BY ROBERT C. KRAUSE
High-rise and standpipe operations present numerous challenges. The problems are not unique to the larger cities. All departments, paid and volunteer, across the country should prepare, preplan, and train in these operations. Not all communities have high-rise buildings, but it is reasonable to believe that standpipe connections exist in almost every community. Are you aware of the standpipe connections in your community? Have you identified the pressure-reducing valves (PRVs) on the standpipe systems? Have you trained on the best procedures for using a standpipe? A working fire at 3 a.m. is no time to see your first standpipe connection.
Three problem areas have been identified in several recent high-rise fires: water supply for adequate fire flows, functionality of fire protection and building systems, and occupant evacuation. This article deals solely with adequate fire flows.
Several fires in recent history point out problems that contributed to a loss of life and significant property loss.
• One Meridian Plaza, Philadelphia, PA, February 23, 1991. A fire in a 38-story building killed three firefighters and one occupant. Suppression operations were compromised by problems with PRVs, which were improperly set during installation. They provided inadequate pressure for fire attack using 13⁄4-inch hose and fog nozzles. There was an estimated property loss of $100 million. Litigation from the fire amounted to an estimated $4 billion in civil damage claims.1
• First Interstate Bank, Los Angeles, CA, May 4, 1988. The fire destroyed five floors and caused an estimated $450 million in damages. (1)
• Bankers Trust Fire, New York City, January 31, 1993. A fire destroyed two floors and caused an estimated $10 million in damages. (1)
INSUFFICIENT FIRE FLOW
A common thread identified in the research is the lack of a significant fire flow during the initial attack. We have developed the belief that using 13⁄4– hoselines with combination or automatic fog nozzles is adequate in controlling these high-intensity fires. That is simply not true. District Chief David M. McGrail of the Denver (CO) Fire Department recommends the following: “Fire departments must equip themselves with a low-pressure, high-volume hose and nozzles for standpipe operations. Without spending years doing research and development, they need not look far to discover a simple, cost-effective solution to this problem. The answer rests with two very basic yet effective tools that have been retired by many departments. These tools are the 21⁄2-inch handline and the smooth bore nozzle.”2
Low-pressure standpipe systems contribute significantly to this problem. National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 14, Standard for the Installation of Standpipe and Hose Systems, 1993 edition, states that only 100 psi need to be provided at the most remote floor outlet, and if the system was installed prior to 1993, only 65 psi needs to be provided. Keep in mind that these pressures can be expected only in a standpipe system that operates properly, is well designed, and is properly maintained. Do you know which buildings in your community have the PRVs set at 65 psi? McGrail says we should expect pressures closer to 40 psi in older systems. Critics will say that standpipe pressures can be increased to good working levels to properly supply combination and automatic nozzles once engine companies begin augmenting the system. This is correct in some cases, but permanently affixed PRVs installed on Class III standpipe outlets will defeat any attempt to significantly augment the system. This was the experience of the Philadelphia Fire Department at One Meridian Plaza in 1991.
The use of 21⁄2-inch hose for all standpipe operations is recommended, and for good reason. NFPA 14 was written reflecting the use of 21⁄2-inch hose with smooth bore nozzles. When departments decide to use 11⁄2-, 13⁄4-, or two-inch hose and fog nozzles, they violate the design of the standpipe system.3 The large amount of Btus generated from a well-developed fire creates intense heat conditions that need a large volume of water for extinguishment.
