BY DAN SHERIDAN
Certain areas of New York City have entire blocks of buildings, including large H-types, that have one or two entrances through interior courtyards. These structures are often located where engine companies are spread out and have minimal staffing. Upper Manhattan and the Riverdale section in the Bronx are areas that have some of the largest non-fire-resistive buildings. Look in your own area, and you may find a few as well. It is not unusual to have a stretch that will require 12 to 15 hose lengths.
The Fire Department of New York (FDNY) training bulletin Multiple Dwellings states, “All available engine companies should be used to stretch the first line.” With all the turns and twists and the number of lengths required, it would not be unusual to involve the first three engine companies (each with four firefighters) in getting the first line in operation. If companies are coming from a distance, it means just more delays in getting that all-important first line in operation. If a second line is urgently needed elsewhere, you would have an even bigger problem. A second alarm would be needed just to stretch two lines.
Reaction time starts when the problem is perceived. If it is apparent from the start that two lines are needed, you now would have to wait for those companies responding from even farther away.
When more than two lines are needed, we are confronting a whole different set of problems. If operating two lines, you would need at least one backup line. On more than one occasion, I have been forced to hunt down an engine distant from the fire building from which to stretch a backup line, wasting valuable precious minutes.
The fact is that we have very big buildings without standpipes that necessitate long stretches and only a few personnel are available. The first three engines aren’t always available. In upper Manhattan, for example, the second- and third-due engines come over bridges from another borough. Imagine the potential for delays on a normal response, with every company available, during the rush hours. The first-due engine (which may be alone on the scene) will face an incredible task.
Some other points to consider involve hydraulics (see Table 1). A stretch that consists of 12 to 15 lengths of hose will inevitably be subject to numerous kinks as well as considerable friction loss (5 psi per 2 1/2-inch length, 20 psi per 1 3/4-inch length). When the elevation loss is factored into a stretch to the top floor (5 psi per floor), members are dealing with very high engine pressures.
|Conventional Stretch||Rope Stretch|
|Number of lengths||12 (6 2 1/2-inch + 6 1 3/4-inch)||5 1 3/4-inch|
|Friction loss* for length of stretch||(6 × 5 psi) + (6 × 20 psi) = 150 psi||(5 × 20 psi) = 100 psi|
|Friction loss** for stretch to 7th floor||(6 floors × 5 psi) = 30 psi||6 floors × 5 psi = 30 psi|
|Nozzle (smooth bore straight stream)||50 psi||50 psi|
|Total psi necessary for 180 gpm||230 psi||180 psi|
|* Friction loss per hose length: 2 1/2/-inch = 5 psi; 1 3/4-inch = 20 psi
** Friction loss per floor = 5 psi
FDNY’s Engine Operations Manual recommends factoring in a 20-gpm loss for a single kink or 90 gpm if there are three kinks. Instead of flowing 180 gpm, members now have only half the desired volume. Removing kinks by increasing engine pressure is not an option; it increases the risk of burst lengths.
The actual physical labor of stretching that much hose also expends a tremendous amount of energy. The first-due engine members are operating with bunker gear and SCBA in addition to carrying the weight of the hose and haven’t even put a drop of water on the fire yet. Firefighters still have to deal with the fire.
Because of the elapsed time, fire probably has extended out of the room of origin. If the line has kinks, members must be dispatched to straighten the line. Sometimes this is impossible because of the complicated nature of these long stretches. Trying to control an expanding fire with decreased water volume will be an arduous task for the first line. Now, factor in some other unexpected problems that always occur at every fire-hydrants that are inoperable or blocked by parked cars and difficulty finding the best route to the fire apartment, for example. With these additional problems, members can expect great losses.
I was taught that water problems cause even bigger problems. If there are standpipes or sprinklers in these large H-type buildings, most of the water difficulties for firefighters would be solved. But even though these auxiliary appliances may not be at your disposal, there is a simple solution.
Many of the buildings in my response area were vacant and had stairs that were missing treads and risers, if a staircase was even in the building. Although these were dangerous buildings, members did learn a lot from them. One procedure that seemed to be standard at the time was to use a rope to stretch up the side of the building. This was a great practice, but it seems to have been forgotten. As long as firefighters approach from the floor below, they are fulfilling their obligation to protect the interior stairs.
In Long Island City, New York, the Celtic Park Gardens complex takes up the whole block with a single courtyard in which all the entrances to the eight buildings are located. The courtyard has five openings-one at each of the four corners plus one in the middle on the street. When asking the firefighters participating in a recent drill how they would handle an incident in these buildings, they said they would stretch through the nearest opening to the building involved and through the interior. This practice would require about 16 lengths to get to the farthest point in this complex from any given opening.
Many of the apartments in this complex that would present the most difficulty also have stairways with windows that open onto the street, in close proximity to the hydrant (arrow, photo 1). The other apartments that surround the openings into the courtyard also have windows that face the courtyard. Following some investigation, members concluded that by stretching rope into these buildings, only half as many lengths of hose would be needed to reach the most distant points.
Photos by author.
This procedure involves the officer’s entering the fire building with a rope, usually stored in a used plastic bleach bottle (photo 2). The officer proceeds to the stairwell window on the floor or half-landing below the fire floor. The officer first secures the rope to the handrail or another substantial object and then drops the bottle to the firefighters (photo 3) waiting below with several lengths of hose flaked on the sidewalk or in the courtyard.
One firefighter secures the nozzle and line to the rope, which is then pulled up through the window (photo 4) and flaked in the stairwell (photo 5). The remainder of the engine company proceeds to this area to meet the officer and commence the interior push and fire attack. Before the line is charged, it also should be secured to a substantial object to prevent it from sliding back out the window when it is charged.
If it is apparent that a second line is needed, the same procedure is followed, possibly simultaneously with the hoisting of the first line. Keep in mind that all lines stretched must come in below the original fire floor.
Members should look at their response district and start thinking about what they would do if there were a fire in their most troublesome and dangerous buildings. Relevant information about such structures should be filed with the dispatcher’s office beforehand. Important notations include unusual building numbering or lettering schemes, location of the best entrance into the building, and the locations of the closest hydrants.
Have the building management company clearly mark the buildings with the address on the street side as well as in the courtyard. Management should also mark the stairway windows on the street side with the address if it is not apparent. Remember, the more information you have beforehand, the better you will be able to do your job.
DAN SHERIDAN, a 19-year veteran of the Fire Department of New York, is a captain assigned to the 6th Division in the Bronx.