STRETCHING HOSELINES TO UPPER FLOORS OF RESIDENTIAL BUILDINGS, PART 2

BY BILL GUSTIN

“Stretching Hoselines to Upper Floors of Residential Buildings, Part 1” was published in the September 2003 issue.

Buildings with interior public hallways can make the first step in stretching a hoseline—locating the fire—difficult and sometimes dangerous. But locating the fire or fire apartment must be done before an engine company begins its stretch. This is vital to ensure that the line is stretched to the correct location and will reach the fire. Locating a fire can seem time-consuming to firefighters eager to do battle, but that time is nothing compared with the time wasted if a company stretches its line to the wrong location. All engine companies, but especially understaffed crews, must accurately locate the fire to “get it right” the first time. They do not have the time or personnel to play catch-up if they are wrong. Few tasks are more stressful for a fire officer than trying to locate the fire apartment at 3:00 a.m. with hallways filled with smoke, a fire alarm blasting, and residents shouting conflicting information.

First, you must locate the fire floor. Don’t let smoke driven by sprinklers or an air-conditioning system fool you. Take a quick look at the floors above and below the suspected fire floor to make sure that the fire is not above or below you.


(1) When attempting to locate a fire, heed reports from companies operating outside the building who see fire showing from windows. Ask them if they can determine how many feet the fire is from the closest stairwell. (Photo by Paul Blake.)
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When hallways are filled with smoke, search rope bags and thermal imaging cameras are two excellent tools that can help locate the fire. Attach the free end of a search rope in a stairwell before you and a partner proceed down the hallway searching for fire with the thermal imaging camera. Take the rope bag with you; rope will play out of the bag as you search, marking a direct path to the safety of the stairway. Know how much rope is in your department’s search or utility rope bags, and make sure that the end of the rope is securely tied to the bag. Knowing how much rope is in a bag gives you an idea of how far you have extended down a hallway.

Say, for example, that you and your partner have extended almost 200 feet down a smoky hallway by connecting two 100-foot search ropes together, and you still haven’t found the fire. This is a good indication that you should stop, follow the rope out, and resume your search from what must be a closer stairway. Scan for signs of heat on doors and overhead with the thermal imaging camera. Look for an open door. If the hallway is filled with smoke, there is a good chance that the door to the fire apartment was left open when the occupant fled or that the top of the door has burned through.

In sprinklered buildings, listen for the sound of discharging water. Once the fire apartment is located, close the door, if possible, and tie off the search rope to the doorknob. Count the number of doors between the fire apartment and the closest stairway, and estimate how much hose it will take to span this distance. When attempting to locate a fire, heed reconnaissance reports from companies operating outside the building who see fire visible in windows (photo 1). Also, a reliable report that the fire was reported in a certain apartment can greatly simplify matters.

Say, for example, that a fire is reported in Apartment 555 and that the fifth-floor corridor is filled with smoke. The next step would be to locate Apartment 455. In most apartment buildings, Apartment 455 should be directly below Apartment 555, the fire apartment. If possible, take a quick look in Apartment 455. Doing so will give you an idea of the size and layout of the fire apartment and also of how much extra hose you will need to advance to the door of the fire apartment so you can reach all points within.

Find the stairway closest to Apartment 455. This will be the attack stairway. Advise Command and all companies of this designation. Now, count the number of doors between Apartment 455 and the attack stairway; count the same number of doorways when making your way through the smoke to reach Apartment 555. With heavy smoke on the fifth floor, stretch or hoist the hoseline to the fourth floor, the floor below the fire (photos 2, 3). Lay out sufficient hose on the fourth floor to accomplish the following:


(2) The end of the rope is secured to the railing of the attack stairway on the floor below the fire. The rope bag is about to be dropped to the ground.
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(3) The hoseline is hoisted through the window at the end of the hallway next to the attack stairway. (Photos by author.)
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  • Ascend by the attack stairway from the fourth to the fifth floor.
  • Advance down the fifth-floor hallway to the fire apartment, 555.
  • Reach all points within Apartment 555.