A “big line” is needed in residential high-rise fires to overcome the oven-like conditions that result from concrete construction. The volume of flow produced by one or two properly placed 21⁄2-inch lines simply cannot be duplicated by an equal number of 13⁄4-inch lines. David P. Fornell in his text Fire Stream Management Handbook4 provides research information regarding the low-pressure capabilities of different nozzle styles. Again, the recommendation comes down to smooth bore nozzles and larger-diameter attack handlines, specifically 21⁄2-inch hose for high-rise and standpipe operations. He goes on to say, “Despite the convenience of smaller hose, 200 to 300 gpm should be considered as minimum flow when working off a standpipe.” (4, 344)
Using the National Fire Academy’s (NFA) fire flow formula for calculating fire flows (L × W/3), let’s look at the following scenario:
You arrive at a two-story 200- × 100-square foot office building with fire showing from the second floor in the left front portion of the building. It is 0200 hours, and the building is closed. The building is equipped with a standpipe system. How many gpm will you need to flow through your nozzles to control an advanced fire in an office area comprising only 1⁄16 (1,250 square feet) of the second floor?
A flow of 416 gpm is required to extinguish this fire. What is the best hose/nozzle combination to use given the very real potential that you may have 65 psi or less at your standpipe connection?
As part of the H.O.T. training at the FDIC, participants are given the opportunity to operate handlines based on the same standpipe operating pressures that Philadelphia firefighters encountered at the One Meridian Plaza fire. The following layouts and hose/nozzle combinations are operated, evaluated, and compared with only 40 psi at the standpipe outlet:
• 150 feet of 13⁄4-inch handline with an automatic combination fog nozzle provided only 37 gpm with an ineffective fire stream.
• 150 feet of 13⁄4-inch handline with a 15⁄16-inch smooth bore nozzle produced 115 gpm with a much more effective stream.
• 150 feet of 21⁄2-inch handline with a 11⁄8-inch smooth bore tip produced an impressive 202 gpm with a very effective fire stream. (2)
• A 11⁄4-inch tip will flow 293 gpm at the same pressure.5
After seeing the results of the study conducted around the One Meridian Plaza fire, if you had to choose a hose/nozzle combination to use on an advanced fire in a high-rise or standpipe fitted building, which would you choose? Keep in mind that for fog nozzles to operate properly, 100-psi nozzle pressure is needed. The limitations of pressure-reducing valves will effectively diminish a fog nozzle’s capability, rendering the fire attack weak and ineffective.
Recently, nozzle manufacturers have begun to offer “low-pressure” fog nozzles that will operate at reduced nozzle pressures of 75 psi or 50 psi. These nozzles are preset at the factory and cannot be changed during a fire attack. If the fog nozzle becomes obstructed with debris, trash, and sediment from the standpipe system, it will become ineffective. Smooth bore nozzles will easily clear most sediment and debris without reducing the fire flow. Additionally, McGrail tells us: “We should expect pressures of approximately 40 psi in older systems at the connection.” Even with newer standpipe systems promising firefighters 100 psi at the connection (post 1993), when the friction loss of the attack lines are calculated, operating pressures can still be below the operating pressure of 75 psi required by some of the “low-pressure” nozzles.
A newer nozzle being marketed has a three-position handle and provides solid bore, fog, or close positions. The nozzle is capable of operating at nozzle pressures from 50 psi up to 100 psi for maximum flow.6 However, this nozzle’s ability (as well as that of other nozzles) to operate at different pressures is dependent on a number of operational factors, including water supply, engine pressure, and the limits imposed by PRVs found on standpipe connections.
Here’s what the nozzle manufacturer has to say about its low-pressure nozzles: “100 psi inlet pressure is an industry standard applied to most fog nozzles. When operating a nozzle at reduced inlet pressure, there will be a corresponding reduction in flow, reach, and reaction force. Note: It is not recommended that any combination fog/straight stream nozzle be operated at pressures below 50 psi.”7
What operational procedures are currently in place within your department? If you are shortly dispatched to a working fire within a structure that has standpipe connections, are you going to pull a 1¾-inch attack line? Do you have smooth bore nozzles available? As an officer, would you order your crews to place 21⁄2-inch lines with smooth bore nozzles in service? Do you as the engine driver know what the proper pump pressures are for these lines?
