Firefighting Q&A: Bill Gustin on Hoselines in Multi-Family Occupancies

Miami-Dade (FL) Captain Bill Gustin responds to questions from his January 2013 Webcast, “Hoseline Operations for Fires in Multiple-Family Occupancies.” View an archive of the Webcast HERE.

Q: Bill, is that you in the wheelchair?

A: No. I use a walker with tennis balls stuck on the feet so I don’t scuff up the nursing home floor.

Q: What is your department’s policy on connecting to the FDC for supporting the sprinkler system? Is that one of the first things done, or do you prefer setting up hoselines for fire attack?

A: It is the FIRST thing we do when we arrive on a closed, unoccupied nonresidential building with smoke showing—for example, a large warehouse in the early morning hours. It will take time for us to perform a size-up, force entry, and locate the fire. All the while, sprinklers, hopefully, are discharging water on the fire, keeping it from spreading. We need to give those sprinklers their best shot at controlling the fire by supplying the FDC with 100-150 pounds per square inch (psi). This is critical in buildings that do not have a fire pump; consequently, the sprinkler system is dependent on city water pressure, which is typically between 40 and 70 psi. It is very important for all firefighters to understand that a modern sprinkler system is hydraulically designed to discharge a certain density, measured in gallons per minute/square foot. For example, light- hazard occupancies generally require a minimum discharge density of .1 gpm/sq ft, whereas a high-hazard occupancy with a heavy fire load of plastics may require a discharge density of as much as 0.5 gpm/sq ft.

Discharge densities are designed into a sprinkler system with a given static and residual pressure and the number of sprinkler heads that are anticipated to open and flow to control, not extinguish, a fire. Now, what happens when the fire load is changed as a result in a change of occupancy or commodity stored or if the system is subjected to lower than designed pressures? Chances are great that the sprinkler system will not control the fire. Again, supplying an FDC early in an incident will give a sprinkler system operating below its designed pressure or overwhelmed by an undersigned fire load its best shot at controlling a fire.

At residential fires, there will also be a time lag between firefighters ascending to the fire floor, stretching a hoseline, and getting water on the fire. Sprinklers will, hopefully, be keeping the fire in check, but they may be deprived of adequate pressure. Accordingly, driver-engineers should be capable of securing a water supply, supplying an FDC, and ensuring that riser-control valves are open by themselves while the engine crew is making its way to the fire floor.

Q: You can never go wrong with a quick dash (from the outside) technique. I used it successfully when the forcible entry was time consuming and bought some extra time keeping fire at bay and making the entry–great philosophy!

A: As my Dad, a 33-year veteran of the Chicago Fire Department, taught me early in my career: “Don’t be afraid to give the fire a dash from the outside whenever your interior attack is delayed.” I want to make it clear that an exterior attack is performed by default; it is seldom the preferred method. An interior attack is almost always superior to an exterior attack because it protects a building’s main exit paths, hallways, and stairways. Additionally, firefighters advancing hose up stairs and down hallways may find unconscious occupants as they make their way to the fire.

Q: What do you mean when you say “throttle it”?

A: I ordered the nozzle firefighter to “throttle it” in the video of deploying the Cleveland hose bundle. It means to rapidly open and close the nozzle to work out the kinks in the hoseline. If you don’t “throttle” the nozzle when deploying the Cleveland load, you’ll end up with a gaggle of kinks. As I stated in the Webcast, I’m not a big fan of the Cleveland load, but I admit that it

does work very well in some situations–for example, when the door to a garden apartment is open, making the fire floor landing untenable. In this case, firefighters must advance a charged hoseline up the stairs to the fire floor landing for their protection. The Cleveland load requires very little space to deploy, making it possible to charge it on a small landing or a stair half-landing below the fire.

Q: You demonstrated an attack to an apartment through a neighboring apartment. What points would be for/against attacking this fire directly from a ladder rather than from the interior? It would be faster and you keep the interior hallway free from smoke. (Maybe you should position a firefighter with a “can” (pressurized water extinguisher) inside to prevent fire spread into the hallway and to control the door).

A: The most important factor would be staffing. Attacking a fire from the exterior directly or through an adjoining apartment may be the only option when there aren’t sufficient personnel to stretch from an engine to the fire building, up to the fire floor, and advance down the public hallway to the fire apartment.

