BY PAT STASKEY
Like many mid-sized college communities around the United States, Flagstaff, Arizona, has only a handful of high-rise structures (buildings higher than 75 feet). A few are located on campus; a few are downtown. Given their limited numbers, these buildings are relatively easy for us to consider as target hazards and to preplan.
Although they are few in number, these structures, because of characteristics such as a large number of occupants, building size, limited access, the potential for rapid and dynamic fire spread caused by HVAC systems, and building configuration, justify having a solid plan for handling an emergency in them. The need for such a plan becomes even more obvious when you consider the limited resources of a mid-sized municipal fire department such as ours.
The success of high-rise firefighting operations and the fire units’ initial strategy and actions depend on the following: a well-developed and practiced plan; coordination among the building’s staff, first-arriving units, and the incident commander; and accurate initial information.
Because of the potential life safety issues and limited availability of resources associated with a high-rise fire, our regional tactical plan is to get initial arriving companies to the fire floor quickly, to keep the fire in its incipient stages and away from the victims.
Another critical consideration in a high-rise fire is to establish a good multiagency working relationship before an event occurs. We found a good way to do this was through regional training exercises. At these training sessions, operations, tools, and techniques are discussed; regional teamwork is developed at all levels; turf barriers are broken down; and common objectives are established. These training sessions ensure that all emergency response agencies are better trained and better prepared, making them more effective on the fireground.
(1) An overhead view of the Base location from the fire floor. The Base location is predetermined for all high-rise buildings within Flagstaff. The Base is in a safe location at least 200 feet from the structure. It offers a central location in which to pool resources and equipment. [Photos by Todd George, engineer, Flagstaff (AZ) Fire Department.]
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(2) Personnel shuttling equipment from Base (a central location) to the Lobby Group en route to a staging area two floors below the fire floor.
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THE GREATER FLAGSTAFF REGION
Flagstaff, an urban mountain community in north-central Arizona, offers many opportunities for recreation within the region’s wilderness areas. It is the most densely populated area within the northern region and is isolated from other metropolitan areas with a population of 50,000 or greater. The city’s 65 square miles encompass a population of 56,000. Flagstaff is also the home of Northern Arizona University (NAU), which adds an additional 15,000 to the community’s population during school sessions.
The Flagstaff Fire Department has mutual-aid agreements with two smaller outlying combination departments, Highlands Fire (to the south) and Summit Fire (to the northeast), since Flagstaff has no large jurisdictions at its city borders. These outlying departments also provide assistance when resources in a specific jurisdiction become depleted—i.e., a high-rise fire within the city limits. Both are career paid departments that have supplemental volunteers. Their normal staffing consists of two personnel on each engine company (sometimes supplemented with one or two additional personnel for a mutual-aid response to Flagstaff). A total of five engine companies are five to seven miles outside the city boundaries.
All three departments provide EMS coverage in conjunction with Guardian Medical Transport (GMT), which operates five staffed ambulances and has one EMS battalion chief. GMT operates under the auspices of the Flagstaff regional hospital.
FLAGSTAFF’S HIGH-RISE STANDARD OPERATING PROCEDURE
Flagstaff’s high-rise standard operating procedure (SOP), modeled after that of the Los Angeles City (CA) Fire Department, uses the acronym ALS BASE, with modifications for limited resources. Former Chief Mike Bradley, who came from Hayward, California, developed the procedure in 1998. This SOP outlines the department’s deployment of the five responding units and the on-duty battalion chief on the initial alarm.
(3) The Flagstaff Fire Department’s quint was placed at the front door. Equipment in staging, including spare SCBA bottles, forcible entry tools, high-rise packs, and saws, was unloaded before the apparatus was redeployed to Base. This evolution saves time and personnel.
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(4) The three-member Fire Attack company prepares to enter the building with full PPE, irons, and hose packs. High-rise hose packs were evaluated at this drill.
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(5) A Fire Attack group exiting the middle stairway on the fire floor to begin searching for the fire’s area of origin.
