9 factors for planning a high-rise attack

Fires in high-rise buildings are completely different animals; here's the building blocks needed for a successful fire attack

Editor's note: During the next few months, Jason Hoevelmann will be looking at the different aspects of fighting fire in high-rise buildings. In this first piece, he lays out the foundational building blocks for preparing for a high-rise fire. In future articles, he will dive into firefighting tactics.

Not everyone has a high rise in their jurisdiction. However, if you find yourself on a mutual-aid assignment or working for a different department somewhere down the road, knowing how to attack this type of fire will be useful.

The high-rise fire is a completely different animal than the typical residential fires we routinely run. Each high rise has its own challenges and uniqueness that a jurisdiction needs to plan, train and adapt for. Despite their uniqueness, there are some basics that apply to most circumstances.

A high rise is basically any building with portions that extend higher than the tallest ladder. Some characteristics may be dependent upon code definitions and requirements as well that could limit your department's effectiveness.

For example, a department may not have an aerial but has four-story buildings in its jurisdiction. In some cases, that four-story building may not be required to have a standpipe system, making your job even more difficult.

It is imperative that you are well armed before you have to respond to and operate at a high-rise fire. As part of that preparation, there is some information that you must obtain that will be critical for your success. 

You have to know the building. You have to know how large it is and its unique features and quirks. Here are nine factors that need to be addressed when planning and training for high-rise fires.

1. Know how many stories the building has and how that relates to labeled floors in the elevator. For example, we have a building that is 17 stories but there is no floor 13 listed. It was common to skip the "unlucky" number when assigning floors. To identify the fire floor, count windows on the exterior.

2. Have a working knowledge of the elevator system. Do you know where the elevator control keys are or do you carry them on your apparatus? It is critical that we control the elevators early in the incident.

If the elevators are already recalled when you arrive, do you know what that means? Know how and why they do what they do.

3. Be able to get to the alarm panel and identify alarm divisions. Some high-rise buildings will allow smoke to spread from floor to floor. This will activate several alarms making identifying the fire floor more difficult. Understanding the alarm system panel will make this a little easier.

4. If you mark the exterior with floor indicators, know where they are located and how they were intended to be used. This comes into play with the "missing" 13th floor. If they are spaced every five floors, you must take into account the 13th floor.

5. Know the location of the stairs and if are they set up the same or differently. In the 17-story building mentioned before, there are two stairwells: one is pressurized and the other is not.

Our plan has the occupants exiting the pressurized well while we ascend and operate out of the non-pressurized well. Not knowing the right stairwell to use will obviously create major issues.

6. Understand floor plans and layouts. If there is a fire on the 7th floor, what are the chances that the floor plans on the 5th and 6th are similar or the same? In a residential building, the chances are very high that the layout is similar.

So, if there's an alarm for unit 707 on the 7th floor, look at floor five to find unit 507 and odds are they are in the same location on their respective floors. Preplanning will confirm this or dictate that other methods for orientation are need.

7. Know where the standpipe connections are and how they operate. Know how much hose it takes to get to the most remote unit and room from the standpipe. Also, know if they are they in the stairwell or in the hall.

8. Know what type of ventilation system is in place and how it works. Does it shut off with the activation of the alarm or must it be manually disabled? Does it have a smoke removal system, and if so, how does it work?

9. Know if the building has sprinklers. Also, know where to find the Fire Department Connection and the closest hydrant.

This is a pretty basic list; we will cover some of these again as we get into the actual operations. There are other bits of information that others may be able to add that I have left out or forgotten, but these all lead to operational methods and techniques while fighting a high-rise fire.

Always take the information and adapt it as best you can. If your department has specific operational guidelines, then follow those. Use this as a supplement.

Thanks for reading, and I'll see you next month From the Fireground.

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