By Guido Calcagno
Hoseline management at any fire is something that cannot be overlooked. Let’s face it, without putting water on the fire, no progress will be made and the fire will not be extinguished. However, when discussing hoseline management during a high-rise fire there are a few considerations that need to be made to ensure crews remain safe, hoselines are able to be advanced, and the fire is extinguished. Although high-rise buildings will present us with numerous challenges, by focusing on the basics we can effectively and efficiently apply water to the fire in a safe and timely manner.
Preplanning and Initial Considerations
Leading out hose at a high-rise fire requires adequate manpower and good communication. Regardless of how we look at this situation, this is a two-engine lead out. The best way to be proficient at any skill is to train in a variety of scenarios. Training will help to ensure a smooth and seamless operation because minimal direction will be needed when everyone is aware of what is expected. This starts when assignments are delegated in the morning at roll call.
At high-rise fires where elevators are used to ascend to a safe level below the fire, it is important to understand that not all members may fit into the first or even second elevator. With this in mind, ensure that all members are aware of what equipment needs to ascend on the first trip. Each member must understand what they are to do on subsequent trips to ensure they make it to the fire floor and are accounted for by their company officer. Whether it is to have a collection point for firefighters to meet or an assignment for them to complete, it is vital that this is communicated before arriving at the incident.
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The equipment essential for the fire fight must make it up on the first trip, even if this means those ascending must stand on hose because of the elevator’s size. In the event elevator control is lost early in the fire, having the equipment already upstairs will make it easier for anyone needing to walk by lightening the load. This will increase the speed of ascension and hopefully allow members to preserve some energy to fight the fire. Essential equipment includes approximately 150-200 feet of 2 ½-inch hose equipped with the proper pipe (based on your department protocol and appropriate preplanning) and a high-rise bag with tools to properly dress the standpipe. The high-rise bag should have tools that can open a stuck wheel/valve (i.e. pipe wrench), a pressure or flow gauge to read your gallons per minute and/or flow pressure, an elbow to address tight areas around the standpipe, and any other fittings or valves that would be pertinent to the district or buildings to which you respond.
The fire investigation team will be investigating the whereabouts of the fire and the appropriate stairwell to initiate the fire attack. Smoke-proof towers should be avoided unless an extreme circumstance exists (bear in mind convenience is not an extreme circumstance). Buildings equipped with smoke-proof towers often preplan with their occupants to default to this stairwell for egress in the event evacuation needs to take place. If a smoke-proof tower is used, we will compromise the integrity of stairwell as well as put several civilian lives at risk, as seen the Cook County Administration building fire in Chicago in 2003. In the event the only standpipe for the building is in the smoke-proof tower, care should be taken to stretch a hoseline across the hallway the floor below and up the second stairwell for attacking the fire. If this is the case, extra hose may be needed to reach the seat of the fire.
While the fire attack team is performing their size-up, someone from the engine company should be performing a reconnaissance of the floor below the fire to understand the layout of the fire floor and the most appropriate way to access the unit from the designated fire attack stairwell. Meanwhile, another member of the engine company should locate and open the standpipe to flush the system. Some older fire pumps require the standpipe valve to be fully open and may take upwards of 30 seconds to engage the pump and send water to the desired floor. Some valves may not be maintained well and will require you to use a pipe wrench or other tool to provide leverage to open the valve (Photo 1). For safety reasons, the standpipe used should be at least one floor below the fire floor.
According to National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 14, Standard for the Installation of Standpipe and Hose Systems, the distance of travel from an outlet can be no more than 130 feet in non-sprinkled buildings and no more than 200 feet in sprinkled buildings. (Magee, 2018) As an engine company officer, these are important numbers to consider, but considerations should also be given to a few more items to ensure you are using enough hose to reach the seat of the fire. The aforementioned 130- and 200-foot distances do not factor in leading out from one floor below the fire. Leading out one floor below the fire would require an additional length of hose to accommodate ascending one additional floor, plus at least one length of 50-foot hose inside the unit. When the fire attack stairwell is selected, it needs to be determined if the stairwell is remote from the fire (this should be the selection, if possible, to provide added safety in the operation). If this is the case, additional hose may be needed to reach the unit. If at any point in time your lead out will exceed the amount of hose that is on hand, an immediate call must be made to incident command to request that extra hose be brought up from another engine. Any additional hose added after fire extinguishment has begun should be made from the safety of the stairwell while the crew on the pipe seeks refuge in a safe area. This communication needs to be disseminated to all members operating on or above the fire floor.
Once the correct amount of hose to be used for extinguishment has been determined, these lengths should be connected in the hallway (or an apartment unit, if necessary) one floor below the fire. This can be done by one member if the full crew has not yet ascended. By keeping all lengths of hose bedded alike and strapped, it is significantly easier to line up the hose butts and connect the hose lengths (Photos 2 and 3). If this is done prior to unstrapping the lengths, it will prevent passing members from accidentally kicking or tangling hose as they walk by. This will also facilitate easier movement to both the standpipe and up the stairs if minimal help is available to move the hoseline. If only minimal personnel are present, stretch the dry line down the hallway, or, if necessary, into a unit where it will facilitate smoother advancement up the stairs.
