By David DeStefano
Many incidents to which we routinely respond require deployment of hose and tools only a short vertical or horizontal distance from the apparatus. However, the dynamics of the incident change radically when equipment must be hauled up many floors in a high-rise or across a long horizontal distance in a manufacturing facility, convention center, or other venue. Even large departments with the ability to strike multiple alarms for personnel are burdened by this task. Smaller departments, often operating with under-strength companies and fewer units per alarm, may find it almost impossible to carry basic equipment to the location of the fire and still be in condition to conduct initial suppression, search, and ventilation functions.
One way to relieve some of the burden from the first-arriving and investigating units may be to preposition basic equipment in secure areas strategically located throughout the building. In some jurisdictions, prestaged systems include provisions for piping breathing air to remote refill points for self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) in the building and providing other equipment routinely used for fire suppression. This equipment cache is not meant to replace staging or to address all the logistical needs of the incident, It may be as simple as a locked closet with hose, appliances, and extra forcible entry tools that will be needed by companies mounting the initial attack.
The concept can be simple to keep space considerations modest and financial expenditures realistic. Fire departments may approach developers in the planning and design stages with the need to allocate secure storage space and outlay money for a basic inventory of equipment, thereby outfitting the cache with no impact on the department’s budget. Even in preexisting buildings, there is often room available to accommodate a small storage area. The cost to outfit several prestaged caches will be far outweighed by the benefits of quicker response to the fire floor by initial companies. These companies will be in better condition to operate more efficiently, confine incipient fires, and conduct quicker searches.
Depending on the size and layout of the occupancy, fire departments may elect to place prepositioned equipment every 10 floors in a high-rise building or in more than one location on a single floor of a low-rise building with a very large horizontal floor plan. When considering where to position the equipment and what to include in a cache, the number of members expected to make the initial investigation and fire attack must be considered, as well as the equipment they will be expected to bring with them from the rig.
It is reasonable to expect that each firefighter will be equipped with full personal protective equipment (PPE) and SCBA as well as basic forcible entry tools and a thermal imaging camera. Larger companies or several companies spliced together to form an attack group will be able to haul and deploy equipment more efficiently, without undue exertion. However, smaller investigating units will find the prepositioned cache an invaluable resource that allows them to move rapidly with less fatigue to remote points, access a prepositioned cache, and then deploy and operate the hose, appliances, and tools necessary to begin suppression and search operations until they can be reinforced with additional members.
Although specific equipment will vary based on department policy, type of occupancy, and the number of firefighters the cache is expected to support, the initial needs of most operations may be met by the following items:
- 2½-inch hose: quantity determined by local policy
- 1¾-inch hose: if used under local policy
- Nozzles as needed for hoselines
- Standpipe kit: gated wye, inline pressure gauge, spanners, pipe wrench, 2½ to 1½ reducer (other tools based on local needs)
- Mainline search rope
- Bag with extra door chocks and door latch straps
- Hydra-Ram or Rabbit tool
- Two 2½-gallon water extinguishers
The items in the above list are common; it is not unreasonable to require the property owners of large occupancies to purchase them for the betterment of life safety and property protection in their facility. A more complete equipment list might include
- EMS equipment
- Basket stretcher
- Through-the-lock kit
- Spare SCBA cylinders
There are many more pieces of equipment that every firefighter would like to have close at hand. What the prepositioned cache should include will be the topic of much debate within the ranks. However, no matter what the final list includes, all will agree that the operation will be safer and more efficient with the most urgently needed equipment closest to the fire.
Since the initial number of firefighters expected to begin operations is much lower than ideal in most departments, creative thinking must be employed to provide safe solutions that will protect firefighters and civilians.
David DeStefano is a 22-year veteran of the North Providence (RI) Fire Department, where he serves as a lieutenant in Ladder Co. 1. He previously served as a lieutenant in Engine 3 and was a firefighter in Ladder 1. He teaches a variety of topics for the Rhode Island Fire Academy. He can be reached at [email protected].