The Challenges of Fire Department Connections

By TODD CONNORS

Scenario: You are on the second-due engine to an automatic fire alarm in a high-rise for the elderly. Many false alarms have come from this location before—burned popcorn in the break room, pots left on the stove, the old fire alarm system that simply malfunctions. The first engine arrives on scene and reports, “Nothing showing; alarm on the 12th floor.” Nothing signifies a working fire, and you think, “Why don’t they fix this fire alarm system? I’m tired of coming here!” You know your job as the second-due engine is to supply the fire department connection (FDC) and then join the first-due engine on the reported fire floor.

As you arrive, the first-due engine reports, “Heavy smoke in the hallway on the 12th floor with reports of people trapped in the fire apartment. Request a working fire upgrade and a second alarm.” As you mentally prepare for a working high-rise fire, you stretch a three-inch line to the FDC and see that the FDC is missing (such as in photo 1). Panic runs in your mind, and you ask your officer, “What now?”

(1) A stolen/missing FDC. (Photo courtesy of CFR Inspections Bureau.)

Supplying a standpipe system is usually a mundane operation; simply stretch a three-inch line to the FDC after securing a water source and charge it. Next, stretch another three-inch line to the FDC and charge it. This simple operation is taught at all academy classes and is a basic operation. But what happens when the FDC is inoperable?

Recently, several incidents in the Clearwater (FL) Fire Rescue’s (CFR’s) response area have proved that the FDC is not always in working order. What would you do if the FDC is stolen or missing? It’s possible that concrete cement from a building’s construction process could make the FDC unusable (photo 2). The FDC could be rusting away (photo 3). The FDC piping may be broken and cause water to surge out of the ground, as in a recent kitchen fire in a senior citizen residential high-rise. However, a few firefighters will say that the standpipe system is supplied by the fire pump, so why worry? A few important reasons include that the fire pump is out of service for maintenance, a valve to the fire pump is closed, or the water is turned off completely because of a disconnected section of pipe supplying the fire pump (photo 4). Are you willing to risk your life on a system that is not checked daily? How can the standpipe system still be supplied with water in these or other conditions?

(2) An FDC at a construction site. (Photo by Kevin O’Neill.)
(3) An FDC with a rusted opening. (Photo courtesy of CFR Inspections Bureau.)
(4) The section of pipe supplying the fire pump is disconnected. (Photo by Kevin O’Neill.)

District chiefs have used certain methods when confronted with FDC issues at calls. One district chief special requested a truck company to use the aerial ladder pipe as a standpipe to the sixth floor. Unfortunately, the truck company had a response time of 10 minutes. What do you do during those 10 minutes? If one of the first-arriving truck companies is used as an exterior standpipe, you lose the capability of aerial operations.

At another incident, the district chief ordered hose stretched up the stairs to the seventh floor, which was a difficult and time-consuming operation. Also, another engine company at the previously mentioned kitchen fire did not know what to do until the second-arriving district chief arrived. If the FDC operation fails for any reason, inform the incident commander of this immediately so the delay in supplying the FDC is known to all, especially the members operating on the fire floor.

So, in what fast and effective way can we overcome an inoperable FDC? The standpipe hose valve allows water to enter and exit the standpipe system. When the FDC is inoperable, stretch your three-inch line to the first-floor standpipe hose valve; remember to bring a double female, a 65° elbow, and siamese connections. Connect the 65° elbow to the hose to lessen the chance of the hose kinking, then connect the double female, the siamese, and the three-inch line in that order. Open the standpipe valve fully, and have the engine pump the standpipe as an FDC. Stretch a second three-inch line to the siamese as you would a normal FDC (photo 5). If the standpipe hose valve is a pressure-restricting device (PRD), simply remove it prior to opening to allow the valve to fully open. If the standpipe discharge valve is a pressure reducing valve (PRV), this procedure will not work because the PRV will act like a clapper valve.

(5) A standpipe discharge being used as an FDC. (Photo by author.)

CFR uses this procedure not only for inoperable FDCs but also for the second-alarm engines to augment the standpipe system for a redundancy in water supply during a working high-rise fire. The inspections bureau now requires two FDCs for all new high-rise buildings in case of FDC failure or PRV use.

As more and more buildings with standpipes age, the odds of FDC failure will increase. You must know how to overcome this situation. This method is the easiest and most effective.

TODD CONNORS is a 16-year fire service veteran and a lieutenant with Clearwater (FL) Fire Rescue, assigned to Engine 45.

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