FIRES YOU NEVER READ ABOUT
BY TOM BRENNAN
Let`s start with one of the simplest: how many of you have been annoyed with the rubbish fires in the base of an elevator shaft? The high-rise–with its multiple below- grade floors and multiple single, multiple blind, and low-rise elevator services–is a major problem. But most of us are used to responding to simple multiple-dwelling, hotel, institutional, and commercial structures with service not more than one level below grade–so let`s talk about them.
The smell of rubbish burning should be unmistakable and certainly a tip-off when coupled with a smoke condition in the shaft and car. So how do you routinely handle this? First, send the elevator car to a floor above the one from which you will operate. In most cases, this will be the entrance floor for a lot of reasons, such as easier stretch and take-up (rubbish, remember?), and the fact that the first floor (along with the basement and top floor) usually is equipped with lobby elevator doors that are easily operated with one of many elevator keys.
Once the car is stationed on an upper floor (one above is sufficient) and a member is assigned to remain in the lobby of that floor, open the lobby service door with your key. You must decide here whether you will operate from the landing or must eventually get into the pit itself. The opened lobby door and the stop switch in the elevator car (almost always available) should disable the electrical system so you can play a hose stream to a nuisance fire. However, any time a member is to enter the shaft, the elevator assembly must be placed out of service from the machinery room (electrically). If you are used to this operation, dispatch some firefighters to pull the fuses in this room and stand by to replace them when ordered. Otherwise, you must request the assistance of elevator personnel. Then it is a simple matter of extinguishment, ventilation, and restoration of service.
One of the most problematic shafts wherein fire occurs is the closed shaft–that is, closed at the top (usually roof) by skylight or other enclosure. Fire begins (act of God or accident?) in the base of the shaft itself in the cellar or is extended from a cellar fire. The problem is the enclosure. Heat and flame mushroom and bank down, not to mention communicate to combustibles within the shaft itself. the trick is to know it is a shaft fire. if it is, you have two priorities: extinguish the fire at the base and within the shaft, and check all exposures possible–usually the occupancies at the top floor and the cockloft first. Now count the handline locations on arrival: basement for the seat of the fire, one; within the shaft, two; and the exposures at least on the top floor, three and four lines. This does not mention the other occupancies ripe for horizontal extension on the way to the top floor. What we are talking about here is a second alarm or mutual aid on arrival for what will be “two cents worth of fire” if you get it early.
What are the “tricks” for fires in these enclosures? First is ventilation–stop the mushrooming and create a chimney. Proper and prompt shaft ventilation will greatly reduce your problem. Handlines need to be stretched to the base of the shaft and to the top floor immediately. Now the trucks! You need enough tools on the top floor to enter each occupancy and check the ceilings and walls around the four sides of the shaft in buildings with combustible construction. There–simple!
Now let`s throw in some fudge: the dumbwaiter fire. Dumbwaiters are old-time service boxes in multistory buildings, controlled by hand with pulley and rope. The shafts in these once-used services have openings of more than one foot by three feet at each occupancy at each floor level. Second, today`s dumbwaiters usually are sealed by owners, and the rope and pulley assemblies have not been serviced for decades.
Here, get your vent team to the top as fast as possible. Now, where is your first line going? I know one of the first must go to the basement or cellar, but where first? This is a gutsy call: If it works, you are a legend; if it doesn`t, you`re a buffoon. Stretch a handline to the interior stairs with enough hose to reach up to the top floor and ask for water as soon as you reach the staircase. Operate from the floor you`re on when you`re notified you`re getting water! Get the nozzle into the shaft and operate upward. The water “washes” the shaft above and the runoff extinguishes the base. It is the quickest way to get a handle on a nightmare of a fire and stop extension while your ongoing size-up dictates additional handline position and points of truck work.
Problems with dumbwaiters:
1. Position of the usable or abandoned car will create intermittent mushroom areas for heat and flame. Its position should be ascertained as soon as possible.
2. The shaft usually serves the public hall of the structure or the occupancies. In the occupancies, the shaft usually opens into more than one occupancy per floor and is enclosed by a flimsy combustible door. Fire extension to various, random occupancies is common. All occupancies will have to be entered and accounted for.
3. Failure of the old rope from fire or age will drop the service car. The roof assembly holding the pulley and the car usually fails. Therefore, SOP should prohibit any part of a human`s (firefighter`s) body from protruding into the shaft at any time. At serious fires, this assembly should be dismantled and taken onto the roof as soon as possible, making it possible to operate by reaching into the shaft from areas below.
Aw! Out of time again–and I still haven`t told you about the pool fire! n
TOM BRENNAN is chief of the Waterbury (CT) Fire Department and a technical editor of Fire Engineering. He spent more than 20 years in some of the world`s busiest ladder companies in the City of New York (NY) Fire Department.