#TIL- Ladder up, up and awry: Getting San Francisco’s firefighters out of the woods
By Yash Narain
Transport electrification and firefighting do not seem to have much in common, right? Yet San Francisco’s Fire Department has had to cope with an unintended consequence of electrification. Unlike most fire departments in the US which switched to lighter, cheaper, and easier to maintain aluminium ladders eons ago, San Francisco’s still uses wooden ones. While bringing a wooden ladder to douse an inferno seems like a bad idea, getting an aluminium ladder in contact with an electrical cable is qualitatively worse. This could be a possibility since San Francisco’s heritage-fueled streets run under a canopy of low-lying electrical wires that power its vast network of trolleybuses and streetcars. Riding with a metallic ladder protruding out or climbing one to douse a flame at a height can thus prove to be fatal.
To avoid potential electrocution, San Francisco has not only rejected the switch to aluminium but embraced its figurative wooden spoon with pride. It is the only Fire Department in the US to have its own, in-house ladder-making shop, building and maintaining 13 different types of ladders, some of which have had a service record of over 100 years!
The electric revolution will beget irreversible, wholesale, and systemic change, even across seemingly peripheral domains. Roadside assistance, denting and painting, and vehicle servicing sectors are already priming themselves for the oncoming transition. But if San Francisco’s experience is anything to go by, a lot more will change, arguably in ways we cannot yet anticipate or prepare for. We must brace for EV impact, and become what a common firefighting motto implores firefighters to be- Semper Paratus (Always Ready).
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