There is nothing easy or simple about high-rise fires, and for most of us they are high-risk, low-frequency events that will greatly challenge our resources and training due simply to the low number of actual incidents. For that reason alone it is paramount that we train with purpose for high-rise fires and all high-risk, low-frequency events.
When deploying the attack line in high-rise fires, I have my preference on what type of hose and equipment I like to deploy with, but we are going to focus just on the tactics and not the equipment. Every jurisdiction has its own needs and equipment, but the tactics we will discuss will not necessarily be dictated by the size of your line and what type of nozzle you use.
However, whatever equipment you choose, know its capabilities and limitations. Do not get caught just buying low-bid equipment; it may not be what you need.
Getting to the fire is difficult in many high-rise buildings. Deploying the attack line is done by firefighters using the stairs to access the fire floor. For that reason, you must count on using a great number of firefighters just to put the initial attack line in place and to support it.
When our first-due units arrive we allow the officer to adapt to what he sees. Our operational guideline states that the first arriving apparatus is to take the high-rise packs and equipment to the floor below the fire floor.
However, if the first-due officer sees no obvious signs of fire, he will take his firefighter with a two-gallon water can, forcible entry tools and the thermal imaging camera ahead of the other firefighter and engineer, leaving the second-due crew to bring the high-rise equipment.
They are looking to find the fire floor and to check conditions. If they find a tenable hallway they can look for the fire room. More than once a small stove or trash can fire has been easily extinguished with the water can.
This does not eliminate the need for the high-rise equipment to be on its way. But, it gets personnel to the fire floor a little faster to check for conditions and to keep a small fire from getting large.
Here are some tactical considerations and methods for deploying the first attack line.
Look for any fire conditions from the exterior that might indicate a wind-driven fire.
Check the alarm panel in an attempt to locate the fire floor.
Use all first-due personnel, including the operator, to deploy the equipment.
If the stairwell door opens to the exterior, put a wedge in it for other crews to access from a more direct route instead of having to travel from the interior.
On the way up, check each floor and communicate that it is clear, light smoke, heavy smoke, etc.
Get a sense of the fire floor layout by looking at floors and room numbers of floors that are clear. If room 515 is next to the elevator and there is fire in room 715, then that room is probably next to the elevator on the seventh floor.
Once the fire floor is found, assess if the hallway is tenable; this will determine how you deploy your hose from the stairs.
If the fire floor is tenable, deploy the hose and start the attack from the hallway outside the fire room door.
If the fire floor is not tenable, deploy your hose from the protection of the stairwell.
Ensure you have adequate resources to advance and facilitate the hose line before entering the fire floor or room.
When extending the hose in the stairwell, push the hose to the outside walls and have someone stand on it as it's charged to keep the weight of the water from pushing the hose down the stairs.
Have someone at the standpipe cabinet to ensure proper pressure after the hose line has been opened.
Be prepared to control all doors and have the nozzle set prior to advancing on the fire. Don't worry about getting stuff wet; flow the line to ensure proper pressure.
Have personnel at corners and doors to more effectively move the line.
When entering a fire room or floor, communicate where you are going, the crew size and your progress.
This is a very general list and your operational guidelines should dictate how you operate at any fire. In the end, you must go to your high-rise buildings and routinely train on deploying and placing hose lines to be proficient.
I hope you've found this short series on high-rise fires beneficial, and I'll see you next month From the Fireground.
About the author
Jason Hoevelmann is a deputy chief and fire marshal with the Sullivan (Mo.) Fire Protection District, a combination department, and a career captain and training officer with the Florissant Valley (Mo.) Fire Protection District in North St. Louis County. His experience spans more than 20 years and he has been an instructor for more than 15 years. He is an adjunct instructor for the St. Louis County Fire Academy and is a State Certified Fire Officer II. Jason holds an associate’s degree in paramedic science from East Central College and a bachelor's degree in fire service administration from Eastern Oregon University. He is currently a state advocate for the Everyone Goes Home initiative, a Board Member for the International Society of Fire Service Instructors and on the technical committee for Professional Fire Officer Qualifications for NFPA. He is also co-owner of Engine House Training, LLC.
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