Suburban Standpipe Operations

Lance Peeples discusses the different types of standpipes, standpipe kits and how to use them.


With the advent of the Interstate Highway System in the 1950s came the inevitable consequence of suburban sprawl. As populations shifted from older inner cities to the suburbs, developers realized the need for mega-malls, office buildings, hotels, high-rack storage warehouses and high-rise apartment...


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With the advent of the Interstate Highway System in the 1950s came the inevitable consequence of suburban sprawl. As populations shifted from older inner cities to the suburbs, developers realized the need for mega-malls, office buildings, hotels, high-rack storage warehouses and high-rise apartment buildings.

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Photo by Lance Peeples
A Class I standpipe located in a fire-resistive stairwell can greatly aid fire department operations in a high-rise building.

For the fire service, the sheer size or height of these buildings frequently precludes the use of attack lines advanced from the hose beds of engine companies located in the street. Since many of these structures are now located in jurisdictions where engine companies are staffed by as few as three firefighters and truck company support is practically non-existent, firefighters must become familiar with standpipe operations if they wish to be effective in these occupancies.

Firefighters must know the location of all standpipes, which can be accomplished through pre-planning. In the event that a jurisdiction is unable to pre-plan all of the buildings which may be equipped with standpipes, it is helpful for the firefighter to be familiar with code requirements in their area. For example, the 1990 BOCA code requires that standpipes be installed where any point in a building is greater than 30 feet above or below where fire apparatus can be spotted. Additionally, standpipes are required if any point is greater than 400 hundred feet from where fire apparatus can be located.

There are many exceptions built into these codes and consequently the firefighter should study local code requirements to avoid surprises. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) publication, Fire Protection Handbook, in a section on "Standpipe and Hose Systems" identifies three classes of standpipes that firefighters should be familiar with:

Class I. Provides 2 1/2-inch hose connections for use by trained firefighters.

Class II. Provides 1 1/2-inch hose connections and hoseline for use by building occupants. Use is declining because of concerns about having occupants attack fires.

Class III. Combines the features of Class I and Class II systems, usually by using a 2 1/2-by-1 1/2-inch reducer. The use of Class III systems is also declining because of concerns about the wisdom of having occupants attack fires.

In addition to the above classes of standpipes, FDNY Captain and Firehouse Contributing Editor John Norman (in his book, Fire Officer's Handbook Of Tactics) says systems can also be categorized as:

  • Dry. No water is present in the piping.
  • Preaction. A dry standpipe where water is admitted by activating a pull box which sounds the alarm and trips a deluge valve.
  • Wet. Water is always under pressure and available in piping.

Having described the basic types and classes of standpipe systems, the firefighter must also know the sources of water supply available to standpipe systems. These include municipal water mains, gravity tanks, pressure tanks and fire department connection.

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Photo by Lance Peeples
Fire department connections can easily be rendered useless by foreign objects or damaged threads.

According to NFPA 14, Class I and Class III systems must be capable of delivering 500 gpm for the first standpipe plus 250 gpm for each additional standpipe, up to a maximum of 2,500 gpm. The system must be capable of sustaining this flow for 30 minutes. Additionally, NFPA 14 requires 65 psi residual at the topmost outlet while flowing 250 gpm from each of the two topmost hose connections.

Now that we have familiarized ourselves with the basic types of standpipes and their water supply requirements, it remains for us to discuss how to use these systems to our advantage, i.e.: "to put the wet stuff on the red stuff."

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