As you jump off the apparatus, fire explodes from a window on an upper floor of a high-rise multiple dwelling. You look up as the fire blows out the window and then is pushed back in by the force of the wind. Through your training you realize that the fleeing occupants must have left the apartment door open. As you grab your standpipe kit and high rise packs as the officer transmits a 2nd alarm, the extra manpower will definitely be needed.
The firefighter's responsibility, at fires like this, begins at the firehouse with training and pre-planning. Familiarization with each buildings system in your district is a must and every firefighter should have a working knowledge of that system. They should know the location of the systems outlets, whether they are in the stairway or the public hallway. Normally, the outlets will be found in the stairways, but they can also be in the public hall. The firefighter should also know which type of pressure reducing device is on each system and also how they work. Knowing the location of the Siamese, Post indicator and any other valve associated with the system will be invaluable in the event of a fire. We must remember that the time to learn about a building is before a fire occurs in it, not after.
While in route to a reported fire, every firefighter on the back step should begin to draw a mental picture of the building based on the address. How many floors in the building? Where are the standpipe outlets? How are the public hallways laid out, a T or an L shaped, or is it a long straight hallway? Is there pressure-reducing devices and how do they work? How many lengths of hose do you need to reach the farthest point on each floor? These are just some of the questions you should be asking yourself before you arrive on the scene. You should also inform all members of known problems within a certain building. Do not assume that everyone knows about it, including the officer. This is especially important when there is a covering or overtime officer.
When you arrive at the reported address you should get your standpipe kit and all high-rise packs needed to complete the stretch. Most fire departments run with 2 men on the back step. Depending on how your high-rise packs are made up, 50ft. or 100ft. folds, you may need the 2nd due engines high-rise packs to complete the stretch. It is also recommended to use either 2" or 2 1/2" hose for your high-rise packs. This gives you greater reach with the stream and also maximizes the systems GPM potential.
With all the equipment needed you should begin to make your way to the buildings entrance. It is a good idea to try to verify the exact floor of the fire before entering the building. This can be done easily by counting windows or balconies on the building. When counting windows try to use the window line closest to the edge of the building. If present, count the balconies they tend to give a 3 dimensional view, which is much easier to count. You must remember when counting balconies you have to add 1 floor due to the fact there is no balcony on the 1st. floor.
Once the entire company is together in the buildings lobby, they should begin to make their way to the floor below the reported fire floor. Remember, if the fire is on the 7th. floor or below, you should take the stairs up. You should also check the "You are Here" sign, which is normally found opposite the elevators. This will show you the relationship of the stairways to the elevators. Some of these signs also give direction of the different apartments as it relates to the elevators and stairways. When entering a stairway you should check the outside of the door for the numerical or alphabetical designation of that stairway. This becomes important when designating the attack or the evacuation stairway. Remember, the engine company must know that they are operating in the correct stairway for fire attack.
When you reach the floor below the fire, all the hose should be placed in the area of the outlet chosen by the engine officer. In some fire departments, the officer will carry the standpipe kit and place it at the outlet he wants you to hook up to. This practice ensures the engine is hooking up to the outlet in the correct stairway. The standpipe kit should have in it a nozzle, a pipe wrench, a universal operating wheel, rubber mallet, a spanner, a pressure gauge and chocks. This is the minimum you need to be able to put the line into operation. If the systems in your district require specialized tools, then they also should be added to the kit.
Once you begin to hook up and make your connections, one firefighter should be assigned to the outlet. It is his sole responsibility to make sure that line is hooked up to the outlet and charged with water. If possible this firefighter should be radio equipped, this allows him to be in direct contact with his officer. The first thing this firefighter should do is unhook the house line if present. Then removing the pressure-reducing device, it is extremely important to remove this piece. If unable to, you must make sure it is fully open and you must also notify the officer of the problem. When the house line and the PRD are disconnected, the firefighter should crack the outlet open. This will clear it of any obstructions and assures that water is actually in the system. It is also not uncommon to find a build up of air in the system. This should be drained off at the outlet prior the hooking up the hose. The hookup firefighter should then attach the pressure gauge to the outlet followed by the fire department hose. Once hooked up and all the connections are made, he can radio the officer and inform him he is ready to supply water.