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(6) A firefighter from Fire Attack hooks into the center standpipe, one-half floor below the fire floor, with the department’s high-rise pack. A wye is attached to the 21/2-inch connection for a backup line for fire operations.
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The overall objectives of using this SOP as a guideline include the following:
- to determine the specific fire floor as soon as possible,
- to control evacuation or determine to leave occupants in place,
- to search and evacuate above the fire floor,
- to gain control of the building systems, and
- to confine and extinguish the fire.
PRIORITY OF ASSIGNMENTS FOR FIRST-ALARM COMPANIES
The success or failure of fire department operations at a high-rise incident depends on the actions taken by the first-alarm assignment. Apply the acronym of ALS BASE:
A = Attack
L = Lobby control
S = Staging
BASE for Incoming Resources
This is how Flagstaff applies ALS BASE to its high-rise response: Fire Attack, Lobby Control, Staging/Water Supply/Rapid Intervention Company (RIC). The incident command system will be applied as usual. There are some slight variations from the standard definitions of Staging and Base.
First-Arriving Engine—Fire Attack
Enter the lobby and obtain whatever information is available; report it to the IC. Proceed to the fire floor using the stairwell. DO NOT USE ELEVATORS! Give a report of smoke/fire conditions on each floor as the stairwell is ascended (i.e., “second floor clear”). Start firefighting procedures as soon as possible. Once fire suppression has been started on a floor, the company officer becomes the division supervisor for that floor.
Take the following with you: SCBAs, radios, an ax, a forcible entry tool, and a high-rise pack.
Assess the staging floor location. Locate the fire, and attack. Inform the IC of conditions and the resources needed for fire control. Communicate ventilation conditions/needs, evacuation/rescue needs, and condition of the stairwell.
Water Supply/Staging/Rapid Intervention Company
The engineer supplies the standpipes and the sprinkler system. The first connection should be to the standpipe; the second connection, to the sprinkler system. The remainder of the company establishes a staging area two floors below the fire floor. Staging should be in a large, uncongested area—not in the stairwell. Staging should designate and identify the following areas: reserve company area, rehab area, equipment cache area, EMS area, and bottle exchange area. Designate the areas with wall signs.
This company should remain in personal protective clothing and SCBA, since it will serve as the initial RIC until relieved.
Third-Arriving Engine—Fire Attack
Report to the fire floor using the same stairwell as the first company. Report to the division supervisor. Bring the same equipment as the first engine. You will probably be assigned to back up the first line.
First-Arriving Truck—Lobby Control and Base
Establish Lobby Control (officer and firefighter) and Base (the engineer is Base manager).
Lobby Control is responsible for controlling the elevators, the HVAC system, and stairwell access; making contact with the building engineer; and coordinating the movement of resources from Base to Staging. Elevators should be returned to the ground floor and locked out. As a general rule, the HVAC system should be shut down until the IC decides differently. Lobby Control should unlock or force entry on all ground-level entrances and direct incoming companies to the stairwell that should be used.
Base should be located a minimum of 200 feet from the building. Use an off-street parking lot if available. Base is responsible for controlling the parking of apparatus and delivering equipment from Base to Lobby Control. Base is also responsible for establishing a safe route for companies to enter the building.
Second Truck Company—Rescue and Ventilation
Perform rescue or ventilation as directed by the IC.
Establish the incident command post at least 200 feet from the building. If smoke is showing, the IC should consider calling for the next greater alarm and regional statewide mutual-aid assistance. As other chief officers arrive, they should be assigned to general staff positions as well as critical division supervisor assignments. The Operations section chief should operate from inside the building, to permit face-to-face communications with division/group supervisors and the staging area manager.
The Planning section chief is critical for overseeing situation and resource status. The Logistics section chief is responsible for Base, Lobby Control, Stairwell Support, and all other unit functions associated with logistics.
All additional companies shall respond and report to Base. They will be directed by and receive assignments from the IC on a priority basis (i.e., Base, Stairwell Support, Staging, Relief, or overhead assignments).
