Standpipe operations: follow-up

Standpipe operations: follow-up

Just after my article “Standpipe System Operations: Engine Company Basics” (February 1996) went to press, the City of New York (NY) Fire Department experienced yet another tragedy. On January 5, 1996, Firefighter James Williams of Ladder Company 121 died as a result of burn injuries sustained while operating at a fire on the third floor of a standpipe-equipped multiple dwelling. Williams, part of Ladder 121`s forcible entry team, was overtaken by a fast-moving flamefront caused by a sudden change in wind direction. The fire, which occurred in the Rockaway Beach section of Queens, gravely illustrates the dangers posed by wind conditions at structure fires. Firefighter Williams died the day after the funeral for Lieutenant John Clancy of Ladder Company 127, who died of burn injuries sustained while searching for squatters at a vacant building fire on December 31, 1995. My (and the entire staff of Fire Engineering`s) deepest sympathies go out to the families and friends of John Clancy and James Williams.

On a much more positive note, two Manhattan engine companies were involved in a very interesting standpipe operation during the height of the blizzard that paralyzed the eastern United States in early January. Shortly after the start of the night tour that began at 1800 hours on January 7, 1996, the captain of Engine Company 22 gave a drill on winter firefighting operations. One of the topics discussed was alternative sources of water supply in the event of frozen or buried hydrants. The FDNY publication Winter Operations mentions the fact that wet standpipe systems may be used as a source of water supply for fires within a standpipe-equipped building and in adjoining buildings.

As it turns out, later that night, Engine Company 22 put into practice what was discussed in the captain`s drill. At 0414 hours, Engine Company 22 responded first-due to a fire on the top floor of a seven-story residential building located at the corner of Madison Avenue and 91st Street. The fire building was not equipped with a standpipe system. The nearest hydrant was frozen; and, due to the extreme weather conditions, promptly locating another hydrant would have been a difficult task at best. Thinking quickly, second-due Engine Company 44 positioned at a nearby standpipe-equipped building, attached a 312-inch line to a first-floor hose outlet, connected this line to a gated suction inlet, and opened the outlet valve. With an incoming pressure of 60 psi from the gravity tank on the roof and several thousand gallons of water available, Engine 44 then relayed water to Engine 22, whose members extinguished the fire. Although a second-alarm assignment was required at this fire, had it not been for the efforts of the first- and second-due engine companies in improvising to establish a water supply, a much larger commitment of personnel and resources no doubt would have been needed.

One final note: Shortly after I wrote my last article, my engine company in the Bronx inspected a commercial building where a new standpipe system was being installed. This inspection visit enabled me to photograph a standpipe outlet valve with no male threads. As I stated in my article, you can often overcome the absence of threads by carrying a section of pipe threaded with pipe thread on one end and local fire department thread on the other. All FDNY engine companies recently were issued lightweight adapters (male 212-inch pipe thread to male 212-inch FDNY thread), which eliminate the need to carry a heavy section of brass pipe in the standpipe kit.

Andrew A. Fredericks


City of New York (NY) Fire Department

Oklahoma City coverage

The October/November 1995 issues of Fire Engineering have to be the most comprehensive compilation of information of the “Oklahoma Standard” experience. The issues will have to be reprinted multiple times, as they will become required reading for EMS, fire, and rescue personnel and all others involved in mass-casualty incidents.

I have read at least 10 periodicals and four books, watched four videos, and attended three lectures on the history, response, and impact of the Murrah Federal Building bombing. The issues are the most complete, informative, and educational tool for training that I have seen.

Fire Engineering has covered every aspect and evolution that went on during the 16 days of direct involvement and the pre- and postincident activities. The pictures, graphs, and building schematics tie in the written reports and personal accounts. The special issues are all-inclusive.

Congratulations! It makes my 27-year subscription well worth the investment.

