Hook and Irons
A Brief History of the Pompier Ladder May 18 2014, 19 Comments
Like most firefighters, I have a fascination and respect for anyone who has ever climbed or worked from a Pompier Ladder. As buildings in the late 1800's grew in size and height, the ladder became a necessary tool for window rescues and scaling above the reach of ground ladders. The ladder, shaped like a question mark, is driven hook first into the window above the firefighter. The hook is pulled into the sill. Then the firefighter climbs to the window, straddles the sill, raises the ladder to the next floor and repeats the process until he reaches his destination. The pompier ladder is a simple, but effective tool for scaling buildings and saving lives.
The pompier Ladder was introduced to the United States in 1877 by Lt. Christ Hoell of the St. Louis Fire Department. He learned of the tool and the method while working for the Elberfeld, Germany Fire Department. The ladder had been invented about 50 years earlier in Germany and was already seeing wide use through the southern part of the country.
In 1873 (at the age of 27) Christ Hoell emigrated from Germany and settled in St. Louis where he was a stone mason until he was appointed to the St. Louis Fire Department. Early in 1877 two major fires in the St. Louis area prompted Christ Hoell to suggest and bring forth the idea of a 'Pompier Corps', to which he would train firefighters in the Pompier Ladder and other life-saving methods. By December of the following year Lt. Hoell had trained St. Louis FD Hook and Ladder 3 and 4 and the first pompier crew was put into service in the United States.
After training the St. Louis Fire Department, Christ Hoell was given leave to train FDNY in the use of the ladder and his other life-saving methods. New York's first rescue with the Hoell rescue device (pompier ladder) occurred on April 7, 1884 and was performed by John Binns of Ladder Co. 3. The last rescue occurred on December 15, 1967. Gene Dowling of Ladder Co. 25 made the daring rescue in 30+ mile per hour winds. Both the first and the last rescues performed with the pompier ladder earned the James Gordon Bennet Medal, the highest honor bestowed to FDNY firefighters.
Many people owe their lives to this odd ladder and the daring firefighters who scaled the sides of buildings to save victims. The FDNY carried the pompier ladder on their trucks until July 11, 1996 when it was decommissioned. The Boston Fire Department still uses the ladder as part of its recruit training.
This design was hand drawn by Tom Lane using a turn of the century style that we believe matches the heart and soul of the ladder. The lower left portion of the shirt displays the St. Louis FD logo with the year that Christ Hoell introduced the ladder to America. We hope you like this new design as much as we do.