When discussing the differences between 21⁄2– and 13⁄4-inch hose, nozzle reaction must be addressed. Critics may try to suggest that the nozzle reaction in a 21⁄2-inch hose with a 11⁄8-inch smooth bore tip flowing 265 gpm is too great, when in fact it is actually less than a combination fog nozzle flowing 200 gpm. Again, we can see more fire flow, requiring less work, when using the 21⁄2-inch line with smooth bore nozzles. Concern over the weight of a 21⁄2-inch line must also be addressed. However, one-on-one, the smaller handline cannot duplicate the volume, reach, and knockdown power of the larger line. To deal with the added weight, an incident commander should not hesitate to team up three, even four, firefighters to place a 21⁄2-inch line into service and ensure its mobility. Water damage is not caused by flow rate. It is a result of prolonged application of water by an untrained and undisciplined nozzle team that does not know when to shut down the line. A trained nozzle team with a disciplined officer knows when to open and shut down a stream.
The United States Fire Administration in its 1996 Technical Report Series recommends the following:
“Since standpipe outlet pressures may be as low as 65 psi in systems designed prior to the 1993 version of NFPA 14, or lower due to an improperly set PRV, fire departments should be prepared to make an attack under low-pressure conditions. A smooth bore tip generating only 50-psi nozzle pressure should be used in these situations. Therefore, it is preferable for fire departments to carry 21⁄2-inch hose with a smooth bore tip for high-rise operations.” (1)
Appendix A of NFPA 14 states the following in regard to this potentially dangerous situation:
“Constant-pressure (automatic) type spray nozzles should not be used for standpipe operations because many of these types require a minimum of 100 psi at the nozzle inlet to produce a reasonably effective stream. The potential to flow 200 to 250 gpm at extremely low pressures is the single most important reason smooth bore tips must be used during standpipe firefighting operations.”8
In his thought-provoking article, “Do Your SOPs Measure Up?”9 Fire Department of New York Battalion Chief Jerry Tracy points out: “The SOP (high-rise operations) should follow the most commonly accepted order of fireground safety: life safety, incident stabilization, and property conservation.”
He notes: “Today’s fire service has access to extensive information and resources that can help us in our evolution as a life safety provider of what some choose to call ‘customer service.’
“Technology, science, and commerce have imposed on us an increased fuel load in just about every building and room, representing for firefighters an increased presence of hydrocarbons in the burning appliances, furniture, and conveniences of our daily lives. We are experiencing fires that rapidly accelerate with increased proportions and heat.” (9)
Many departments routinely lead off the fire attack with 13⁄4-inch lines for fires in structures other than private dwellings. Their advancement is often thwarted by the fire’s volume and intensity or by members’ incurring burn injuries while attempting aggressive attacks. The increased flows of a larger (21⁄2-inch attack line) and still manageable handline will be more efficient in quickly extinguishing the fire instead of prolonging the time it takes smaller attack lines and reduced water flow to absorb the Btus that today’s fires produce. (8)
Hose and nozzle combinations make a critical difference in reaching and killing the fire. The increased volume, power, and reach will quickly knock down the fire and preserve property while offering an increased margin of safety to effect rescues when necessary. The increased flows, reach of stream, and reduced nozzle reaction of smooth bore nozzles are less arduous and offer superior penetration and safety from extreme heat.
Combination Nozzle Reaction
The higher nozzle reactions associated with combination nozzles, which is estimated to be one-half of the total gpm flowing (150 gpm produces 75 pounds nozzle reaction) quickly tires firefighters. Based on my observations, in an attempt to control this nozzle reaction produced by combination nozzles, a number of common inappropriate practices are occurring:
• Engine discharge pressures are reduced, effectively reducing available fire flows.
• The shutoff bails on the nozzles are partially closed, further reducing flow.
• The pattern of the stream is changed from straight stream to fog patterns.
• Lines are shut down prematurely because of fatigue.
These practices are dangerous because they do not deliver the quantity of water needed to absorb the Btus the fire is generating, prolonging the fire’s attack on structural members.