While the hook up firefighter is working on the outlet, another firefighter should be making all the fire department connections. The number of connections will depend on the number of lengths carried by the first in engine companies. Do not over stretch, most systems are designed so that no apartment is more than 150ft. from an outlet. You may need an extra 50ft. to reach the deepest point of an apartment, but 150ft. is usually enough. You should know ahead of time the buildings in your district that require a longer stretch.
Once all the connections are made the nozzle should be taken up to the door of the fire floor. The nozzle firefighter can now begin to put hose up the stairs to aid in the advance to the fire apartment. This should only be done while the door to the fire floor is in the closed position. When enough hose is flaked out on the landing and up the stairs, the remaining line should be flaked out on the floor below. It is important to remember when flaking out line, that any door a dry line passes through must be chocked open. If a door closes on a line, which is subsequently charged, anyone operating on the other side of that door can become trapped with out water. Also the water in the line acts like a chock against the door making it virtually impossible to reopen it.
When the line is flaked out and in place, the officer will decide to charge the line, either at the door to the fire floor or the door to the fire apartment. Once the officer calls for water, the hook up firefighter should open the outlet completely by use of the wheel. If the end of valve stem is rounded off and the wheel won't work, he will have to use the pipe wrench to open the outlet. If possible he should stay at the outlet until the line is charged and water is flowing. Remember you need to be flowing water to get a true reading on your pressure gauge. The amount and size of hose along with the type of nozzle will all be factors as to what pressure is needed. Also the nozzle pressure is regulated at the standpipe outlet, not the pumper in the street. Once you are at the right pressure and the manpower is needed on the fire floor, you can move up to the top of the stairs to help push the line in. When you reach the door leading to the public hallway of the fire floor, make sure this door has been chocked open.
The nozzle firefighter should be low and out of the doorway while he is waiting for water. Depending on the officer's preference, this would be the door to the hallway or the door to the fire apartment. If you were able to stretch a dry line to the door of the fire apartment, half the battle is over. When water reaches the nozzle you should bleed the line, make sure your back-up man is in place, then moving into the apartment and extinguishing the fire.
If the apartment door has been left open, the public hallway will be filled with heat and smoke. This will make stretching a dry line down the hallway very dangerous and almost impossible. The line will have to be charged in the stairway and advanced to the fire apartment from there. If conditions dictate, you may have to flow water down the entire length of the public hall just to reach the apartment. This will be a tough operation for the nozzle man, but there are some things he can do to make it a little easier. Once you leave the protection of the stairway, try to stay on the same side of the hall as the fire apartment. By staying to one side of the hallway you may be exposed to a less severe heat condition then that on the opposite side. This may allow you to advance to the door of the fire apartment with out throwing water. If there is a severe smoke condition in the hallway, staying close to the wall will also allow you to count doorways as you go. This can be a benefit if you know the exact number of apartments between the stairway and the fire apartment.
When conditions are so severe, you must operate the nozzle while moving the line down the hall. The nozzleman has to keep the nozzle out ahead of his body with the line tucked up tight under his arm. Trying to strong arm the line will only lead to early fatigue of the nozzleman. Operating a 2 1/2" hose line is a very difficult task; the nozzleman must use his entire body to maintain control of that line. A well-trained and aggressive back-up man is also a must when operating a 2 1/2" line.
The nozzleman must also try to limit the amount of sidewall impact with the stream. This will limit the amount of steam generated, making the advance down the hall less punishing. Operating the nozzle in rapid clockwise circles across the ceiling will tend to push a lot of the heat back away from the nozzle team. This will also aid in the advance toward the open apartment door.
Every member of the engine team has a certain responsibility at fires in high-rise multiple dwellings. It is up to the individual firefighter to know his position and be able to overcome any problem that may arise to complete his assignment. The success of the operation depends on an aggressive, well-trained and motivated engine company. Frequent drills and post fire critiques of fires in these buildings will be a great benefit for future operations.
Lt. Klett is a 13 year veteran of the FDNY, currently serving in the Bronx. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org