After-Action Review: Fire in a Residential High-Rise

This post-incident analysis of an apartment fire in a residential high-rise building looks at the actions of the Long Branch, NJ, Fire Department on Sept. 27, 2009. Using a "defend-in-place" strategy, many civilian injuries were prevented. This fire...


This post-incident analysis of an apartment fire in a residential high-rise building looks at the actions of the Long Branch, NJ, Fire Department on Sept. 27, 2009. Using a "defend-in-place" strategy, many civilian injuries were prevented. This fire offers an opportunity to share a significant...


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This post-incident analysis of an apartment fire in a residential high-rise building looks at the actions of the Long Branch, NJ, Fire Department on Sept. 27, 2009. Using a "defend-in-place" strategy, many civilian injuries were prevented. This fire offers an opportunity to share a significant number of lessons. While the fire attack and its aftermath involved bravery, skill and daring on the part of the responders — no different than any other department — this account seeks to discuss lessons that can be shared, and not the highlights of individual or company actions.

The Long Branch Fire Department is a combination agency consisting of career and volunteer firefighters and fire officers who staff eight engine companies, two ladder companies and one rescue company. The department protects a small shoreline city of about five square miles with a population of between 30,000 and 40,000, with a summer population well exceeding those numbers, especially during holiday events. The department responds to 1,500 to 2,000 fire and emergency calls annually; it does not handle EMS responses. Neighboring suburban volunteer fire departments respond into the city for mutual aid.

The Building and The Fire

The fire building, 717 Ocean Ave., is an 11-story residential high-rise with 130 apartments. The building is of Type I, fire-resistive, construction and is 375 feet wide by 90 feet deep. It consists of two stairwells, one on the east side and one on the west side. Both stairwells penetrate the roof and are standpipe equipped. Neither stairwell has any pressurization equipment provided. Each apartment has its own heating and air conditioning system. Natural gas utilities are provided only to the common areas on the first floor.

The A side of the building is a parking area over a two-story, below-grade parking facility. The B side is the property and beach facilities that adjoin the Atlantic Ocean. The C side is a narrow grass strip with limited access. The D side is Ocean Avenue. There are three fire department connections (FDCs). One is on the D side next to Ocean Avenue and supplies the underground parking garage. The other FDCs are on the building itself, one on the A side and one on the C side; both are linked and supply the sprinkler and standpipe system in the building and not the parking garage.

The only parts of the building that are sprinklered are the common areas on the first floor and in the two underground parking garage levels. Given the nature of the occupancy, compartmentation provides an advantage to fire suppression forces. The apartments vary in size, with some having been renovated over the years, and have a "footprint" equal to two or three standard apartments. There are no access stairways.

At about 11:50 A.M., the fire department was dispatched to a reported fire alarm at the building. The initial response consisted of two engine companies and one ladder company staffed by a total of five members, one chief officer responding in a chief's car, and a department member who met us at the scene. Enroute, additional information was received reporting a fire on the third floor. The first-due engine, with staffing of two members, arrived within two minutes of the initial dispatch and faced a heavy smoke condition showing from the A-side (north) third floor. A second alarm was transmitted immediately on arrival as well as for a request for a rapid intervention team. Shortly thereafter, a third alarm was transmitted due to the potential life hazard.

A civilian victim appeared on the third-floor balcony, with her means of egress blocked by fire and with the glass doors and windows on the balcony failing due to heat. The chauffeur of the aerial ladder from the first-alarm assignment initiated a ladder rescue of the civilian victim using the aerial ladder. Additional arriving members and police aided him. The interior operation initially included the designation of the attack and evacuation stairwells. The floor below was "reconned," and a quick search of the fire floor to ascertain location and extent was initiated. An additional injured civilian was found in the hallway and removed via the attack stairwell. Five members initially hooked up a 2½-inch handline and began an aggressive interior attack of the fire apartment. The size of the line and volume available made short work of the fire.

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