Bill Gustin on Standpipe Operations: Q & A

Miami-Dade (FL) Fire Captain Bill Gustin recently conducted a Webcast on standpipe operations tactics. Below he answered some questions submitted by viewers.

Q. I’ve noticed throughout this entire Webcast that there are no combination nozzles being used. What is your take on the combination nozzle being used for standpipe operations?

A. There are two problems with combination nozzles for standpipe ops. First is their relatively high operating pressure, a standard 100 psi as compared to 50 psi for solid bore nozzles.  Keep in mind the pressure limitations of some standpipe systems, especially those installed before 1993, that required a minimum pressure of only 65 psi and potential problems with PRVs. Consequently, there may be insufficient pressure available to flow a 100 psi combination nozzle and overcome friction loss in the hoseline and 5 psi loss due to elevation by connecting the hoseline on the floor below the fire. There are, of course, “low pressure” combination nozzles that operate at a NP of 50 or 75 psi; these would be more suitable for standpipe ops.  

The second problem with combination nozzles used in standpipe ops. is their tendency to clog with sediment and debris in the standpipe due to the relatively small space around their deflection stem. In comparison, solid bore nozzles have a much larger orifice, which is more likely to pass sediment and debris that would clog a combination nozzle.  If you prefer to use a combination nozzle for standpipe ops, I recommend a “spin off” fog tip that operates at 50 psi NP connected to a ball shutoff with a minimum 1 3/8 in. waterway and an integral solid bore tip. This will give you the capability of disconnecting the combination nozzle to unclog it or flow the solid bore tip.  

Q. What is your opinion of using a Cleveland Load 13/4 or 2 inch?

A. Successful deployment of the Cleveland load depends on A) relatively high standpipe system pressures to fully charge the load and, B) inherently kink-resistant hose. As I examined in the webcast, 50 ft. of 1 3.4-in. or 2-in. hose configured in a Cleveland load works well for mobility and overhaul when it is connected to a 2 ½-in. hoseline after it has knocked down the bulk of the fire. I strongly suggest that your department assess your high-rise buildings to determine if the fire load and floor areas are within the suppression capabilities of 1 ¾- or 2 in.-hose and the pressures available from the standpipe systems in your jurisdiction are sufficient to  deploy  Cleveland loads and hose smaller than 2 ½-in. Remember that you cannot stretch the Cleveland load dry, which is problematic if you choose to stretch dry from an outlet on the floor below the fire to the door of a fire apartment that is closed and keeping the public hallway tenable.

Q. Do you believe that it is ok for firefighters to take the elevator to two floors below the fire floor regardless of the fire’s location?            

A. Many fire departments, including mine, advise not to take elevators if the reported fire is below the 7th floor.  I certainly would not take an elevator less than two floors below the fire floor; and that’s ONLY when you are absolutely certain of what floor the fire is on.  It is a good idea to take “precautionary stops” at intervals to check the function of the elevator, recheck the hoist way for smoke or water, and determine if floors below the fire floor are contaminated with smoke due to reverse stack effect.

Q. Do we have a list of the objectives so we can log them for training?

A.  Take a look at the Fire Engineering Web site for a description of the Webcast. If you have difficulty, please contact me at  and I’ll forward.

Q. What’s your best advice on stretching two 2 ½-inch lines off of the same riser? Do most people connect to different outlets or use the wye? I know many departments don’t carry a 2 ½-inch wye up and most feel like they made a significant accomplishment just getting that first line stretched. I’m more concerned with being able to provide adequate number of lines in a good fire.

A.  My department requires the use of a 2 ½-in. X 2 ½-in. X 2 ½-in. gated wye connected to a 5 ft. X 3-in. “pigtail.” The wye is, admittedly, heavy but it does facilitate extending a hoseline as I examined in my article on standpipe ops in May’s Fire Engineering.  I would not, however, use a wye to connect a second line to a standpipe outlet because NFPA 14 only requires a minimum flow of 250 gpm. per standpipe outlet.  If a second hoseline is necessary, drop down to the outlet TWO floors below the fire. If the stairs have a well opening, stretch 2 ½- or 3-in. hose, right up the well to the floor below the fire and secure the suspended hose with rope or webbing. If there is no well opening, you’ll have to lay hose up the stairs. With or without a well, you will have, in effect, given yourself a second standpipe outlet on the floor below the fire to connect a second line. Remember the cardinal rule of deploying a second hoseline: Make sure the first line is adequately supplied and staffed before stretching a second. Additionally, be careful not to “steal” or deprive the first hoseline of pressure when charging the second line.  When charging the second line, advise personnel on the first hoseline to fully flow their nozzle and keep it flowing so you’ll get an accurate reading on their in-line gauge. S-L-O-W-L-Y charge and flow the second line while maintaining the proper pressure to the first line by further opening the standpipe outlet or, if it is fully open, advise the engine pumping the fire department connection (FDC) to raise the pressure.