Another factor is the degree of fire separation between the fire apartment (compartment) and the rest of the building. Lack of fire-rated doors, walls, and ceilings can result in fire extending beyond the fire compartment. Consequently, firefighters attacking from the exterior will be unable to get ahead of the fire. You suggested that a firefighter be positioned in the public hallway to control the door to the fire apartment; that’s an excellent idea. Attacking and entering a fire apartment from a ladder would be ideal under the following conditions: (1) The apartment is known to be unoccupied, or the fire inside the apartment is not survivable, and (2) The fire has not extended beyond the compartment of origin.

Q: Thank you for emphasizing some of those basic techniques that we have to be ready to use. I am not sure what specific event took place that made us wary of hitting a fire from the exterior, but the urban myth that came about has done more harm than good. YouTube has been infamous confirming that we have a mindset that we HAVE TO stretch interior while the fire intensifies and we either lose it–or worse! It’s all about application and context, and that comes with good size-up, knowledge, skills, and education. Let’s make it safe for us; we can’t get back what is already lost.

A: I again want to make it clear that an interior attack is almost always better than an exterior attack because it protects major exit paths. That being said, I believe that a lot of opposition to initially attacking a fire from the exterior is caused by paranoia that streams directed from the exterior will “push” fire farther into a building and steam will scald trapped occupants. Water does not push fire; wind pushes fire and air induced by fog streams may push fire. However, research conducted by Underwriter’s Laboratories finds no evidence of this. Again, I will ask the question: If applying a stream to a fire from the outside is so bad, then why has the fire service developed “below the fire” nozzles to direct an exterior stream into a wind-driven fire?”

Q: Don’t you think an initial exterior attack (when possible) would be preferable to keep the door of the involved unit closed, thereby keeping heat, flames, and smoke out of the hallway? It seems to me that that tactic would better accommodate and preserve the egress pathway of other residents and the firefighters helping to evacuate them.

A: Yes, provided that the fire department has determined that the door to the fire apartment is closed and that the fire is contained within the fire apartment. Additionally, it is important that firefighters initially control a fire from the exterior ladder and enter the fire apartment without delay. Ideally, this would be a two-hoseline fire–one line attacks the fire from the exterior while a second hose covers the apartment door in the public hallway. Both lines are equally important; however, if the hoseline advanced from the exterior is successful, the interior line won’t flow a drop of water.

Q: If you have a multifamily dwelling with small compartmentalized units well involved (let’s say four units), at what point would you choose 2½-inch hose?

A: One example would be a large volume of fire involving a garden apartment building of lightweight wood-frame construction. In this case, use 2½-inch hoselines, an apparatus-mounted deck gun, or a portable master-stream device to bring the fire within the suppression capabilities of 1¾-inch hoselines. Once the bulk of the fire has been darkened down, 1¾-inch hoselines can then be taken to upper floors and maneuvered through the apartments. Operating large-caliber streams from the outside doesn’t require a lot of personnel. For example, one firefighter can stretch a 2½-inch hoseline and operate it by himself by sitting or kneeling on it. It’s important that firefighters fighting a top-floor fire in a multiple dwelling realize that above small, compartmentalized apartments, there is a vast, wide-open “lumberyard” of an attic that is often not compartmented by fire walls. Additionally, fire-rated barriers in an attic are often violated by television cable.

Q: Are you teaching at FDIC so my crews can attend your class?

A: Yes. On Monday, April 22, I will present a four-hour HOT workshop called “Intelligent Firefighting,” and on Wednesday, April 24, I will present a classroom session, “Hoseline Operations for Fires in Multiple Dwellings,” which is an expanded version of my Webcast.

Q: How can I book a room at the five-star hotel (featured in the presentation)?

A: You have to know someone. Fortunately, I am friends with the concierge. Rooms go for $500 a night, but they’re worth it because the hotel is walking distance to the Opera, Ballet, and art museums.

Q: You covered how much hose is required for a well stretch or exterior landing. How much do you estimate for an interior stairwell stretch?

A: If you can stretch hose from the attack stairway or a window that is close to the attack stairway to the door to the apartment directly below the fire, then 100 more feet of hose will allow for 50 feet to stretch from the floor below the fire to the fire floor on return stairs with no well and 50 feet for the nozzle’s stream to reach any point in an average-size apartment. The advantage of this method of estimating hose is that it’s really not estimating; you’re actually laying hose out to the door of the apartment directly below the fire. This has to be done anyway to eliminate potential kinks and facilitate a smooth advance.