PLANNING THE EXERCISE
We began planning six months before the exercise. Training officers from regional agencies met quarterly to discuss the upcoming training events; this was a great forum within which to begin planning for this exercise. NAU Fire and Life Safety Director Phil Staires obtained permission to hold the drill in one of the NAU campus high-rise facilities. To limit interruptions of day-to-day operations, we ran the drill during the Christmas holiday break.
The next step was to get as many area fire and emergency service workers as possible to participate in the drill. Working in our favor were that all area emergency services personnel work the same shift schedule, use a common dispatch center, and have established working relationships and mutual-aid agreements. We scheduled the exercise for December 22-24, 2003. All shifts would be able to participate; the consecutive dates facilitated delivery and fit into the semester break at NAU.
Maximizing participation while maintaining emergency services coverage to the region during the drill involved the coordination of all departments. The drill scenario was offered once at 1000 hours and once at 1400 hours for each of the three days. In this format, one-half of each agency’s line personnel would attend the scenario; the other half would cover the respective district. Battalion chiefs moved their personnel to cover districts; overhead staff from each agency covered calls while the battalion chiefs participated in the drills. This not only gave them training in high-rise operations on two separate occasions but also an opportunity to watch and evaluate each of their respective battalions.
As stated previously, a high-rise incident in the Greater Flagstaff region would severely tax all of the area’s emergency services resources. Peak efficiency of the plan means preparation and training; therefore, the goal of this drill was also to maximize the involvement of all area resources so they would be familiar with the plan and physically integrated into it. All agencies involved would learn from what unfolded during the mock incident.
The following agencies and apparatus were involved in the drill:
- Flagstaff Fire Department—two or three Type I engines, one truck company, and one battalion chief;
- Highlands Fire Department—one Type I engine;
- Summit Fire Department—one Type I engine;
- Pinewood Fire Department—personnel supplemented staffing on Highlands engines;
- Guardian Medical Transport—two to three ambulances and one chief officer;
- NAU Police Department—two to three patrol units;
- NAU Facilities Maintenance—personnel;
- Flagstaff Police Department—dispatchers; and
- Local Community College—EMT students to serve as victims.
From the above list, the following resources were available for each drill: four to five Type 1 engines and one truck company; a staff of three to four for each unit; and two to three ambulances with a supervisor to take over triage, treatment, and transport of victims in a medical group.
This drill also offered Guardian and its supervisors an opportunity to exercise their major medical protocol.
University police assisted with evacuation, traffic control, and planning at the command post. NAU maintenance staff served as building liaisons for protection systems, elevators, and communications. The maintenance staff learned firsthand the critical needs of responders during emergencies.
A dispatcher was also present on each drill to interact with the IC and provide communications on radio frequencies. This training session took them away from the computer-automated dispatch console and gave them an opportunity to visually see an incident unfold.
Local community college students were used as victims for fire and medical responders, adding complexity to the operations.
Each fire agency was assigned a training officer or chief officer to evaluate and facilitate each of the major groups such as Fire Attack, Lobby Control, Staging, and Medical. These facilitators added information that could not be provided in the scenario and pertaining to each group’s times and functions. Facilitators were assisted in documenting this information by using an evaluation sheet listing major benchmarks and timelines for each of the major groups developed during the planning phase. Facilitators also took notes and, during a post-incident review meeting immediately following each drill, shared what went well and what did not go well at the previous drills. The drill evaluation form was also used to collect data on the approximate timelines of drill events and will be used as a guide for future operations during an actual event.
During the planning phase, the following three major benchmarks were identified: (1) two attack lines on the fire floor, (2) one company to check extension on the floor above the fire, and (3) all victims removed and placed in an established treatment area. When the benchmarks were met, the drill was concluded.
Two vacant sixth-floor dormitory rooms were designated as the rooms of origin. A smoke machine was placed in one room; the door and window were open to add to the realism of the exercise.
At the conclusion of each drill, a post-incident review was held to debrief companies and discuss the drill. The format for this discussion included comments from the company officer of each group or division and the facilitators’ comments. Discussion points centered on what went well, what did not go well, what can be improved, and action items to be considered. A 10-page document prepared from notes taken from the discussion and the evaluation criteria sheets was distributed to all participating agencies.
