Author's note: Immediately after 9/11, I created a tactical concept in high-rise firefighting called a Rapid Ascent Team. Initially, it was based on the obvious physical and tactical strain on firefighters having to rapidly ascend to upper floors of tall buildings to effect rescues...
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Author's note: Immediately after 9/11, I created a tactical concept in high-rise firefighting called a Rapid Ascent Team. Initially, it was based on the obvious physical and tactical strain on firefighters having to rapidly ascend to upper floors of tall buildings to effect rescues and guide people to safety. In recent times, serious high-rise fires have occurred in North America and abroad in which civilians perished on floors well above the fire. Within one five-year period, 17 civilians died in fires in Chicago, New York City and Toronto; the victims shared one common fate with three primary factors — they were found in the attack stair, they were well above the fire floor and all died of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. It was after a 2003 fatal fire in a Chicago office tower where six civilians died in an attack stair 10 floors above the fire where I believe it came to light that the fire service must finally address this recurring calamity — people keep dying in our attack stair. I met with their commissioner at the time, Cortez Trotter, and recommended its adoption. He agreed it had solid merit. It was written into their standard operating procedures (SOPs) and the Rapid Ascent Team was officially transitioned from concept to reality. Very soon thereafter, it would be put to the test in another major high-rise fire. Although it took a while to get the fire service as a whole to embrace the idea of Rapid Ascent Teams, it has now firmly taken hold. Now, many cities have adopted the idea of Rapid Ascent Teams in various forms, making it part of their high-rise SOPs.
What is a Rapid Ascent Team? Reviewing the idea's conception, it consisted of specific teams of firefighters whose sole responsibility during a serious high-rise fire was to quickly get above the fire floor and perform two essential functions that greatly and directly impact the overall outcome of the event:
- Performing reconnaissance for the command post by providing concise, accurate intelligence regarding conditions on upper floors and what additional resources will be required to achieve key objectives noted while carrying out their assignment (i.e., fleeing tenants reporting co-workers missing on particular floors and relaying this assignment to search crews soon to follow).
- Informing evacuees as to what they should do and where they should go for safe refuge. This may involve a "defend-in-place" posture in minor fires or a full-scale evacuation of all upper floors in the worst of events.
Most importantly, these teams directly intercept the building evacuees during their response mechanisms and advise them to leave the stairwell the department has chosen to attack the fire from (known as the "attack stair"), which has proven to be a deadly place for civilians. The teams direct the populace to transfer over to the opposite stair in a standard two-core stairwell configuration that would be designated as the "evacuation/search and rescue stair." This decision would be channeled from the command post directly to the occupants via the public address system and Rapid Ascent Teams after the attack team has announced its chosen attack stair. Building occupants in most cities know nothing about the "attack stair" and the inherent dangers of being in the area where fire byproducts likely will enter, thus contaminating the shaft and turning it into a chimney of toxic gases. Since the majority of deaths occur due to CO exposure and the fact it is odorless, colorless and tasteless, they are mostly clueless as to the dangers of this gas commonly referred to as the "silent killer."