The House on the Hill

by Robert J. Maloney

The challenges to fire response and their solutions in a city with houses built into hillsides, steep streets with switchbacks, and water supply issues were the topic of classroom session, “The House on the Hill.”

Dan Doyle and Jim Ellis of the Pittsburgh (PA) Bureau of Fire presented the session on Thursday afternoon.

In a hilly city like Pittsburgh, houses are often built on hillsides, appearing to be one story on the street side but having two or three stories when viewed from the rear. Doyle and Ellis said doing the 360° survey is often impeded by fences, narrow access, and drop-offs. Alternative methods of viewing the C side of the building include using the roof team to view the C side, observing from one street above or one street below, and accessing a neighboring structure and viewing the fire building from the C side of the neighboring one. In preplanning, they recommended using city traffic and security cameras, existing preplans, and such programs as Google earth to gather data.

The topography of the city also requires paying special attention to apparatus specifications, the presenters said.

To address steep hills and sharp turns, apparatus should be designed with short wheelbases. For angle of approach and departure issues, one solution is to raise the chassis. For aerial devices, longer outrigger piston lengths are one way to address setting up the aerial on steep streets.

Regarding water supply, apparatus in Pittsburgh carry 300- and 400-foot preconnects, as well as bundles of extra hose called racks for long hydrant stretches, Doyle and Ellis said. To augment an end-of-the-line hydrant on a hill with low pressure, solutions include pumping the hydrant and relay pumping.