Safety and Survival Sidebar: Chicago Fire Department Conducts High-Rise Drill

The Chicago Fire Department (CFD) completely revamped its response and procedures to be followed for high-rise fires as a result of a tragic downtown fire in which six lives were lost in 2003. Notably, a top-to-bottom revision of CFD tactics, including...

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• Battalion Chief 1 set up the command post in the lobby promptly and gave clear instructions to the fire investigation team

• Battalion Chief 1 ordered a change to Channel 5 (command) for all chief officers after the plans chief arrived in the communications van

• The search and rescue chief maintained a forward staging area of one engine and one; this is an important factor due to the time it takes for a company to move from staging area to the search area

• A runner was used when communication failed between forward fire command and fire attack chiefs

• The lead-out by both engines was excellent and the officer of Engine 13 communicated well with the officer of Engine 42

• Search and rescue was well organized and efficient



• The fourth engine was assigned to assist the forward fire commander, but the radios interfered with one another

• Messages were lost due to members talking over one another

• Progress reports to the command van were not acknowledged or not heard

• The RIB radio had a few technical issues – a knotted cord, cross-threaded coax and a loose antenna – that must be checked

• Entire companies were reporting as a group to the forward fire commander, not the officer only as required

• Few companies reported completion of an assigned task via radio or in person

• Even though there were an adequate number of channels available, the quality of communications was sometimes poor

• The issue of how to get multiple victims from EMS triage to the lobby for further treatment or transport must be addressed



• The deputy district chief should stay at the lobby command post

• All companies should be trained to use the RIB radio

• The command van should have the computerized ability to see the status of companies arriving on scene

• The command van should be given the responsibility to set a staging area in/near the building lobby; the length of time for a company to move from a vehicle staging area into the lobby and then up into the building is excessive

• Radio signal strength appears better near the outer windows, so consider moving forward fire commander to the perimeter of the building.


Value of hands-on drills

The need for practical, hands-on training is present in every community and every size building. Training in high-rise operations often is difficult to achieve due to the very magnitude of the operation; the requirement for building management to essentially turn part of the building over to the fire department and the amount of fire department resources committed.

Chicago is fortunate that the progressive management team of the AON Building recognizes the need for high-rise training on a realistic scale. As occurs in any training session, some things went right and some need improvement. It was a learning experience for every member on the scene.


Appreciation is extended to Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago, Deputy Fire Commissioner John McNicholas, District Chief William Vogt and all of the officers and members of the Chicago Fire Department as well as Thomas W. Begg Jr. of Jones Lang LaSalle Americas (Illinois) for their assistance and direction in the preparation of this article.