Q. We use 2-inch hose in 100 foot lengths with 1.5-inch couplings with a 1 1/8-tip. This results in a 238 gpm flow (30 psi FL per 100).             

A. Let’s do the math: Say we stretch 200 ft.; that’s a FL of 60 psi and I’m guessing your NP @ 238 gpm is in the 40-45 psi range. Let’s add 5 more psi for elevation from the outlet on the floor below the fire for a total outlet pressure of 110 psi. That hose/nozzle configuration is fine PROVIDED that you have assessed the standpipe systems in your jurisdiction to ensure that they are capable of that pressure.

Standpipe Operations: Preparation

Q. Thoughts on assigning a chauffeur/pump Operator directly to the standpipe to serve as the “forward” pump operator who can control flows and pressures directly at the fire floor.  

A. I think is has a lot of merit, especially when a first-due engine is staffed with a crew of less than four. There are many departments that park the first-arriving engine and the engineer accompanies the crew. The reasoning is that a crew of just two is insufficient to haul up hose and accessories and there will be plenty of time for a subsequent-arriving engine(s) to pressurize the FDC(s).

Q. What about Knox-locking FDCs? Compliant with all fire codes. Would eliminate many of the FDC issues.     

A. You bet it would. FDCs missing caps or threaded male plugs are a depository for all matter of foul and disgusting debris, which can clog sprinkler branch lines of nozzles if it is not removed before connecting hoselines. In my district, threaded male plugs are stolen within hours of their replacement. The locking Knox plugs would be ideal for us.

Q. What do you think about running the hoseline to the apartment across from the fire room to have the hoseline in a straight line going into the fire room?  

A. First, you’ll contaminate an otherwise clear apartment. Second, you’ll increase the danger of a wind-driven fire. Opening an apartment on the opposite side of the hallway from a fire apartment on the windward side can draw fire right into the uninvolved apartment. When there is a strong wind and the fire apartment is on the windward side of a building, companies risk being burned if the door to the fire apartment is open and a window fails in the fire apartment. As a precaution, you can force a door between the attack stairwell and the fire apartment as an “area of refuge” for firefighters to escape a blowtorching wind-driven fire if they cannot make it back to the attack stairwell. When doing this, it is absolutely critical that you force an apartment door on the SAME SIDE of the hallway as the fire apartment.

Q. How much pressure does the engine operator pump up 19 stories?

A.  Start at 200 psi: That’s rounding our elevation loss to 20 floors X 5 psi per floor (4.34 psi) = 100 psi; plus 100 psi. That will get you started, and then you can increase pressure by further opening the wye or advising the engineer to raise his PDP. Remember, the rope is attached to the hose before it is LOWERED to keep it from blowing in the wind. Hoisting that much hose with a rope would be a bear, especially without a hose roller.

Q. What’s the story with the gated wye that you spoke of in this Webcast? We see the value in carrying it but with limited staffing three engine and three ladder carrying 103 lbs. each. What are your thoughts?               

A. You are preaching to the choir, my brother. Take a look at my answer to regarding adding a second hoseline to a standpipe riser; remember that NFPA 14 only requires a minimum standpipe outlet flow of 250 gpm, so that pretty much eliminates using a wye to add a second line to an outlet on some systems. I’m attempting to persuade my department to discontinue the use of the wye for standpipe ops because of its weight, as you have stated, and the problems with using it to add a second line to a standpipe outlet.

Q. Does you department have a high-rise standard operating procedure (SOP) that you can share? We are actually creating one with the great work that we gleaned last year in Pensacola. This year we created a high-rise roles and responsibilities video and a department hands-on in an acquired structure.

