It is another cold and windy night at 2am when the tone alert sounds. There is a report of a fire on the 12th floor of a high rise senior housing project in your district. As you pull up to the address you can see fire swirling around in one window on the upper floor of the building. The fire doesn?t appear to be pushing out the window and there is very little visible smoke condition. You realize that the wind is pushing everything back into the building.
There are numerous reports of people trapped in their apartments from the 11th floor up. You assume that the apartment door must have been left open by the fleeing occupants, allowing the heat and smoke to fill the public hall and stairways of the building. As the first due engine officer you know that this will be a tough fight. So before jumping off the rig you transmit the 2nd alarm and inform all other incoming units that you may have a wind blown fire situation.
Fires in fireproof high rise multiple dwellings can be very punishing to the firefighting forces. The key to a successful operation lies mainly in the engine companies ability to place the initial attack line into operation quickly and efficiently. There are many variables that will effect the outcome of fires in fireproof buildings. The first due engine officer must make decisions based on these conditions found on arrival.
The engine officer should assure that all the members of his company are trained in standpipe operations for Fireproof buildings. They should pre-plan these buildings and have prior knowledge of any hazardous conditions that exist. The time to find out about a bad building in your district is before a fire occurs in it. They should also be aware of the different stairway layouts that can be found in this type building. scissor, return, isolated, wing or even Convenience stairs all can be found in these buildings and will effect the operation differently.
In most cases you will only have to deal with the scissor or return stairs in this type building. We must remember, that the location of the fire apartment in relation to the stairway, will drastically effect the outcome of fires in these buildings. For this reason, in buildings with 2 stairways and both equipped with a standpipe, the stairway closest to the location of the fire apartment should be your first choice. All members should also know the location of the buildings Siamese and the nearest hydrant. The post indicator valve and the location of any isolation valves found within that system should also be known.
While responding to reported fires in these buildings, the Officer and firefighters should be sizing up the building based on their prior knowledge and any information given to you by the dispatcher. One of the key pieces of information used in your size-up is the apartment number. Knowing the apartment number and apartment line, in relation to the stairs, will aid in the proper placement of the attack line. Just as important is what floor the reported fire is on.
A fire on a lower floor is less likely to be effected by the wind as one on an upper floor. Also, are there numerous reports of people trapped in their apartments on the fire floor? This could be an indication of an open door to the fire apartment, which means heat and smoke has severely affected conditions in the public hall. Are there reports of smoke on numerous floors? This may indicate that smoke has entered the stairways or elevator shafts and is affecting conditions on the upper floors. Making rescue and removal of trapped occupants from above the fire much more difficult. Quick water on the fire is a must in any of these situations.
When you reach the address of the reported fire, you must transmit any vital information to other incoming units. Is there fire or smoke showing from the outside of the building? Are there people trapped and where? Are the elevators working? These are all things that should be relayed to units responding. Once on the scene the officer should direct his chauffeur to hydrant closest to the standpipe Siamese connection. Do not rely on the buildings systems, you must supply the standpipe with a fire department pumper.
The standpipe system should, also be augmented by another fire department pumper if additional lines are stretched. This can be done via the siamese or the first floor outlet. If supplying the first floor outlet, you must remember to keep the valve closed until the supply line is charged. Opening it sooner would steal water from the first attack line and possibly lead to serious injuries to those operating it. You should also bring in only fire department tested hose and all the associated tools needed to place that hose line into operation.
Once in the fire building you should make your way to the floor below the reported fire floor. If the reported fire is on the 7th floor or below it is recommended that you take the stairs. It is also a good practice to check intermediate floors on the way up, in case the fire is on a floor below the reported fire floor. Anything above the 7th floor you can take the elevator, in the firemen service mode, to a point 2 floors below the reported fire floor and walk the last flight. In the case of scissor stairs, 2 floors below will give you an accurate location of the fire apartment in relation to the door of the stairway. This is due to the way that scissor stairs are constructed.