Following is a summary of the comments made during the post-incident reviews.
The IC has overall responsibility for the incident; this includes setting incident objectives, directing resources, and ensuring safety. A major tool of this is to control incident communications.
- There was much communication at the beginning of the incident. There is a need for another tactical channel and possibly a command channel.
- Specify the channel you are using during radio communication. This helps the IC to know which channel to go to when scanning.
- The size-up of the first-in units was good overall; they painted a good picture. All units responding need to key in on this information.
- One IC addressed the sprinkler system quickly in two drills—this is a good idea.
- An overhead safety officer must be assigned quickly.
- PAR requests must be made more often in the operations to ensure company accountability.
- The establishment of a rehab area must be considered.
- Radio discipline: messages should be short/concise. Confirm that the channel is clear before using.
- There were multiple communications problems. The high-rise SOP should have a preset communications plan; multiple channels should be designated for specific operations.
- Identify the channel on which you are calling to avoid confusion.
- Keep the IC informed of updates from Base—for example, “HVAC secured,” ” PPV in place,” etc.).
Fire Attack/First On-Scene Unit
Fire Attack took an average of 12 minutes to get water on the fire. Getting the second line on the fire took an average of 20 minutes. Personnel deployed the high-rise pack in approximately two to four minutes.
- Most crews took the time to access the fire panel in the lobby and obtain pass keys, which would be most helpful for search and rescue.
- It is critical to say which stairwell you want pumped and which building standpipe will be used for operations, as well as what stairwell will be used for occupant evacuation.
- Donning your face piece and placing the regulator on your belt clip until you enter the immediately dangerous to life and health area may enhance air conservation. This must always be balanced with the safety of your current conditions.
- Consider asking for additional companies earlier.
- Anticipate a delay before the standpipe is charged. Check above the fire.
Water Supply/Staging/RIC (Second-Due Engine)
Times for setting up the staging area varied from five minutes to 14 minutes; the average time for setup for the first on-scene unit was nine minutes. The time will vary with the units’ arrivals; but once the balance of the assignment is on-scene, nine minutes should be the benchmark in a real-life situation.
- Consider dropping off equipment prior to sending apparatus to Base.
- Don’t forget that Staging is also RIC. Keep a thermal imaging camera available, and set up the RIC bag with an SCBA.
- Staging should have a master key for crews going above the fire floor.
- There should be face-to-face communication with mutual-aid companies. Track the number of personnel in each company, and get a PAR with each company that returns to staging from an assignment. Tracking can be done on a tactical sheet or using the wall and a black marker.
The engineer of the first-in truck is designated as Base manager. The Base location should be predetermined by SOP.
In three of the six drills, a Base manager was deployed. In the other three drills, the company officer felt his personnel needs on the incident outweighed the decision to leave a crew member behind. The other consideration here was whether the truck company had three or four personnel. Having four personnel may have changed this decision and definitely would have made for an overall more efficient Base/Lobby operation.
- If a Base manager is not assigned, the IC or truck company officer must communicate the location of Base for incoming units.
- In announcing, using a landmark, such as the quint or turning on emergency lights, may assist later-arriving units to find the location.
- Observing a 200-foot safe zone is important to protect against falling objects or victims or a collapse.
- Apparatus staged at Base should be positioned for egress; that apparatus may be needed to pump for a sprinkler or an alternate standpipe.
Flagstaff units and mutual-aid companies understood the importance of establishing a base for accountability and having the equipment accessible from a central location. This was used in all drills.
(This is the responsibility of the first-in truck company.)
The average time from arriving on-scene to taking control of the lobby was 3 minutes, 45 seconds. The quickest crews took approximately three minutes, the longest about six minutes.
- Track all companies going aloft; make sure each takes gear to staging.
- Secure the elevators and master keys first. Give a master key to Fire Attack and Staging.
- Make contact with a responsible party as soon as possible.