A. I have been tasked with revising my department’s high-rise SOP and it is not finalized. I can send you what I have now as long as it is understood that it is still a work in progress. Contact me at

Q. What is your SOP for pumping a standpipe on a nothing showing at a high rise?        

A. Our present SOP calls for a standard starting pressure of 150 psi, but that is likely to change with revisions to our high-rise SOP.  You bring up a controversial topic and I could make a strong argument for and against pumping an FDC at pressures necessary to fight a fire on the upper floor of a tall building.  Say you respond to a report of a fire or alarm on an upper floor of a 55-story building  with a posted high zone pressure of 350 psi. The argument for pressurizing the FDC at its posted pressure as soon as possible is that there’s no guarantee that the building’s fire pumps will operate properly or will not fail once companies have committed themselves on the fire floor and their safety depends on uninterrupted flow and pressure in their hoseline. Further, if the building’s fire pumps fail, there will be a time lag in bringing the system up to pressure at the FDC–a time lag that could result in burn injuries to personnel.

The argument for making the necessary connections but not pumping the FDC at pressure is that it puts an unnecessary strain on apparatus, hose, and standpipe components when the building’s fire pumps are operating properly. Keep in mind that the pumper connected to the FDC will not flow any water into the system until it exceeds the pressure developed by the building’s fire pumps. Fire apparatus that pump at a pressure less than that developed by the building’s fire pumps will pump against a closed clapper valve in the system and rapidly overheat the pump because it isn’t flowing water. It is very important, therefore, to flow sufficient water from an outlet or bleeders to keep the pump from overheating. Once the pressure pumped to the FDC exceeds the pressure developed by the building’s fire pumps, it opens a check valve which then stops the flow from the building’s fire pumps  and the fire department pumper becomes the sole source of water for the system. At this point, the building’s fire pump will be pumping against a closed clapper, but overheating should not be a problem if it can be verified that it’s casing pressure relief valve is discharging sufficient water to a drain in the pump room or outdoors to keep the pump cool and that sufficient water is flowing from the pump’s packing to keep from scoring the shaft.

 Another reason why it is critical that someone verifies the operation of the fire pumps as soon as possible is to ensure that the sprinkler system is adequately pressurized so that sprinklers can control a fire before firefighters can complete extinguishment with hoselines. Whether a standpipe system is pressurized by the building’s fire pumps or fire department pumpers, do not commit companies without first flowing the line in the stairwell or on the floor below the fire in order to accurately read the in-line gauge and judge the quality of its stream.  

Q. Do you trust the building fire pump to fight fire in a high rise or would you override the building fire pump with a supply pumper? Do you advocate shutting down the building fire pump once the engine is conne3cted and pumping the system?              

A. No, I do not trust a building’s fire pump. It is critical to assign someone to verify the operation of the fire pumps as soon as possible. This is easier said than done when fire pumps are located on an upper floor as well as the ground floor. That individual should make sure it is running and take note of its discharge pressure. Additionally, make sure that sufficient water is flowing from the pump’s packing in order to keep from scoring its shaft. Diesel-driven pumps should be monitored to ensure that the diesel engine is not overheating. It is not necessary to shut down a building’s fire pump when fire department pumpers are supplying the system provided that the pump’s casing relief valve is discharging sufficient water to keep the pump from overheating.

Q. How do you store 200 ft. of 2 1/2 in your engine?      

A. We do not configure bundles of 2 ½-in. hose for standpipe use because 2-in. hose is our primary standpipe hose and we don’t have room to carry both bundles of 2-in. and 2 ½-in. hose. When conditions indicate the use of 2 ½-in. hose for standpipe ops. we pull sections from our static hosebed–not an ideal arrangement but expedient considering the shortage of compartment space.

Q. Sorry we had to step out for a run. Stay safe!

A. Thanks for a watching. The Webcast will be available on the Fire Engineering website for viewing at your convenience. CLICK HERE to register and view.

BILL GUSTINBILL GUSTIN is a 41-year veteran of the fire service and a captain with the Miami-Dade (FL) Fire Rescue Department. He began his fire service career in the Chicago area and conducts firefighting training programs in the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean. He is a lead instructor in his department’s officer training program, is a marine firefighting instructor, and has conducted forcible entry training for local and federal law enforcement agencies. He is an editorial advisory board member of Fire Engineering and an advisory board member for FDIC. He was a keynote speaker for FDIC 2011.

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