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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The chief realizes that time may be running out for the people trapped on the 24th floor as he transmits a third alarm. He radios his search crew assigned to 24 and advises them where the victims are located. Just before they leave the stairwell, they glance down at their floor plan and note that 2nd Avenue and the south side of the building are to their left as they leave the stairs. They toss the diagram onto the stairwell landing and venture out for the assigned rescue in zero visibility. The floor plan saves precious time, since they most likely would have dropped to their knees and performed a standard “right-hand sweep search” which would have added at least 20 additional minutes to their search in working all the way around the large floor plate in dense smoke conditions originating from the wrong side of the floor.

The scissor stairs end up not being a problem since the chief was made aware of them early on, as he has designated Stair 2 as the “attack stair” (the one that discharges closest to the fire) and Stair 1 as the “search-and-rescue stair” (the one that leads to the roof, in the event firefighters searching on upper floors run low or out of air and can’t descend back down past the fire floor, thus offering them a way out to a safe area of refuge).

The second-due chief arrives and heads up to staging on 21 after it is confirmed that 23 is the original fire floor and the second tenant stair is not posing a problem at that point. The trapped civilians are quickly located and led to the smoke-free “rescue stairwell” (Stair 1). They are brought down to the lobby and turned over to EMS for treatment of smoke inhalation. The attack stair (Stair 2) is now completely compromised with smoke, hose snaked everywhere, water spraying from loose connections and firefighters with their tools moving back and forth between staging.

The guard on 23 is located and pulled to Stair 1, then carried down to staging on 21 where CPR is initiated, as he has slipped into full cardiac arrest. Paramedics head upstairs to take over treatment, bringing their gear and gurney up the freight elevator to staging, escorted by an engine company. He is then brought back down to the lobby by the medics and firefighters for transport. One elevator has malfunctioned and is “missing” until it is determined that the one the guard took is still sitting on the fire floor, out of service. The rest are operating without problems, until water seeps into the shaftways from the fire floors an hour into the incident and takes all the high-rise elevators out.

Tension rises briefly when a company searching the 25th floor runs out of air and cannot locate the stairwell. They report they are just above the fire area on the front/ north side of the building. One of the other search companies walking up from staging happens to have a set of floor plans in their hand from the pre-plan package and quickly advise the incident commander that they will effect the rescue.

As the firefighters approach the stairwell door in the search stair (Stair 1), they pause and study the drawing, noting that they will have to work their way around the core to the other side of the floor, then head straight outward from there to end up on the north side of the building. The floor plans have streets wrapping around the floor plate with a directional symbol/compass at the bottom of the drawing providing both pieces of data for every floor – top to bottom. Within five minutes, the crew is located and led off the floor to safety. The good news reaches the incident commander.

Now that the chief has accomplished getting water on the fire, getting smoke out of the building and rescuing all trapped occupants, he can take a slight breather and think about secondary important concerns: Where is all the water going that we’re pouring onto the upper floors and which is now cascading down the elevator and stair shafts? What’s down there in the basement I need to worry about (transformer vaults/switchgear rooms, emergency generators, fire pumps, water treatment chemicals)? Do they have sump pumps? If so, are they rated for fire flow? Are they tied into the generator, so if I do lose primary power, can they continue to remove water so I won’t lose my generator and fire pump?

The chief once again turns to his aide, who accesses the pre-plan’s “Salvage Concerns – Dewatering” section and quickly feeds the chief all the answers to his concerns, literally in seconds, saving him from committing a crew to the basement to perform “recon.”. The chief briefly remarks with a sly grin, “Is there anything that plan doesn’t have in it?”