High-Rise Firefighting - Part 2

High-rise fires have proven to be very deadly. Fires that caused large losses of life include: March 26, 1911 - Triangle Shirtwaist Co. fire in New York City (146 dead). June 5, 1946 - Hotel LaSalle fire in Chicago (61 dead). Dec. 7...


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The utilization of an incident management system and a well-conceived high-rise operational procedure set the foundation for a successful operation. The main components of command, operations and logistics, are always important, but success will also depend heavily upon functions specifically associated with high-rise fires. These include lobby control, stairwell support, elevator control, base and remote cascade systems. (A high-rise command structure is fully discussed in the August 1995 Fire Studies column.)

An expanded management system will be required on a working high-rise fire. Strong emphasis is placed on the operations officer who will be directing suppression activities in the vicinity of the fire floor and the overall support of the logistics officer to ensure that ample equipment is moved from the outside base area to the staging area.

The staging area should be a minimum of two floors below the fire floor. The object of staging is to have manpower and equipment available for immediate deployment. Should there be a reversal of smoke contaminating the floors below the fire floor, then staging may need to be placed a distance lower than two floors to keep beneath these smoke conditions.

Operational Procedure

The high-rise operational procedure (OP) should spell out initial assignments. As important a priority as it is to set up a functional working management system, it is of greater importance to ensure that a sufficient number of firefighters are sent to the fire area. Nothing solves problems like an aggressive attack on the fire.

The first unit to arrive at the fire area must:

  • Do a quick size-up and decide on the best way to attack the fire.
  • Determine the need for specific operations.
  • Estimate the number of personnel that will be needed.
  • Decide on the correct stairway from which to attack the fire.
  • Give a comprehensive report and request additional units if needed.
  • Initiate an attack on the fire.

An initial status report to the incident commander (IC) will permit the IC to prioritize the situation and direct units to solve the problems.

The solution to many problems is often an adequate number of resources. The high-rise fire will demand a great number of personnel. If the on-duty strength is minimal, there will be a need to request mutual aid and probably the recall of off-duty personnel in career departments.

Working high-rise fires may show few signs from the exterior. In fact, smoke showing on the exterior may be like looking at the tip of an iceberg. The real problems may not be visible and can be much greater than could be estimated from outside the building.

Upon entering the building, all available means must be used to gather information. The initial-arriving units must make a determination of the location and scope of the fire. Information can be gleaned from fire indicator panels in the lobby showing detection equipment that has been activated verbally from those in the lobby and on the upper floors.

Knowledge Of The Building And Its Systems

The best way to protect life and control or extinguish high-rise fires is through the installation and maintenance of an automatic sprinkler system. Many high-rise buildings, though, are not protected by sprinkler systems. Attacking and controlling fires in such a building demands that firefighters have knowledge of the structure and the built-in protective systems. Thorough inspections and familiarization tours can accomplish this. These visits allow firefighters to identify problem areas and to interact with the building engineer and security personnel in non-emergency situations. This interaction builds trust that carries over to emergency incidents.

No one knows more about a building than the building engineer. This makes locating him or her an initial concern. There should be an understanding that the engineer will await the arrival of the fire department in the lobby area or other pre-assigned location. The first-arriving fire officer can glean the needed information from the engineer and then proceed to the fire location.

There is a tendency on the part of the first-arriving officer to ask the engineer to "show me" the fire location. The engineer will only be too happy to accommodate. This, however, causes a problem - when the chief officer arrives, no one is available to answer his or her questions and accomplish tasks that the chief deems necessary.

High-Rise Stairways