6 ways to water no-standpipe building fires

You can't guarantee that a building that should have standpipes does, or that if it does, that it will work properly; find them before they find you

Some of the very basic concepts on how to deploy at a high-rise fire centered on being prepared, knowing the buildings in your area and operating off of a standpipe system, which is common for high-rise buildings. Standpipe systems are also common in big-box stores and single-story warehouse and storage facilities that are not necessarily high-rise buildings.

It is a safe bet that if you look around your jurisdiction, you will see many buildings that are not high-rise, or even big-box buildings, but will be a challenge for deploying hose lines due to the large open areas or other difficult access issues. You can identify these buildings easily by considering how much time, hose and manpower would be needed to move the first line.

Some buildings that might fall into this category are hotels, motels, apartment buildings, storage facilities, mercantile occupancies and other commercial structures. Depending on when the structure was built and the codes at the time, it may or may not have standpipes. 

Rule skirting
You might be surprised by how many occupancies can be built to avoid having to install not only sprinkler systems, but standpipe systems as well. For example, when the hospital in our area expanded it built within the code to not require standpipe systems in its stairwells. 

The problem with this is that the distance to stretch hose to the most remote areas of the structure is well over 400 feet, including up the stairs. This causes us a significant problem if we don't identify and prepare for this situation.

So, how do we deal with and deploy effectively at these buildings? First, build a pre-incident plan and figure out your longest stretch from every access point. Use rope to stretch from the apparatus to determine the length.

There are a few options and you need to determine what works best for you and your department based on available equipment and resources. Here are six basic ideas to deal with buildings in this category.

Six tactics
1. You can stretch hand lines up the stairs, but this takes up a lot of hose and increases the friction loss by adding long lengths in smaller diameter hose.

2. You can deploy larger diameter hose up the stairs and reduce to an attack line at the floor below the fire; this uses a great deal of hose and is labor intensive.

3. You can perform a well stretch with hand lines, but we have the same issue as stretching up the stairs. Drop a rope from the floor below the fire floor and pull up the hose through the well hole of the stairs.

4. You can perform a well stretch with a larger diameter hose with an appliance attached reducing to an attack line. This is a popular tactic that has been proven to be effective. You need utility rope and a company to locate the fire floor before deploying. You will need resources to move and secure this line when going over hand rails and through doorways.

5. You can pull hose to a window and deploy from there. This is a viable option, just make sure to use an apartment next to the stairwell. If the fire floor is untenable, deploy from the window on the floor below directly into the stairwell.

6. You can use the aerial device as a standpipe. However, if that ladder is needed to rescue victims or firefighters, it will not be available because it is being used for interior fire attack.

Make your own standpipe system
When stretching long lengths, it is always a good idea to stretch larger diameter hose, like a 3-inch, for the majority of the stretch. Make it the standpipe, then reduce it with a water thief or gated wye to attach the smaller attack line once on the fire floor or from the floor below.

For large area buildings like big-box stores, if standpipe systems exist, they are not normally maintained and will not provide the flow required for a fire. Additionally, reaching those standpipes requires crews to get deep into the building, possibly when they don't need to.

Instead, use your own system from the apparatus to ensure proper flow rates and dependability. Laying out 3-inch with attack lines or a 2 1/2-inch attack line will provide you proper flow and reduce the need to get deep into one of these buildings.

Plan accordingly
With all of these situations, consider that the time it takes to stretch the line allows the fire to grow. Plan accordingly with your line size and flow rates. 

Also, don't open the door to the fire room or floor until everything is in place. Be sure to flow the line before making entry to allow for proper pressure to be placed on the line. The longer the stretch, the longer you may need to keep your nozzle open to let the operator set it for the correct pressure.

The most important aspect of buildings without standpipes is to find them before they find you. Have a plan and visit these buildings and complexes before you have a fire. 

Get permission to get inside and use a rope to figure out how long your stretches are going to be so that you're not guessing when the time comes to pull the hose.

Until next month, train hard.

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