Anatomy of a Major High-Rise Exercise

It began more than a year earlier - initial discussions, concepts, exchanges of ideas and an open forum with key members of the Los Angeles Fire Department, including Deputy Chief Mario Rueda (Chief of Emergency Services), Battalion Chief John Miller...


It began more than a year earlier - initial discussions, concepts, exchanges of ideas and an open forum with key members of the Los Angeles Fire Department, including Deputy Chief Mario Rueda (Chief of Emergency Services), Battalion Chief John Miller and Captain Bob Holloway, about executing a...


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It began more than a year earlier - initial discussions, concepts, exchanges of ideas and an open forum with key members of the Los Angeles Fire Department, including Deputy Chief Mario Rueda (Chief of Emergency Services), Battalion Chief John Miller and Captain Bob Holloway, about executing a substantial high-rise training exercise to challenge the department as never before.

For a department that trains constantly, the exercise had to be new and unique. After months of telephone calls and e-mails, it was decided that the scenario would involve flying a small plane into the tallest building on the West Coast - the 73-story U.S. Bank Tower in Los Angeles. The aircraft would strike an upper floor, taking out the fire sprinklers, igniting a rapidly spreading, fuel-fed fire with multiple victims trapped. Just as we finalized our plan, ironically, a New York Yankees pitcher and his flight instructor accidentally flew a light plane into an Upper East Side apartment tower in Manhattan. The impact resulted in several apartments igniting on two floors, with fire scorching a significant portion of the north side of the building's facade. The highly challenging fire and search-and-rescue effort clearly underscored the fact that these-type incidents can and will happen, even outside the realm of terrorism. A similar event occurred in Tampa, FL, four months after 9/11, when a teenage pilot committed suicide by flying a single-engine Cessna into the 28th floor of the 42-story Bank of America Plaza Building.

Those involved in planning the exercise then needed to pick a date and confirm the availability of the drill building. Fire officials and I met with the property owner, Maguire Partners, and explained to its senior representative, Travis Addison, that we required at least a very large vacant tenant space, but ideally an entire vacant floor. Finding that much vacant space in an almost totally occupied Class A office building is not easy, but we were told that a full-floor tenant was vacating the 32nd floor and that if we could execute the drill prior to the reconstruction of the space, we could use that floor for the drill.

We quickly chose a date about 60 days out. The LAFD committed the equivalent of a three-alarm assignment to four drills spread over an entire weekend, two per day. The only change to the scenario was to have a news helicopter strike the building, probably a more likely event in Los Angeles, where choppers swarm the skies.

Miller, chair of the department's High-Rise Committee with years of high-rise experience, spent countless hours refining and planning the exercise, covering all possible logistical matters in moving so much manpower and equipment around the city, back-filling vacant firehouses, determining the companies to participate, the incident commander (IC) for each drill and the terrific idea of having all fire crews go through a series of "stations" just prior to the drill inside and outside the building. Each station would be manned by someone whose expertise lent itself well to that area of concern - the fire department standpipe connection station outside the main entrance to the building, the lobby command station, the fire control room station, the fire pump room station, the fire floor station, elevators station and the pre-planning station (manned by me).

After rotating all personnel through the nuances of public address (PA) system use, the alarm panel, fire pump operations, standpipe pressures and the layout of the fire floor, stairwell and core configuration, and the building's pre-plan, the troops were rounded up outside the building for a briefing by Miller and Rueda. Personnel were told what was expected of them, cautioned not to damage the building, and encouraged to seize this rare opportunity to execute a drill of this magnitude and learn from it while reinforcing existing refined skills and procedures. They were told everything they needed to know except one thing - they had no real idea as to what the drill would consist of, other than it would involve a fire and search-and-rescue operation in order to enhance the reality aspect of the exercise.

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