RANDOM THOUGHTS ON…
“WE DON’T have highrises in our district. We’re not a big city department.”
Most of us can no longer say that. Real estate values are prohibiting the construction of simple two-and three-story buildings. If you have a structure with occupancies that reach above your longest ladder, too high to enter from outside—where you need the building to get to the fire and you need the building to remove the life hazard— then you have a high-rise. Most high-rise fires don’t get into the papers and don’t need the elaborate command structure that is outlined time and again in our service journals. Most are extinguished with the old rule, “Get to the floor below and fight your way up.” However, there are some tactical tips that will help no matter what the size of the situation.
Preplanning them all is a must. Without a plan you’re a loser from the start.
If you can see smoke as you arrive, inside is guaranteed to be a hellish nightmare. Call a lot of extra help— you’ll need it and probably more. Stop playing catch-up early. If you play this game too long, you’ll always lose.
Security/life-safety personnel on duty may be your best friends throughout the operation. Know where to find them early.
Elevator control. Know each system thoroughly. If you don’t, and you’re in that elevator for the first time at a fire, get out and walk! Don’t use the freight elevator—many fires are started in rubbish outside the doors. Use a shaft that doesn’t go as far as the reported fire floor. Stop at least five floors before the lowest reported alarm floor. (Stop often on the way up.) If the fire is reported on the first 10 floors, always walk. If you’re unsure of elevator lobby conditions, walk up and be sure.
Know each alarm system intimately. They can give you your most vital information: What floor? What type of alarm? What was the order of transmission? What is the condition of the air handling systems? Where are the elevators and what state are they in? What communications are available?
Gain control immediately of all elevators, air handling machinery, communication equipment, local floor schematics, and security system controls.
Acquire floor layout maps. Don’t leave the lobby without one!
Save one stairway for use by civilians exiting from above the fire floor. Designate it early and communicate it as thoroughly as possible to evacuation supervisory personnel. Use other stairways for firefighting.
Walking the stairs? Take your time! Take a breather every five or six floors. You won’t be able to once you begin fire attack. In fact, you may be useless when you reach the operation floor. If you have a free hand, carry your boots or hook them around your neck with a length of rope (hose strap from your pocket?). Walk up in your stocking feet. You won’t believe how much easier it is.
Constantly check the plenum overhead. Its negative pressure can pull the fire undetected to the most remote areas with alarming speed. Checking regularly will prevent entrapment of the firefighting team and also forecast the dreaded “core wrap” (fire completely encircling the core struc-. ture of the fire floor).
Relieve rapidly and early. Firefighters can become exhausted and ineffective in as little as five minutes from the debilitating effects of operating in these high-rise ovens.
Search for the people and the fire as a team Use all the discipline, training, and equipment that a safe and effective team search demands. (See Fire Engineering, November ’87, page 10.)
Get an air tank supply chain started early. The 30-minute mask is a myth! Great training results in 17 minutes of air. I’ve seen air tanks depleted in less than seven minutes.
Communication. Make sure that portable radios and/or sound-powered phones are with every group, no matter how small. Effective communication is a major key to successful high-rise fire operations. Preplan for it and set it up early.
Practice getting one hoseline in place that will reach all areas of a floor from the standpipe connection on the floor below. You will almost always have to pair engine companies. Record the time it takes—you will be astounded.
Access stairs. These are interior, open stairways that connect one or more floors (usually of the same occupancy). Many codes and local laws prohibit these shafts from connecting more than two floors, but I’ve seen them longer. Learn where they are while you’re in the lobby. If you know where they are, there will be fewer surprises. They may even assist the firefight if they connect to the fire floor from the floor below.