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The Lever Study Guide for McGraw-Hill's Firefighter Exams

By Ronald R. Spadafora
McGraw-Hill Professional
Updated on Jun 25, 2011

A lever is a simple machine consisting of a bar or rigid object that is free to turn about a fixed point called the fulcrum. The fulcrum is known as the pivot point. A lever will apply an effort (force) at a different point from the resistance force (load). Levers are classified into three classes—first class, second class, and third class—based on the position of the effort (force), the resistance force (load), and the fulcrum.

First-Class Lever

In a first-class lever, the fulcrum is between the effort (force) and the resistance force (load). Common examples of first-class levers are the crowbar, the claw hammer (when being used to remove nails), pliers, tin snips, a car jack, and a seesaw. With a first-class lever, the direction of the force always changes. An example of this is when a downward effort (force) on the lever causes an upward movement of the resistance force (load).

If the fulcrum of a first-class lever is located an equal distance from the effort (force) being applied and the resistance force (load), there is no mechanical advantage—the MA is 1. The closer the fulcrum is to the load, the less effort (force) will be needed to lift the load and the mechanical advantage will be greater than 1. Remember the formula for mechanical advantage is:

Example: In the illustration shown, the load and mechanical advantage are known, and the effort needed can be calculated:

The trade off, however, is that the effort (force) will have to move (down) a greater distance and the load will move (rise up) a smaller distance.

Conversely, if the fulcrum is moved closer to the effort (force) being applied, greater effort (force) will be required to lift the resistance force (load) but the effort (force) will have to move a shorter distance and the resistance force (load) will move (rise up) a greater distance.

Note: Another mechanical principle formula that can be used to calculate the value of lever systems is the following:

Force × Effort Distance = Load × Resistance Distance

Example: A 300-pound weight is placed on the end of a plank 3 feet from a fulcrum. How much effort (force) would a firefighter have to exert on the opposite end of the plank at 9 feet from the fulcrum to obtain equilibrium?

Force Effort Distance = Load × Resistance Distance

(x) × 9 feet = 300 pounds×3 feet Divide both sides by 9 to isolate the variable.

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