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Clearing the stairway for escape

Contributed by: Fred LaFemina, FireRescue1 Columnist

The main lifeline of a building for exiting occupants is the stairway. Stairway fires in non-fireproof apartment buildings pose serious consequences for exiting occupants. If fire extends into a stairway from an apartment, it is also possible that escape from the apartment via a window may be cut off as well.

Tip: Stretch the first hoseline to the base of the stairway involved in fire and advance upwards. Operate the line up the stairs while hitting the fire; this also cools the area above to assist rapid extinguishment. Shut down the line and advance upwards until all visible fire is extinguished. Ventilate above the stairway if possible to release the build up of heat and smoke. A second or back-up line should be stretched to protect members advancing the first line. Remember to check for fire extension in all areas affected by the fire. Also, use a minimum amount of operating members if the stairs have been involved in fire for an extended period of time.

Chief Fred LaFemina is a 21 year veteran of the FDNY. He is presently assigned to the FDNY’s Rescue Operations Battalion No. 1 as the battalion commander. He has been with special operations for more than 16 years. He was a firefighter in E-318, L-166 and Sq-1 in Brooklyn, a lieutenant in E-248 in Brooklyn and Rescue Company 4 in Queens, the captain of Sq-270 in Queens and prior to his promotion to chief, the captain of Rescue Company 1 in Manhattan. He is also the task force leader on NY-TF1’s Urban Search & Rescue Team and has deployed to a number of disasters. He is also a member of the Rescue Working Group nationally for the USAR Program and a backup member of the Incident Support Team. From 1996 to 1997 he was the director of the FDNY’s Technical Rescue School. He has written various articles on fire operations and technical rescue, and lectures throughout the country on many of these topics.

Please feel free to email Chief LaFemina at

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