The decision made to lead the hoseline up the stairs wet versus dry is contingent on the fire and smoke conditions encountered by the fire investigation team. Any fire company working with minimal staffing should, conditions permitting, consider leading the hoseline out dry up a half-floor above the fire and stretching the landing and wide along the stairs with the pipe positioned near the hallway door of the fire floor (Photo 4). When the line is charged, this will help to reduce the number of kinks in the hose. Ensure this is done without couplings above the fire floor, which will decrease the possibility of the hose becoming caught while it comes down the stairs. When the line is charged, the engine company can set the standpipe pressure while flowing water in the stairwell. Although this may cause a few members to get wet, by setting the standpipe from the safety of stairwell you will be flowing significant amounts of water remote from elevator shafts and electrical rooms. You may also not have to be on air. In the stairwell it is also possible to use line-of-sight communication from the pipe firefighter to the standpipe firefighter on the floor below the fire to communicate the setting of the standpipe gauge if radios are ineffective, thus keeping firefighters from being exposed to untenable conditions.
If you are unable to determine the effectiveness of the stream due to a tight stairwell, progress as far as you can in the stairwell, then gauge the stream’s effectiveness by flowing water at the ceiling of the hallway. This will limit the water that could potentially compromise the elevator or an electrical room, as well as cool the ceiling. Keep in mind that regardless of where the standpipe gauge is set, control of the door to the hallway and the unit are the keys to keeping firefighters safe and preventing adverse conditions. Prior to opening the door from the stairwell door to the hallway, make sure the stairwell is clear of people several floors above the fire.
As you move to make the turn into the hallway, the weight of the water in the hose you stretched the half-floor above the fire floor will allow you to get several feet down the hallway without multiple hands on the hoseline. This is an effective way to do more with less if heel-men have not been able to address every pinch point to assist in advancing hoseline. As members start to make it to the fire floor, they should have preassigned roles and know they will be assisting the pipe firefighter; thus it is easy to plug firefighters into positions that could create pinch points without these members needing to be directed. Although stairwells and turns are obvious pinch points, remember that the door to the unit is also a pinch point that needs to be addressed. Company officers should remember they are there to oversee the work of their members and provide guidance and direction. They should not be pulling hose, abandoning the firefighter on the pipe. In this case they should call for the heel-men to move up to the next available position.
When ready to enter the door to the unit on fire, keep in mind that forcing entry into the door should be coordinated between the engine and truck. If there are thoughts of a wind-driven fire, consider knocking out the peep hole to see if the fire is under pressure. If this is the case, consider forcing entry into an adjacent unit to initially attack the fire indirectly. If things get out of hand, there is also the ability to control the door to the nearby unit while companies regroup, thus increasing the safety factor.
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If conditions permit and the windows in the fire unit have not been compromised, it is paramount that the firefighter on the pipe direct the stream at the ceiling. This will disrupt the thermal layering and cool the atmosphere. This will also avoid sending a stream into a window that may be close to failing. High-rise windows consist of two windows: a window in the unit, a small air space, then the window exposed to the exterior conditions. It only takes a small amount of heat around the seal of the interior window to release. If a stream were to strike this glass with sufficient force, we run the risk of creating a wind-driven fire, with this same amount of heat now exposed to an exterior window with a fire on the inside and an extremely low exterior temperature on the other side.
If your department is operating a pipe with a pistol grip, training should be conducted on how to properly work the pipe to ensure that the stream is pointed upward. From conducting training and studying several hundred members using a pistol grip nozzle versus one without, the vast majority of people holding the grip had their hands and arms so close to their bodies that their range of motion was limited—firefighters were unable to effectively raise the stream more than a few feet to hit the ceiling. On the other hand, members that did not use the pistol grip and held the hose farther back had the flexibility to apply water to the ceiling with less effort, while remaining in control of the hoseline. The pistol grip required members to shut down the pipe to readjust, some multiple times, to adjust their whole body, not just their grip, to accomplish the same task. This was observed by several instructors overseeing high-rise operations training at the Chicago Fire Academy throughout 2019. Although this is not the case for every firefighter, training cannot be overlooked. Technique played a significant role in the effectiveness of the pipe firefighter. In addition, communication should not be overlooked when it comes to establishing water through standpipe operations.
High-rise fires present a variety of situations that will require you to think outside of the box. To be properly prepared to handle these situations, it’s critical to preassign roles and assignments. By doing so it will be easier to communicate with members who are in remote locations if you are unable to remain together as a company for whatever reason. Leading out hose at a high-rise fire requires more personnel, takes more time, and involves coordinated movements of multiple members from multiple companies. Through proper incident size-up and knowing your limitations as a company, you will be able to anticipate potential problems. By training, you will be able easily overcome these problems while at the same time keeping yourself, your company, and civilians safe.
Chicago Fire Department Quinn Fire Academy High-Rise Operations. (2019). Observations from High-Rise Training 2019. Chicago, IL, USA.
Magee, C. (2018, 12 5). Stanpipes 101, Part 1: A Beginner’s Guide to STandpipe Firefighting. Fire Engineering . Fair Lawn, New Jersey, USA. Retrieved April 7, 2020, from https://www.fireengineering.com/2018/12/05/207023/standpipes-101-part-1/
Guido Calcagno has been a firefighter/paramedic with the Chicago (IL) Fire Department for 15 years. He has a master’s degree in public safety administration and is currently involved with high-rise operations training for the department.