A quick-thinking and agile D.C. fireman used a nearly forgotten training tool to scale the side of a building last night and rescue a woman trapped in her burning apartment.

When firefighters arrived at the seven-story apartment building at 1514 17th St. NW about 7 p.m., they found the fourth floor was ablaze. Pam Riley, who lives in an apartment next to the one where the fire broke out, was calling for help from a window, but cars parked in an alley prevented the use of ordinary ladders.

Firefighter Joseph Neville, 28, of Truck Company 3 ran back to his fire truck and returned with a pompier ladder--a 16-foot aluminum pole with rungs on opposite sides and topped by a 36-inch hook. It is used to train firefighters and test their agility and, while carried on most fire trucks, it is rarely needed.

Using the ladder to climb one story at a time, Neville first reached a second-floor window, drew up the ladder, punched a hole through a third-floor window, and continued climbing in that manner until he reached Riley.

"The quick thinking of firefighter Neville kept the woman from panicking and jumping," said Capt. Robert Stefl. He said Riley was screaming that her apartment door was on fire.

Aided by Neville, Riley descended the ladder far enough to reach other firefighters who by then were in an apartment on the floor below.

Neville said he doesn't recall whether he was frightened. "You don't think about things like that at the time," he said.

No one was injured in the fire, which investigators said was caused when floor refinishing chemicals exploded.

Fire Department spokesman James Tate remarked that Neville's use of the pompier ladder "was probably about the third time in the history of the fire department that this ladder has been used."