Reading A Building – High Rises

By John W. Mittendorf

Buildings that fall into the high-rise classification normally exceed 75 feet in height. However, when contemplating fire suppression operations in any building with multiple floors, always remember that equipment left on your apparatus parked in the street is unusable for above ground operations. Common considerations for this type of building follow.

Height
What makes a fire above ground challenging? The simple answer to this question is the height of the building in concert with the initial amount of resources on the fire floor. At the beginning of the “Reading a Building” series, we briefly considered the definition of the fireground clock from the perspective of how long it will take you to make a visible impact on the fire. The position of a fire in a high-rise building will keep the fireground clock ticking while you are advancing upward toward the fire floor. Therefore, major considerations are the size and extent of fire when first units arrive and what the size and extent of the fire will be when the initial unit (or units) arrive on the fire floor. Consider what would happen if initial resources were put on the fire floor and/or the floor above for extension containment in concert with delaying some of the initial IMS system components applied to high-rise buildings. Remember, the IMS system does not flow any water.

Access
If a fire is above the reach of aerial devices, there are only two ways to access a it: stairways or elevators. Elevators are the fast and easy method, and stairways are the safe way. There have been numerous deaths to initial suppression personnel due to elevators unexpectedly going to the fire floor. A good rule of thumb (particularly for initial companies) is to never step into an elevator if the elevator can potentially go to the fire floor. Remember, even though it might be an apparent false alarm and/or you are using your trick fire department elevator override key, you stand to lose big time if the elevator malfunctions.

HVAC Systems
Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems were designed to move air around the interior of high-rise buildings. Unfortunately, they can also move heat and smoke. If you suspect or know there is a fire, consider turning off the HVAC system until you have a better idea of conditions.

Curtin Construction
When modern multi-story buildings are constructed, the metal sub structure is erected first. Then, a popular method to complete the exterior of the building is to attach glass panels, slate, brick, or other popular exterior materials to the metal sub structure. Normally, curtain construction results in a gap the approximate size of your fist between the exterior panels and the metal sub structure. This gap can assist the HVAC system by allowing the upward movement of air within the building (or selected parts of a building). However, this gap can also allow the upward travel of heat, smoke, and fire. If a fire is encountered in a multi-story building, remember to consider the possibility of this vertical extension route.

John W. Mittendorf joined the Los Angeles City (CA) Fire Department (LAFD) in 1963, rising to the rank of captain II, task force commander. In 1981, he was promoted to battalion chief and in the year following became the commander of the In-Service Training Section. In 1993, he retired from LAFD after 30 years of service. Mittendorf has been a member of the National Fire Protection Research Foundation on Engineered Lightweight Construction Technical Advisory Committee. He has provided training programs for the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Maryland; the University of California at Los Angeles; and the British Fire Academy at Morton-in-Marsh, England. He is a member of the editorial advisory board of Fire Engineering and author of the books Truck Company Operations (Fire Engineering, 1998) and Facing the Promotional Interview (Fire Engineering, 2003).

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