By Douglas Mitchell Jr.
Vertical fire spread can quickly make a “one-room job” escalate to a multiple alarm fire. Knowing various building construction techniques indigenous to your response area will be an enormous asset to you. Vertical fire spread can be contained in short order…if you know where to look for it.
One type of building construction used dumbwaiter shafts for occupants to move smaller items such as groceries up from the ground level to their apartments. It was a simple pulley and rope that brought your packages either to your floor or directly into your apartment. From a firefighting standpoint, we know that this shaft is a combustible chimney!
The presence of a dumbwaiter shaft, once noted, must be announced early in fire operation and checked in short order. Whether that notification comes from a firefighter on the roof, a member checking the basement or a member inside the fire apartment, unchecked fires that expose into these shafts have led to many multiple alarm fires.
Dumbwaiter shafts provide a vertical conduit for fire travel in buildings. These shaftways can be found primarily in larger older homes and apartment buildings. They create a path of direct travel from the basement straight to the roof. They then have small doors along the shaftway, which open for access, either in the public hall or directly within each apartment. Fire in this space, may gain access into the apartments above and also the cockloft space at the roof level.
In many instances owners have removed the usage of the dumbwaiter itself but utilized the shaft to run additional electrical, plumbing and cable wiring. If fire is found to have involved or even exposed an area near a dumbwaiter shaft, ALL floors (including those below) in the area of that shaft must be checked for extension.
DOUGLAS J. MITCHELL JR. has more than 20 years in the fire service and is a lieutenant in the Fire Department of New York. He previously served in Fairfax County, Virginia. He is a vice president of Traditions Training LLC and has co-authored the book 25 to Survive: Reducing Residential Injury and LODD (Fire Engineering).
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