Engine Company Operations

Aug. 1, 2004
John Newell discusses the operation of hoselines from standpipes at high-rise fires. Success will depend on pre-incident planning of the standpipe systems in buildings and good hands-on training.
Will your fire department be able to do it? Does your fire department respond to a hospital, nursing home, school, office building or apartment building that has a standpipe system?
Photo by John Newell Figure 1. A pressure-reducing device on a hose outlet.

It is important for fire departments to pre-plan and be familiar with standpipe systems in buildings in their response areas. Pay particular attention to locations of siamese connections in relation to nearby hydrants, locations of hose outlets within the building and the presence of pressure-regulating devices at the hose outlets.

Standpipe systems can be identified as wet or dry. A wet standpipe system has water in the riser at all times. A city water main, gravity storage tank, pressure tank or any combination of those may feed a wet standpipe system. The system may also have an automatic or manual fire pump to boost pressure to the upper floors of the building. Either way, the fire department still has to supply the system.

A dry standpipe system does not have water in the riser at all times. Automatic dry standpipes have air pressure in the riser. When a hose outlet valve is opened, the air is released and water is allowed into the system. This type of system is good for areas that may be exposed to freezing temperatures. Manual dry systems do not have water or air pressure in the riser and no water source other than the fire department pumping into the system.

Some standpipe systems have pressure-reducing devices installed at the hose outlet that may reduce or restrict pressure at the hose outlet. Some types may be removed by firefighters before the hose is hooked up to the system. Other types may be opened to allow more flow, and a third type is not removable or adjustable. The third type could be dangerous for firefighters and must be discovered during pre-planning before it is needed at a fire. Every effort must be made at fires to remove or fully open pressure-reducing devices (Figures 1 and 2).

Supplying a Standpipe System

Photo by John Newell Figure 2. Note that this pressure-reducing device is not fully opened.

Whenever a hoseline is stretched off of a standpipe, the system must be supplied by the fire department with three-inch or larger hose. Some larger buildings have more than one siamese connection. As a rule of thumb, a separate pumper should be hooked up to each siamese to ensure an uninterrupted water supply to the firefighters operating the hoseline. Pump pressure should be 100 psi at the siamese plus 5 psi for each floor above grade.

Standpipe systems may also be supplied by hooking up hose to a first- or second-floor hose outlet. This action may be required if the siamese connection is damaged or has been vandalized. It is a good practice to have a kit for the engine pump operator with the tools and fittings needed to make the hookup (Figures 3 and 4.) Basic items may include:

  • 18-inch pipe wrench
  • Needlenose pliers
  • Double male fitting
  • Double female swivel
  • Spanners
  • Cap
  • Reducer fitting
  • Chocks

Common Problems

Photo by John Newell Figure 3. Pump operator’s bag.

Frozen female swivels, debris clogging the siamese, a broken clapper valve or defective threads are some common problems that may be encountered at the siamese. To overcome these problems, use the following recommendations:

  • The frozen female swivels may not turn due to rust or ice. Tap the swivel with a tool to loosen it up or insert a double male fitting then a double female swivel fitting to complete the connection of hose.

  • If during the hookup you discover debris in the siamese, use caution – there may be broken glass, garbage or even discarded needles in the siamese. Look closely with a flashlight before reaching in to remove objects. A pair of needlenose pliers may be helpful to remove objects that can be seen.

  • A broken clapper valve can be dealt with, if time allows, by quickly stretching a second supply line to the other side of the siamese or by inserting a double male and a cap into the other swivel.

  • Defective threads will probably require a supply line stretched to a first- or second-floor hose outlet.
Photo by John Newell Figure 4. Fire department connection.

To supply the standpipe system via a first- or second-floor hose outlet because of any of the above problems, sufficient hose must be stretched into the building to the hose outlet. A kit made up with fittings and tools for the engine pump operator should be available to ensure a quick hookup.

Remove the hose outlet cap, then remove any pressure-reducing devices; if you are unable to remove the device, verify that it is opened fully. Open the valve to fully flush the system. Proper fittings must be brought to the location to make the connection. A double female swivel is connected to the hose outlet. If the coupling on your supply hose is a different size, you will need a reducer. After connecting the hose, open the valve fully. Charge the hose at the pumper and supply at 100 psi at the siamese plus 5 psi for each floor above grade (Figure 5).

Operations Off of a Standpipe

The proper tools must be brought into the building to be able to hook up and operate from the standpipe. In addition to sufficient amounts of 21¼2-inch hose, it is a good practice to have a standpipe kit in some type of canvas tool bag (Figure 6) with the following basic tools:

  • 21¼2-inch smoothbore nozzle with 11¼8-inch tip (the nozzle may be pre-connected to the hose)
  • Hand-control wheels for hose outlet valves, in case a wheel is missing
  • 21¼2-inch inline pressure gauge
  • Pipe wrench, 18 inches or larger
  • Spanner wrenches
  • Door chocks
  • Wire brush to clean threads
  • Adapters (the local fire department thread may need to be adapted to National Standard thread)
Photo by John Newell Figure 5. Hooking up to a first- or second-floor hose outlet with a reducer and a double female fitting.

