Pre-Planning: The Key to Success

Curtis S.D. Massey defines the importance of having a plan that can answer any question about a building and its systems, including how to get around, how to cut things off and how to interface with the systems.


There are a lot of “tools” that firefighters and their commanders bring to a high-rise emergency. You have hose, hand tools, airpacks, turnout gear and the apparatus that gets you there, allows you to move water and reach high places. Yet how often do you consider the importance of a...


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After scanning a “cheat sheet” (or Fire Department Summary), the aide quickly relays to his chief the following critical data: “Chief, the building is not sprinklered, but has a 750-gpm fire pump in the basement. Also down there is an emergency generator that can provide backup power to one elevator per bank, emergency lighting, the fire pump and smoke-removal fans. The standpipes have no flow restrictors or PRVs (pressure-reducing valves). The building has smoke-removal capability, but it is manual and will require an engineer to operate the fans. The elevators have fireman’s service recall and override and the keys are here at the desk. The building has scissor stairs and no stair shaft pressurization. It is a steel frame building with truss floor construction, protected with spray-on mineral fiber insulation. The core is concrete. The building has a large floor plate, requiring extra hose for full floor coverage. There is no asbestos or PCBs present.”

Putting the Pre-Plan to Work

The aide then spreads out the riser diagrams – elevator, standpipe, ventilation and stairwell. He quickly relays to the chief that Stairwell 2 goes to the roof, Stair 1 does not; the building has two ventilation zones, with the upper zone feeding everything above floor 15. He states that the high-rise elevator bank serves floors 15 to 30 and has no shaft pressurization. Then he flips to the back of the plan and pulls out the floor plan for 23, just as another firefighter walks up and verifies that the panel shows alarms on 23 and 24.

After quickly scanning the floor plan and matching it with the stair riser drawing, the aide remarks that the 23rd floor has two tenant access stairs, one that penetrates up to the 24th floor and one that goes down to the 22nd floor. The chief quickly yells over to the crews approaching the elevators to play it safe and get off at the 20th floor, since the fire may have started on 22, where the tenant stair originates. Smoke may have drifted up and tripped the first detector on 23. The detector on 22 may be off-line or covered up if renovation is taking place.

Both the attack and search-and-rescue companies have been given floor plans for the fire floor and the floor above, in addition to a set of master keys, the elevator keys and a cue card stating how the elevators operate in Phase 2 (in-car) override. This is a good thing, as this building’s elevators have “door close” buttons (some do and some don’t) and the crews note that they must push the “door close” button first until the doors close all the way, then the floor button to begin their ascent.

The floor plans are stuffed into the officers’ coats to free their hands for carrying gear. The floor plans also show another immediate concern that is reflected on the chief aide’s floor plan – there is a computer room on the fire floor that is protected with a halon and pre-action sprinkler system, in addition to an uninterruptable power supply (UPS) system with an emergency generator backup. The UPS battery room is located adjacent to the computer equipment area. The issue of sulfuric acid and hydrogen gas from the batteries becomes an obvious concern. It is also noted that the entire floor is raised, so all the wires and cables feeding the tenant’s space run under the floor in a void space. The chief is then advised that falling glass and debris prohibited the first-due engine from hooking up to the siamese connection, but fortunately the fire pump is up and running, so water is still being pumped up to the fire floor.

The building’s chief engineer, it turns out, lives just 10 minutes away and arrives on scene in time to operate smoke exhaust fans for the chief and begin pulling smoke out of the building after hoselines have begun attacking the area. The chief has decided to delay turning the fans on initially due to the possibility of pulling fire into the duct work. Finally, the missing security guard is located. He is found six feet from the elevator lobby on the fire floor, unconscious, by search crews.

The fire has now been reported to be spreading out onto the 24th floor from the tenant stair penetrating up from 23. This does not catch anyone unaware, since it was already picked up on the floor plan. Lines are advanced out onto both floors. A call is received from the dispatcher and transmitted to the incident commander that five people are trapped on the 24th floor on the opposite side from where the fire is. They state they are trapped on the south (back) side of the building in a conference room facing 2nd Avenue. All other occupants have since been accounted for.