DETERMINING LENGTH OF HOSELINE

How do you know that you have stretched sufficient hose? This can be a difficult call, especially for an officer who has extinguished 98 percent of the structure fires in his career with preconnects. Here’s a method for determining the length of hoseline that is almost foolproof: On the floor below the fire, stretch the hoseline from the attack stairway to the apartment or approximate location directly below the fire (photo 4). Now, walk the nozzle end of the line back to the attack stairway (photo 5).


(4) Stretch the hoseline from the window next to the attack stairway to the apartment directly below the fire. Note (bottom left) the extra lengths of hose carried up in bundles.
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(5) Walk the end of the hoseline from the apartment directly below the fire back to the attack stairway. Carefully lay out the hose on the floor below the fire. (Photos by author.)
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Stretching to the location or apartment directly below the fire apartment and then back to the attack stairway achieves two important objectives: (1) It ensures that the hose is carefully laid out on the floor below, without any kinks; and (2) it tells you how much more hose is needed to reach and completely cover the fire apartment. How is this possible? Consider this: If your company has stretched or hoisted enough hose to reach from the attack stairway to the apartment directly below the fire, you know it will take 50 more feet to ascend by the same stairway to the fire floor and 50 feet more to reach all points within the fire apartment, unless it is extraordinarily large.

To summarize, when smoke conditions on the fire floor necessitate hoisting or stretching to the floor below, hoist or stretch enough hose to reach from the attack stairway to the apartment directly below the fire, and add at least 100 more feet—50 feet for the stairs and 50 feet to reach all points within the fire apartment. This method is ideally suited for center-hallway apartments with stairwells at each end, but it can be used with other building designs. Its effectiveness can be determined during prefire planning by extending small-diameter rope instead of hose.

Size up the attack stairway: Is it open and filled with smoke, or is it relatively smoke-free and enclosed with fire-rated doors? Heavy smoke in an open stairway will probably require a company to ascend with a charged line. Companies ascending an enclosed stairwell may choose to lay their line, uncharged, up to the stair landing on the floor above the fire and then back down to the landing on the fire floor before charging it (photos 6-9). This works well for our company. Once we have enough hose to reach from the attack stairway to the apartment below the fire, we connect our 100-foot high-rise pack and stretch to the stair landing on the floor above the fire and then back down to the fire floor. Hose carried in an accordion bundle fold or a horseshoe deploys easily in a stairway because it plays off a firefighter’s shoulder as he ascends and descends.


(6) One hundred feet of high-rise hose was connected to the hose on the floor below and stretched up the enclosed attack stairwell.
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(7) The nozzle team “masks up” on the fire floor stair landing.
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(8) Check stream pattern and quality before opening the stairwell door. The smoke-free stairwell will dramatically change once you open the door.
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(9) Smoke rushes into the stairwell when the nozzle team advances into the hallway. (Photos by author.)
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Another reason to size up the attack stairway is to check for the presence of a well hole, a space between flights of stairs that enables you to stand at the top of the stairway and get a straight, unobstructed view down to the first floor. A well hole is an excellent space for stretching hose directly up the stairs without having to lay hose on the stairs themselves. One 50-foot section of hose pulled up a well hole can reach the sixth floor. Stairways without a well hole require considerably more hose and firefighters, because as much as one 50-foot section must be laid on the stairs to reach from one floor to the next.

Engine companies with limited staffing should avoid stretching hose up more than one floor on stairways without a well hole. Instead, they should use a window in the stairway to drop a rope bag to the ground and hoist their hoseline to the fire floor, conditions permitting, or, initially, to the floor below. If there are no windows in the attack stairway, use a window at the end of the hallway next to the stairway. If the hallway and stairway are windowless, consider forcing entry into an apartment closest to the attack stairway to access a window.

BILL GUSTIN, a 30-year veteran of the fire service, is a captain with Miami-Dade (FL) Fire Rescue and lead instructor in his department’s officer training program. He began his fire service career in the Chicago area and teaches fire training programs in Florida and other states. He is a marine firefighting instructor and has taught fire tactics to ship crews and firefighters in Caribbean countries. He also teaches forcible entry tactics to fire departments and SWAT teams of local and federal law enforcement agencies. Gustin is an editorial advisory board member of Fire Engineering.

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