Multiple Rescues in Multiple-Dwelling Fire

By Michael M. Dugan

ON ARRIVAL, HEavy fire is showing out of the windows of a third-floor apartment on the exposure D side of the fire building, a seven-story building of noncombustible (Type II) construction. This apartment is on the C-D corner of the building. This building has no fire escapes, and trapped residents are depending on the fire department for rescue from areas adjacent to and above a heavily involved apartment fire. There are about 20 units per floor in this building. The Hempstead (NY) Fire Department, with help from 12 mutual-aid departments, made 30 rescues from the interior and exterior of the building. About 12 rescues were made by portable ladders, aerial ladders, and tower ladders.

(1) The firefighters in the basket of the tower ladder vent windows of an adjoining apartment.
(1) The firefighters in the basket of the tower ladder vent windows of an adjoining apartment. At least three civilians are at windows awaiting rescue. These rescues can be accomplished with aerial devices or ground ladders. The civilians are not endangered by smoke and can be addressed as soon as resources are available. (Photos by Lou Minutoli, FirstOnScenePhotos.)

The first-arriving unit or chief on the scene must confirm a working fire to dispatch. If you do not have a full residential fire assignment responding because of the number of phone calls or reports of fire, then call additional resources. These additional units are going to be required and necessary for safe fire operations. This is a case for an additional alarm on arrival. Each rescue is going to need resources, and multiple rescues are going to use a lot of available personnel, which might delay firefighters from performing normally assigned tasks because they must address the civilian life hazard first. Therefore, when confronted with a fire and rescue problem of this magnitude, call for help early; you can always send units back if they are not needed, but it is tough to need a unit to address a problem and turn around at the command post and see no help is available.

(2) The fire is in a free-burning stage, consuming all the fuel in the fire apartment and autoexposing the fourth and fifth floors.
(2) The fire is in a free-burning stage, consuming all the fuel in the fire apartment and autoexposing the fourth and fifth floors. It is evident from the fire’s intensity that no water has made the fire apartment yet.

The 360° walk-around at this fire is essential; if you arrive at the A side of the building, the heavy and expanding fire might not be visible on the D side. The civilian in distress at the window might not be apparent, so if you don’t get a report or visual on the side and rear of the building, you might get caught by surprise.

Apparatus placement is going to be an issue at a fire of this magnitude because of the number of rescues being made and people visible at windows. The engine company is going to need to supply the standpipe system and might need to hand stretch additional lines if members need more water than the standpipe can provide. The apparatus placement at this fire worked well and allowed the aerial and tower ladders to position to remove civilians adjacent to and above the fire. If there is a question about the placement, the apparatus operators must communicate with each other or the command post. Be aware of blocking proper ladder apparatus placement to effect rescues from upper floors.

(3) Two civilians are removed from the building with the tower ladder basket.
(3) Two civilians are removed from the building with the tower ladder basket. They appear in distress and will need to be turned over to EMS. Coordinating this is essential because you want the basket available as soon as possible for more possible rescues.

At this fire, with all of the rescues taking place, it would be easy to overlook the need for handlines—and fast. The units at this fire encountered heavy heat in the public hallways and had to advance down the hallway past four apartments before getting to the original fire apartment. That operation is going to take a primary line and a backup line on the fire floor.

This fire, because of its volume and intensity, requires a 2½-inch handline because of the amount of fire showing at the windows. The backup line must also be a 2½-inch hoseline to protect the first line. Because of its size and headway, the fire autoexposed the fourth and fifth floors through the windows, which were single-pane glass. This resulted in the need for additional handlines on the floor above and two floors above.

(4) Three ladder apparatus are in place addressing victim and firefighter safety.
(4) Three ladder apparatus are in place addressing victim and firefighter safety. Some of the less endangered and exposed people are being removed with a portable ladder. The incident commander has set in place a priority of rescues.

If the units operating at this fire were not well-trained and given specific instructions and assignment, it would have led to four handlines being stretched off of one standpipe riser, which could have led to a loss of pressure in the primary attack handline—endangering both firefighters and civilians. An additional line might have had to be stretched up a staircase, possibly causing a delay in getting the additional lines in place. This could have led to a fire extension problem.

If an engine company is assigned the job of getting a line to one of the floors above the fire, members might have to consider alternative methods of stretching the line or possibly using a remote standpipe riser. If they use a remote riser, they will need to ensure that the riser is supplied from a fire department connection and not rely on the building’s water source or the public water main. The incident commander finds out that the fire is running a pipe chase and has been found on the sixth and seventh floors. Personnel will need two more handlines, which they will stretch from the exterior, off a ladder, after all rescues are completed (if possible), or by a remote stairway; regardless, the additional lines must not become entangled with the already stretched handlines.

(5) A tower ladder is used to supply a fire department standpipe connection.
(5) A tower ladder is used to supply a fire department standpipe connection. Because of limited access and the need for rescues, this ladder was close to the building. When the need for water arose, it became a supply pumper and was backed up by another aerial device.

This fire was extinguished and primary searches were completed in approximately 60 minutes. Secondary searches and door-to-door checks were completed within 90 minutes. At this fire, the Hempstead Fire Department had the assistance of 12 departments for firefighting and 30 EMS ambulances from various agencies, which removed 30 civilians for medical evaluation and treatment.

This fire once again proves that command and control are a vital part of any fire but are extremely important at a large fire with multiple rescues and floors of fire. Training and following standard operational guidelines are major parts of any successful fireground operation. All rescues were made and all fires were extinguished with minor injuries and no loss of life.

Thanks to the Hempstead Fire Department and Second Assistant Chief Scott Clark for providing information on this fire.

MICHAEL M. DUGAN, a 36-year veteran of the fire service, is a 26-year member of the Fire Department of New York (FDNY), where he is captain of Ladder Company 123 in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. As a lieutenant, he served in Ladder Company 42 in the South Bronx. While assigned as a firefighter in Ladder Company 43 in Spanish Harlem, he received the James Gordon Bennett Medal in 1992 and the Harry M. Archer Medal in 1993, FDNY’s highest award for bravery. He was a volunteer firefighter in Halesite, New York. He lectures on truck company operations, building construction, size-up, and today’s fire service.

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