Finally, let me say that the EMS, fire, police, and rescue professionals of Massachusetts are proud of the actions of our brothers and sisters in Oklahoma City. They have shown America the spirit of our professions.

Jim Slattery, B.S., EMT-I

President, MA Association of EMTs

Newton Highlands, Massachusetts

Magazine praise

I have been a subscriber to Fire Engineering for several years. As a firefighter with more than 53 years on the job and as a retired fire chief, I am always delighted with the wonderful stories about fires and the marvelous lessons about firefighting that Fire Engineering has every month. Please accept my congratulations for such good work.

Francisco J. Morua

Puntarenas, Costa Rica

Plastic gas main hazards

The staff of the PECO Energy Company Fire Academy and I read Leigh Hollins` article “Plastic Gas Mains: Hazards and Tactics” (December 1995) with great interest. As energy company employees, educators, and firefighters, we commend the author for his efforts to familiarize fire service personnel with the technological changes that are constantly taking place in the natural gas industry. His article is very enlightening and confirms his extensive knowledge of the subject matter. We are concerned, however, that Hollins` recommendations for the mitigation of leaking underground gas mains overstep the bounds of routine fire service activity.

PECO Energy Company supplies natural gas to more than 377,200 customers in several counties surrounding Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The materials used for our underground distribution mains are steel, cast/ductile iron, and plastic pipe, with operating pressures ranging from one-quarter to 99 psi. Occasionally, these mains are subject to leakage from a variety of causes, both natural and man-induced. PECO Energy`s corporate position, as well as the Fire Academy`s training philosophy, is that leaks in underground natural gas distribution mains be mitigated only by PECO Energy personnel. At no time do we instruct or encourage fire service personnel to excavate, sleeve, plug, or clamp (squeeze off) any type of underground natural gas main or shut any distribution main valves to stop a natural gas leak. We feel that this activity and the necessary tools and equipment are above and beyond the expected duties of the fire service and are best left to experienced utility personnel. This is especially true in “common trench” situations where buried electrical lines are in close proximity to the distribution main, presenting additional hazards. Therefore, in the event of an underground natural gas main leak, we instruct fire service personnel to immediately contact PECO Energy Company and then take steps to minimize the potential life safety hazards of the escaping gas. These steps may include evacuating and ventilating nearby structures, eliminating ignition sources, and securing the scene, to name a few.

With regard to natural gas leaks on our service lines, we do instruct fire service personnel on the methods of plugging or squeezing off ruptured service lines and closing service valves. These lines normally are small-diameter plastic pipe, buried relatively close to the surface (16″ typically), and present a low hazard to properly trained and equipped fire service personnel. This is in stark contrast to the hazards of below-grade leaks in larger-diameter distribution mains.

Hollins also mentions a pressure/color relationship for plastic gas mains. While this information may be applicable to energy suppliers in Florida or other areas, it is by no means an industry standard or national code. The color of plastic gas pipe is a function of the pipe`s manufacturer, not necessarily of its pressure. Prior knowledge is required to know the actual pressure contained in any given natural gas distribution main. This, too, is another reason for the immediate involvement of the natural gas supplier in all underground natural gas main leaks.

In closing, we feel that the information contained in Hollins` article is of great benefit to the fire service. However, the technology of natural gas distribution is continually changing, and the variables associated with natural gas leaks are many. Therefore, we feel that Hollins` recommendations for fire service involvement in natural gas distribution main leaks may present undue risk to fire service personnel.

Timothy Flanagan


PECO Energy Company Fire Academy

West Conshohocken, Pennsylvania

This firefighter is demonstrating how a threaded section of pipe can be used if hose valve outlet threads are missing. Many older types of outlet valve bodies are cast as a single piece, including the threads, but newer valves often lack threads until the standpipe system contractor installs them. Hopefully, the threads will match those used by your fire department; but in the event of mismatched outlet threads or the absence of threads, adapters that will allow a handline to be placed in service should be available in the standpipe kit. (Photo by author.)

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