Fire Drill in High-Rise Dormitory Tests Both Men and Equipment
Fire fighters experience fatigue, encounter congestion in stairways, discover standpipe system deficiency, lack of emergency lighting
An unusual fire drill and training session was conducted by the San Marcos, Texas, Fire Department in the nine-story Women’s Residence Tower at Southwest Texas State University.
The first floor of the high-rise dormitory has a lounge and registration desk as well as dormitory supervisors’ rooms at the north and south ends of the building. A lounge and recreation area are on the second floor. The third through ninth floors are living quarters. Each floor has 32 rooms and the dormitory has a capacity of over 400 residents.
At the time of the drill last April 24, there were 149 women in the dorm. Of these, 140 were safely evacuated. Nine of the women stayed in their rooms and were classified as casualties. Six of the women in the dorm took part in the drill as victims and all of them were “rescued.”
Alarm given by phone
The drill began at 7 p.m. when the dorm supervisors called a proctor on each floor by phone and told them to begin evacuating the building. The fire department also was called at this time. The elevators were turned off and the women were instructed to leave the dorm by using the stairways at the north and south ends of the building. The entire building was evacuated and all women were out of the building (with the exception of the victims) in 10 minutes.
The fire fighters were divided into five crews, one crew for water supplies, one crew to advance hose and attack the fire, and three crews for search and rescue.
Chief O.D. Scott of San Marcos set up his command post across the street from the north end of the building to direct the fire fighting and rescue crews. I worked throughout the building, supervising the rescue and attack procedures. Lieutenant R.D. Beechie was placed in charge of special problems.
The water supply crew, commanded by Fire Fighter Jack Mutschlechner, advanced to the west side of the building and hooked into the standpipe system to boost the pressure. The first attack pumper, Unit 305, with a 1000-gpm pump, connected two 2½inch hose lines into the standpipe system and began to boost the pressure in the system.
Unit 304, a 750-gpm pumper, laid a 3 1/2-inch supply line from Unit 305 to the closest hydrant on Woods Street, one block from the north end of the building. These two pumpers were set up and pumping water into the system five minutes from the time the call came into the fire department.
Crew No. 1, the attack line crew, commanded by Lieutenant John Hudson, upon arrival began to advance hose and equipment to the ninth floor of the high-rise dormitory. This crew consisted of a lieutenant and four fire fighters. They advanced 50 feet of 2 ½-inch hose, 200 feet of 1 ½-inch hose, a hose clamp, two 1 1/2-inch fog nozzles, a 2½ X l 1/2-inch wye, and spanner wrenches to the ninth floor by use of the north stairway. They connected their hose to the north standpipe and advanced two l 1/2-inch attack lines onto the roof. This crew had water flowing from the lines in eight minutes from the time the call came into the fire department, 7:08 p.m.
Search crew assignments
Crew No. 2, led by Lieutenant William Alex, was assigned to search for and rescue victims on the third and fourth floors.
Crew No. 3, headed by Lieutenant Joel Henry, was assigned to search for and rescue victims on the fifth and sixth floors.
Crew No. 4, commanded by Lieutenant Libardo Cubello, was assigned to search for and rescue victims on the seventh and eighth floors.
The attack line crew searched the ninth floor.
Each search and rescue crew, consisting of a lieutenant and three fire fighters, had self-contained breathing apparatus, full bunker clothing, forcible entry tools, flashlights, stretchers, blankets, extra air bottles, rope and portable radios.
Volunteer fire fighters were stationed on the first and second floors to relay needed equipment to the men above.
The drill began at 7 p.m. and ended at 7:30 p.m. At that time, all victims had been recovered and all but one was outside the building. Once out of the building, the victims were placed in waiting ambulances.
After the drill, the apparatus was put back in service and a critique of the drill was conducted at the Central Fire Station. The following special problems were discovered:
- The standpipe system had apparently not been thoroughly flushed since the building was built. Shortly after the first crew started flowing water on the roof, both nozzles became clogged and very little water flowed. When the nozzles were cleaned out, welding sludge, small rocks, rust and dead leves were found. Had there been an actual fire, this would have been a very definite problem.
- The rescue crews found that the north stairway did not have emergency lighting. When the power was turned off, the stairway was totally dark. Had this happened during the evacuation, many injuries could have occurred. There was emergency lighting in the south stairway.
- The rescue crews also found that there was much congestion in the stairways from the men advancing equipment and the women coming down.
- It was found when transporting victims on stretchers down the stairs, the passageways were too narrow and there was much difficulty when maneuvering victims around turns in the stairways. The wire basket‘stretchers were constantly hanging up on steel hand rails and hardware. Although the elevators were not used, it was found that a stretcher would not properly fit into an elevator.
- After the drill, it was learned that one girl living on the sixth floor was deaf and was asleep in her room. She knew nothing about the drill until one of the proctors went back and woke her up when the drill was almost over.
- All of the men participating in the drill experienced extreme fatigue. Lietuenant Joel Henry was actually placed in a hospital, suffering from hyperventilation. We feel that had this been an actual fire, there would have been many more fire fighters overcome.
After the drill, Beechie, Fire Marshal Ansel McCurty of the university, and I held a meeting with the girls living in the dorm. It was apparent that very few of these girls had ever thought of the dangers of a high-rise building fire.
Fire alarm system urged
In her report on the drill, Cindy Goodman, vice president of the Women’s Residence Tower, recommended the installation of a fire alarm system throughout the high-rise, installation of emergency lighting in the north stairwell and a requirement to hold a fire drill in every dormitory each semester.
She also reported that she felt “that the fire department is now more capable of fighting an actual fire in this building due to the experience gained from this drill.”
It is the consensus in the fire department that this type of drill is beneficial to both fire fighters and dormitory residents. It is hoped that a drill of this type will be conducted for every high-rise building on the campus.