- Crews that dropped off equipment and personnel at the front of the building had quicker control of the lobby and in general had a larger pool of equipment ready for distribution.
- Some crews used the NAU Police Department to control other stairwells.
- Buildings have built-in communications and intercoms that can be used to communicate floor to floor.
- Crews that didn’t designate one person to control elevators at times lost the elevator.
- Not addressing the alarm panel quickly impeded communications, especially between Fire Attack and the IC.
(7) Personnel from Guardian Medical Transport move a victim from the lobby area to a treatment area. Note that personnel are in proper PPE, since they are in the designated 200-foot potential collapse or unsafe area.
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(8) The NAU high-rise used for the training session. It is a typical dorm-type structure with center hallway construction. The building is fully sprinklered; three standpipes are located at the ends and in the center of the structure. All department apparatus and mutual-aid apparatus contain a high-rise preplan book that outlines a footprint of the building, its protection systems, and locations for a potential Base.
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(9) A post-incident review was conducted in a common area of the building immediately after the drill. Participants offered their observations of what went well and what needed improvement; facilitators commented on the previous drills.
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- Getting Guardian Medical Transport on a separate frequency early eliminated lots of radio traffic on tactical channels.
- Designating a treatment area early eliminates congestion at the front of the building.
- Make sure all medical personnel are in proper personal protective equipment when entering the 200-foot safe zone to retrieve patients and approach known patient locations.
- Treatment area setup should include access and egress for ambulances.
- The ambulance companies set up a rehab area after all patients were treated and transported.
- Can we set up a treatment area in the building? It was thought to be possible, depending on the congestion and access to transport.
- This drill was performed over three days with eight agencies participating. There were approximately 165 participants and zero injuries. This demonstrates that safety was a top priority for all participating agencies.
- Consistently heard in each post-incident report was the excellent face-to-face communications among the agencies. These drills promote cooperative efforts. An event of this magnitude would require response from all emergency service agencies in the region. The development of good working relationships during training exercises can only enhance effectiveness and communications during actual events.
This drill provided an opportunity for all participants to become familiar with equipment, apparatus, and SOPs. These types of exercises move us in the direction of standardized operations throughout the area.
- The drill enforced the benefits of having the participation of the technical specialists on NAU’s facility maintenance staff. We now have a better understanding of their capabilities and how to acquire their services for on-campus buildings.
- This drill served as another evaluation of our recently adopted high-rise hose packs. Deployment of the twin locking donuts was an area of concern, and the accordion load (old pack) did not seem to hold together during transport from the apparatus to staging. The demo pack seemed to get excellent reviews. We will seek input from companies who did not get a chance to deploy it. If all goes well, we will begin to implement this pack into our operations.
- This drill also reinforced the importance of physical fitness in our profession. Aboveground firefighting is physically demanding; you particularly feel it in your legs and lungs.
- We all must remember that SOPs are guidelines, a starting point to begin to mitigate sometimes very unique and different situations. The outcome of each drill was a little different even though the same SOP was used for all drills. This is similar to our everyday operations: Each outcome is a little different based on a call’s unique circumstances. SOPs should steer us in the right direction for a positive outcome, not straightjacket our operations because the SOP says do it this way. SOPs should continually be reviewed and tweaked based on outcomes. This is your cue to review your high-rise SOP with your crews based on the drill. Make adjustments so that you can continue to improve your operations in this area.
ACTION ITEMS THAT RESULTED FROM THIS EXERCISE
The Flagstaff Fire Department took the following actions based on the outcomes of this drill.
- Lockbox keys were provided for mutual-aid companies.
- A new high-rise hose load was reviewed by companies that did not get to use it; it may be implemented into our operations.
- High-rise preplan books were given to the mutual-aid companies.
- A communication plan will be added to our high-rise procedure.
- Additional master keys and a roof access key will be included in lockboxes at NAU.
PAT STASKEY, a veteran of the Flagstaff (AZ) Fire Department for 17-plus years, is a battalion chief in the training division. He has a master’s degree in fire and emergency management from Oklahoma State University and is actively involved in training throughout the state of Arizona.