A 21⁄2-inch line with a combination nozzle set at 150 gpm produces a nozzle reaction of approximately 75 pounds. Using the same 21⁄2-inch line with a smooth bore nozzle having a 11⁄8-inch tip flowing 265 gpm has a nozzle reaction of approximately 75 pounds with a 50-psi nozzle pressure. Simply changing the nozzle provides a gain of 115 gpm for the same amount of work by the firefighters-with an overall increase in safety and effectiveness of the attack team.
Is now the time to restructure your standard operating procedures (SOPs) to reflect changes that will help ensure a successful outcome and promote the highest level of safety and efficiency? Hopefully, the information discussed here clearly illustrates the advantages of using a 21⁄2-inch line with a smooth bore nozzle when operating in high-rises and standpipe-fitted buildings.
I am not suggesting that you remove combination fog nozzles from your rigs. When properly employed and pumped at the proper operating pressures, fog nozzles are very useful tools in certain firefighting operations-but not in high-rise or standpipe operations.
The research is clear: A specific approach needs to be made when attacking fires in high-rise buildings or buildings with standpipes. I offer the following recommendations:
• Identify and document the buildings in your jurisdiction that have standpipes. Determine the settings of the pressure-reducing valves, and add this information to your preplan for that structure (pre-1993, 65 psi; post-1993, 100 psi).
• Develop specific high-rise packs for engine companies. Use three lengths of 21⁄2-inch hoseline prestrapped into individual lengths so that each firefighter can carry one length over his shoulder or the SCBA. Have the officer carry the nozzle and the standpipe connection bag.
• Mandate that crews operating in these types of buildings use a 21⁄2-inch line with smooth bore nozzles and either a 11⁄8– or 11⁄4– inch tip for fire attack. Ensure, if at all possible, that a minimum of two crews are assigned to this attack line to assist with line deployment and advancement.
• Train on the proper technique and procedure for advancing a 21⁄2-inch attack line.
• Restrict the use of 13⁄4-inch lines and fog nozzles off standpipes; pressures are too low to be effective. Using these smaller lines should be considered a serious safety issue for firefighters and occupants.
• Require that company officers conduct quarterly drills developed by the training section on high-rise operations.
Require training to develop and teach fire companies the proper methods of fire attack as they relate to standpipe operations.
Incorporate high-rise firefighting techniques into recruit training. Several newer members of departments across the country with whom I have spoken were completely unaware of the points discussed in this article.
• Provide study material (specific articles) that will aid officers in training themselves and their crews in high-rise operations.
• Drill and practice with a crew to determine the members’ abilities to operate at a high-rise/standpipe facility in a variety of weather conditions.
• • •
Fighting fires in buildings supplied with standpipes is hard work that presents significant risk to firefighters. Using proven techniques that incorporate large hose with smooth bore nozzles will set the attack teams up to win the fight. ■
1. FEMA/USFA Operational Considerations for High-Rise Firefighting, Special Report 1996.
2. McGrail, Dave, and Gerald R. Tracy, “Standpipe Operations: Fact and Fiction,” Fire Engineering, August 2000.
3. Norman, John. Fire Officer’s Handbook of Tactics, 2nd edition. Pennwell Publishing, 1998.
4. Fornell, David P. Fire Stream Management Handbook. Fire Engineering, 1991.
5. Fredericks, Andrew A., “Standpipe System Operations: Engine Company Basics,” Fire Engineering, February 1996.
8. Fredericks, Andrew A., “Return of the Solid Stream,” Fire Engineering, September 1995.
9. Tracy, Jerry, “Do Your SOPs Measure Up?” Fire Engineering, March 2001.
■ ROBERT C. KRAUSE, B.S. EMT-P, is a captain in the Toledo (OH) Fire & Rescue Department. Krause has held a variety of command positions within the fire service, including fire suppression, fire training officer, and emergency medical services educator. He is a graduate of the University of Cincinnati’s Fire Science Program and is completing his master’s degree in public administration.