
pompier ladders on display and in storage.


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