Check the layout on the floor below the fire and determine which stairway will put you closest to the fire apartment or office. It does not have to be the stairway with the standpipe; the hose may be connected on the floor below and stretched up another stairway that is closer to the fire. Check the floors above in this stairway to be sure that all civilians have been removed. The other stairs will be used for evacuation and the doors to the fire floor of these stairs must remain closed.

All hoselines will hook up on the floor below the fire. Remove the cap from the outlet. If a house line is attached, remove it. Firefighters must not use this line, as it may be defective and should not be depended on. Remove any pressure-reducing device, if possible, or fully open it. Open the outlet valve to flush the system. Attach the 21¼2-inch inline pressure gauge to the outlet. Connect the 21¼2-inch hose to the gauge and flake out the needed amount of hose to reach the fire.

At this time, a determination must be made as to whether the hoseline will be advanced charged or dry to the fire. Do conditions allow the hose team to leave the protection of the stairway and enter the hallway leading to the fire apartment or office? The key to answering this question is whether the door to the fire apartment or office is open or closed, or does the stairway door lead directly in an open, non-compartmented area? The hallway may be charged with heat and smoke, and conditions may become severe.

Further deterioration of conditions may occur if a window in the fire apartment or office fails and lets the wind create blowtorch-like effects on the hose team. If the apartment or office door is closed or is being controlled by firefighters, the line can be flaked out to that point which will save some effort for the hose team. However, if high heat and heavy smoke are present when the stairway door is opened, then the hose must be charged from the stairwell. The hallway becomes part of the fire area in this case.

Typical Hose Stretch

Photo by John Newell Figure 6. Standpipe bag.

Many fire departments routinely stretch 13¼4-inch hose off of standpipe systems and the majority of their fires are extinguished. However, there will be fires that are beyond the scope of the smaller line due to low water pressure, debris in the system, heavy fire load, wind-whipped conditions or any combination of these problems. Firefighters 10 floors up facing the fire may end up in peril without the bigger hoseline.

A 21¼2-inch hose with a smoothbore nozzle is highly recommended for a number of reasons. A 21¼2-inch hose requires much less pressure to obtain the higher flows needed to knock down the high amounts of BTUs produced by today’s fires. Most standpipe systems are designed to operate at 100 psi at the highest hose outlet and some older systems at only 65 psi at the highest hose outlet. Excessive pressure supplied by fire department pumpers at the siamese to overcome friction loss in 13¼4-inch or two-inch hose may cause failure of the piping.

The choice of the smoothbore nozzle is not part of the ongoing fog-versus-smoothbore debate, but a matter of firefighter safety. The standpipe system may have been unused for many years and may have rust, scale and other debris in the piping that will easily clog a combination nozzle, whereas the smoothbore 11¼8-inch tip will have less chance of becoming clogged. This fact combined with the lower operating pressure required at the tip (50 psi) makes the smoothbore nozzle the choice.

Photo by John Newell Figure 7. Pinning the 21¼2-inch hose.

Proper pressure is controlled by opening the hose outlet wheel while observing the inline pressure gauge and must be adjusted when the nozzle is open and flowing water. The pressure required at the inline gauge for three lengths (150 feet) of 21¼2-inch hose with a 11¼8-inch tip is 70 psi and for four lengths (200 feet.) is 80 psi. The result is a flow of 250 gpm. This is the reason for using an inline pressure gauge at the hose outlet.

Critics maintain they do not have the staffing to use 21¼2-inch hose. Nevertheless, with good hands-on training, using the proper pressures for 21¼2-inch hose and the smoothbore nozzle, it can be handled easily. Practice with the nozzle firefighter letting the hose behind him or her rest on the floor while the backup firefighter pins the hose to the floor with their knee at the point of contact (Figure 7). Use the reach of the stream ahead of you, and when you are ready to advance, gate down the nozzle enough to be able to control it, move forward and pin it again.

Operating hoselines from standpipes at high-rise fires can be difficult and punishing for firefighters. Your success will depend on pre-incident planning of the standpipe systems in your buildings and good hands-on training.

John Newell is a battalion chief and 23-year veteran of the FDNY, currently working in the Bronx-Harlem area. He is a 35-year volunteer in the Halesite, NY, Fire Department, a field instructor at the Suffolk County, NY, Fire Academy, and a Hands-On Training instructor for the Firehouse Expo and Firehouse World conference programs.

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