When you reach the floor below the fire you must decide which stairway to connect and stretch your line from, and designate it the attack stairway. Remember to consider the distance from the stairway to the fire apartment when selecting the attack stairway. If the closest stairway to the fire apartment is not equipped with a standpipe. Consider connecting in the remote stairway then stretching the dry line across the floor below the fire. Once you reach the closer stairway you can stretch up to the fire floor and to the fire apartment. This is a good practice especially if the hall on the fire floor is charged with heat and smoke. In this situation we must remember that the attack stairway is the one we stretched up, not the one we hooked up in.
The decision of which stairway will be the attack stairway is based on a few factors. In the case of buildings with multiple stairways, the officer should consider the use of a return stair if possible. This will ensure that the fire apartment is the same distance from the stairway on the fire floor, as it is on the floor below.
In the case of scissor stairs, the distance may be different than that of the floor below. Advancing the line can be very confusing, especially in a heavy smoke conditions. Choosing the attack stairway is also based on the removal of the buildings occupants. Remember that the attack and the evacuation stairways must be different. Once the door to the attack stairway is opened, the area above will become smoke filled and unusable for evacuation. When it verified which stairway is the attack and which is the evacuation you must transmit this information to all units operating on scene.
The engine officer must now have his company hook-up to the standpipe outlet and make all the hose connections. The connections should all be done on the floor below the fire. This will ensure a clean environment to work in and also it keeps the unit together as a team. The practice of making some of the connections on the stairway landing on the fire floor is a dangerous one for a couple of reasons.
It will block or obstruct the ladder companies exit, to and from the fire floor. This is extremely dangerous in the case of a wind blown fire or a rapidly advancing fire when the door to the fire apartment is open. Also if the hose unexpectedly chocks the to the stairway open while the ladder company is exiting, conditions in the stairway will deteriorate rapidly. This will cause the stairway to become untenable, which could lead to the loss of hose along with the nozzle.
When all the connections are made the line is ready to be stretched up to the fire floor. Now comes the biggest decision of the operation for the engine officer, where to charge the line. Do you charge it at the door to the public hall or at the door to the fire apartment? The rule is fairly easy, if the ladder company has control of the door to the fire apartment, then the line can be stretched to that position. Once the line reaches the door it can be flaked out and charged.
Then advanced into the fire apartment to extinguish the fire. When stretching a dry line to the apartment door we must remember to chock open any door that the line passes through. If a door accidentally closes on a dry line and the line is charged while still under the door the results could be disastrous. Everyone on the other side or that door would become trapped on the fire floor with out water.
If the fire apartment door is open, with heat and smoke filling the public hall, stretching a dry line to the apartment door will be very dangerous and almost impossible. The officer must order the line flaked out and charged in the stairway with the door to the public hall kept closed. When flaking out the line try to pull some hose up the stairs to the stair landing above. Once the line is charged the weight of the water will aid in advancing the line down the public hall. This should only be done while the door to the public hall is closed. If the door is open, operating above the fire will be exceptionally dangerous. Remember if there is any question of integrity of the apartment door, the line must be charged in the stairway.
If the fire apartment door is open, and the fire has self vented with a wind condition, 2 lines operating in unison may be required just to get down the public hall. While operating the nozzle in the public hall stream impact with the side walls should be kept to minimum. This will limit the amount of steam being generated, which will aid in the advance toward the open apartment door. We must remember that while we operate in the public hall we are not fighting the fire, we are fighting the heat to get to the fire. This type of fire is very punishing to the members and early relief is a must to keep injuries down.
Fires in fireproof buildings can be a simple one room fire to a 3 line push through oven like conditions. Decisions made by the first due officers will, with out question, effect the outcome of these fires. Choosing the proper standpipe and method of deploying your attack line is essential. Training and pre-planning is a must for a safe and successful operation.
Lt. Klett is a 13 year veteran of the FDNY, currently serving in the Bronx. He can be reached at email@example.com