Q: Our department has a policy of advancing no more than 150 feet from an entrance to the fire floor. This is thought to prevent advancing too far in case of emergency egress. Your thoughts?

A: I’m all for it whenever it is possible, especially in a nonresidential occupancy. The deeper firefighters penetrate into a fire building, the farther they venture from their means of egress and the greater the danger of running out of air, becoming separated from the hoseline, or becoming lost or disoriented. Additionally, the chances of not escaping a flashover, collapse, or wind-driven fire increases as the distance to a means of egress increases. It’s important to remember that the longer a hoseline is advanced into a hostile environment, the more firefighters will be required on the line to maneuver it around corners and obstacles; consequently, more firefighters are put in harm’s way.

Q: This was a very informative class. I just wish everyone in my department would watch it.

A: The presentation will eventually be in the Fire Engineering Web site archives for six months, so everyone who wants to watch may do so at their convenience.

Q: How important is the low-pressure fog or smooth bore (nozzle) to the operation? All we have is a 100-psi automatic nozzle to work with, and I think we could change to at least a low-pressure fog, but need some fire power to back up the case.

A: An automatic nozzle will work for all the evolutions examined in the Web cast because we are not using a standpipe and don’t have to contend with the associated pressure limitations. A nozzle that operates at 100 psi may limit the amount of 1¾-inch hose that can be stretched because more pump discharge pressure will be needed to maintain 100 psi in addition to friction loss in the hose and five psi for every floor above the ground. Compare this to a hoseline that supplies a nozzle that operates at 50 psi; that’s an additional 50 psi that can be used to overcome fiction loss in a greater length of hoseline.

Another advantage of a “low-pressure” nozzle–that is, one that operates below 100 psi–is that its nozzle reaction will be lower than one flowing the same amount at 100 psi. When firefighters find nozzle reaction to be excessive, they have a tendency to gate down the nozzle. A reduced flow will result in less nozzle reaction, but it can fail to control a fire.

Q: Does stretching a hoseline through a window compromise your ability to maintain egress if the fire rolls into the hallway?

A: In terms of occupant protection, the answer is definitely yes. An interior attack is almost always better than attacking through a window because the hoseline protects main exit routes, hallways, and stairways. The reason that the fire can roll into the hallway is that the door to the fire apartment was left open. Now, let’s look at your question from another perspective–that of firefighter protection from a wind-driven fire. Say a fire is in an apartment on the windward side of a building being subjected to 30 mile-per-hour winds. If the windows in the fire apartment fail and the door to the apartment door were left open by fleeing occupants, the wind can drive fire down a hallway, severely burning firefighters advancing a hoseline. The combination of the windward- side windows failing and the open door will definitely compromise the firefighters’ ability to maintain their path of egress, especially in a long hallway. Now consider that directing a stream from the exterior, laddering, and advancing a line through a window keep the wind at the firefighters’ backs and their means of egress close by.

Q: Does your department train with live fire? Are your hose evolutions and deployment training done in your own controlled facilities?

A: It depends if you consider liquid petroleum gas fire props to be live fire. Our trips to the department’s training facility are few and far between. It took three training captains almost a year to get all of our companies through a third-floor apartment fire scenario. Most of our training is at the company and battalion level and is not conducted at our training facility because travel time takes away from highly coveted drill time. My company often trains in a parking garage where we can stretch and advance hose; however, our drills are frequently interrupted by EMS calls. It’s important to know that it doesn’t take live fires or an extravagant training facility to practice hose evolutions. In a sense, performing hose evolutions in a training tower is unrealistic because there are no hallways.

Q: If you placed the hose under the railing (of an exterior hallway or balcony), would it kink easier than going over the rail?

A: No, because hose that goes up and over the railing and back down to the floor landing has to make a sharp bend that can result in a kink. Bringing the hose under or through the railing eliminates or reduces this sharp bend and the potential to kink.

Bill GustinBILL GUSTIN is a 39-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 a contributing editor and an editorial advisory board member for Fire Engineering and an advisory board member for FDIC. He was a keynote speaker for FDIC 2011.

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