The Rebirth of the Rapid Ascent Team: Part 2

  Part one of this article in the March 2011 issue described three important functions Rapid Ascent Teams perform during a serious high-rise fire:


  Part one of this article in the March 2011 issue described three important functions Rapid Ascent Teams perform during a serious high-rise fire: Direct people out of the attack stair and out of harm's way. Perform reconnaissance for the command post; to become the "eyes and ears...


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Part one of this article in the March 2011 issue described three important functions Rapid Ascent Teams perform during a serious high-rise fire:

  1. Direct people out of the attack stair and out of harm's way.
  2. Perform reconnaissance for the command post; to become the "eyes and ears" of the incident commander.
  3. Take carbon monoxide (CO) readings at various intervals to determine where major pockets exist.

Now that we have clearly defined the above three important functions, let's expand the role of Rapid Ascent Teams. How can we ensure the evacuees can get out of the attack stair? What if the stair doors are mechanically locked or only unlock — or stay unlocked — on certain floor intervals?

On too many fires, the civilians are on their own for the most part and are not tended to unless they specifically call for help via cell phone or fire phone when they become trapped in the attack stair (or other stair that might have also become contaminated). In most modern commercial buildings, the stair doors unlock at alarm or there are re-entry/crossover floors that unlock or stay unlocked every three to five floors, on average (tower stairs in hotels and residential buildings tend to stay unlocked).

Even re-entry/crossover floors have drawbacks, though. For instance, what happens if they are more than three floors apart and the fire happens to be on a re-entry floor level (see graphic on opposite page)? This means people with physical liabilities such as heart conditions or obesity would then be forced to travel back up to the next re-entry floor to leave the attack stair. In proximity to the fire floor, they are not likely to be able to make their way past hordes of firefighters and hose (attack and backup lines) being snaked everywhere. Climbing back up even three, four or five floors could prove to be too much of a burden, especially if they have just descended numerous flights of stairs and smoke is now entering the shaft.

Even auto-release devices on door locks can fail during fires, as it has been estimated that they average a 10–15% failure rate due to improper installation, incorrect hardware, or lack of testing and maintenance. None of these "escape methods" are foolproof. People must be accounted for and looked after. Do we want our Rapid Ascent Teams forcing doors to provide a way out for people in the attack stair at various levels above the fire? (As noted in part one, the exception would be if it were a hot-weather fire and where a significant "reverse stack effect," or downdraft, is taking place whereby air and smoke are being pulled downward via shaftways. This movement of air within a high-rise will be further explained in an upcoming article dedicated to "Air Balancing".) Their energy must be conserved for the climb they must perform. It is imperative that this concern be an integral part of the overall scope of any high-rise incident command system.

In older commercial buildings, the doors may be mechanically locked with no drop-out on alarm, releasing the door locks to the unlocked position. With either mechanically locked doors or re-entry floor applications, eventually all locked doors must be unlocked for the search teams that may be assigned to search floors above the fire in a serious event. Only a few stair keys will be available to fire crews in the lobby on arrival, so they must be used with great wisdom. Sometimes, there are none. This greatly complicates the issues noted here, as at least six stair keys must be available to first responders in every high-rise building. Why?

Keeping Track of Keys

In many fires, the keys disappear with the first-due attack and search teams heading upstairs, never to be seen again for the remainder of the fire. Forcing doors on numerous floors above the fire is not a realistic option for search teams or Rapid Ascent Teams. Early into the fire, primary Rapid Ascent Teams must quickly follow these units to regain control over these keys, if there are no extras in the lobby. It must be agreed upon that the keys will be placed at a common location — left in the locks at the fire floor (and the floor above) by both search and attack teams — even if the doors were found unlocked. They would then be retrieved by the Rapid Ascent Teams, who begin ascending the attack stair to perform their assignment.

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