THIS TRACK DOES NOT REQUIRE GEAR. This is for anyone that wants to expand their knowledge of High Rise Firefighting by listening/learning from someone that has been from the street to the Fire Floor of a working High Rise Fire. This class will send you home more prepared for a High Rise Fire.
Gerald A. TracyBattalion Commander (ret) FDNY
Welcome to the Ivy League
Houston Texas 1950’sHouston Texas 2014
If you were to view side by side photos of many cities throughout the US from 50 years ago to present you would be astounded. For many cities the cropping of what was considered high rise buildings was sparse. There were a handful of heavy weight structures, built with large steel columns, beams and thick cement floors. The floor areas were more compartmentalized into small areas less than 7500 square feet with windows that were capable of being open for the comfort of the inhabitants. The 1960’s and 70’s brought forth something entirely new for the fire service to experience fire and how it would behave in a high rise structure. We would now experience large areas of fire that would be more than the flows of 2½” hose lines could manage until the fuel loading lessened in time from burning. In that time smoke would become a major issue sometimes throughout the building. That fact necessitated searching areas of the building that smoke is expected to accumulate and become areas dangerous to sustaining life. You would not expect the entire building to be vacant with cleaning crews, computer rooms and the like to have people on duty late into the night. Well again welcome to the Ivy League, you’re not fighting fire in a private dwelling, apartment house or strip mall. Now we are challenged to access fires at times well above street level, beyond the reach of our tallest ladder trucks. We must rely solely on the features of the building itself to gain access and egress, water supply and trust that the structural elements of the building will maintain their integrity for the duration of our operations. The multitude of tasks to be undertaken requires staffing that only the largest departments in the US could marshal.
Today in this century many cities throughout the US have become meccas of high rise and fire departments have adapted with policies and procedures in response to fires and emergencies in these type structures. The staffing of response may be less than that of the largest cities, and that poses a risk should they encounter a fire of any significance. The departments will be compelled to have units from suburban areas of the city respond if not mutual aid from adjoining departments. Now we have units and members that are not certified in the Ivy League. These units will not be accustomed to a labyrinth of hallways, isles and short wall work stations. Most certainly they may not be familiar and proficient operating hose lines from standpipe water supplies. They may not have had the experience to search these type surroundings to understand the challenge, tools and equipment required and how much they could accomplish before they are low on air.
These issues are effecting departments throughout the US and the challenge is profound. Yes these outlying units can be brought into the downtown areas for training but that will be infrequent and difficult to have all shifts trained at optimal performance levels. Unless you have the opportunity to perform a task repetitively you will not become proficient. I am not suggesting perfection just competent. Another fact to ponder is that these units may not have experienced multi-unit operations on the same radio channel where radio discipline is mandatory for the overall efficiency of the operation and life safety of a firefighter in distress. The decree to this quandary is training and more training.
Where do we start and what are the priorities? The fire “service” of today is much more than structural firefighting. The majority of fire departments now provide basic life support as first responders, requiring proficiency in BLS. We are now called upon for every type of emergency imaginable, from accumulations of carbon monoxide (CO), natural gas leaks, spills and leaks of hazardous substances, building and trench collapse, high angle, swift water rescue and most commonly motor vehicle accidents (MVA).
The obvious conclusion would be that the department and members alike would concentrate their training to become proficient on those duties and tasks called upon most frequently. Training on other obligations would become subordinate. When you look at and read the statistics of firefighter death and injuries you will note that a great percentage of our firefighters (58% as per the stats of 2013) are killed on the fireground! My contention is not that the fire service is deficient to train but we have not attempted to amalgamate modules of training that are appropriate in many situations to make use of the limited time available for training.
I would like to focus on the training that the units residing in the suburbs need over that which is divergent to their most common responses. I will also take the opportunity to now mention a new phenomenon and fact that low and mid-rise office buildings are being developed and constructed throughout the US just outside the downtown areas of most cities. They do not have the height of a high rise, but they may have the same floor area and features that of a high rise. They will have elevators, HVAC either single zone or separate zone for each floor. Standpipes may be present if the building exceeds a specific height from street level at the front of the building to roof. Standpipes would be required in low rise if the square footage of the building was so large that it would be impracticable to stretch from an apparatus. (Rule of thumb) So now we can add these type buildings to those with infrequent response for structural fires and limited experience of operations. A department may have a policy of procedures for these type structures but what may happen come the day of an actual fire, these suburban units may fall back on the actions and procedures that are most comfortable with and that might be a mistake.
When I begin the process of building any type of program related to fire service training I begin the thought process as if the program launched with the receipt of an alarm and that begins with being prepared beforehand. My reasoning is that it is important for the student to instill the disciplines of thought needed to process throughout (ongoing) the alarm response. The thought process becomes second nature like riding a bicycle and eventually becomes a discipline.
So where would we begin with the focus for training our suburban field units for structural firefighting that would include low rise structures.
• District Familiarization.
I would emphasize the importance of becoming familiar with your immediate response district and those adjoining where you may be called upon to assist. Regarding your immediate district pre-planning is a must. If your response area is predominately private dwellings you would not pre-plan each individual building but you would have a plan of action. We would understand the life hazard associated with PD’s, fire behavior to expect and what compromise and collapse could be expected in the different types of construction.
• Water Supply.
The next most important fact of information in the equation of preparedness is the water supply availability around the district and the oddities. The oddities would be anything other than a water main on a grid capable of supplying >1000-2000 gpm, which may include dead end mains, looped mains, and limited supply because of size, condition or lack thereof. I would suggest a training program that not only addresses alternatives of setting up a primary and secondary water supply for short distance as well as long distance. You have to include scenarios of addressing and correcting water problems, loss of water, pumper malfunction, low pressures, burst lines, etc. it’s difficult to garner creative thought in the midst of chaos.
This program should also include not only supply but what you will be supplying; hose lines, foam lines, FDC’s for sprinkler and standpipe systems and finally master streams. Every one of these scenarios would have a water supply problem to overcome and what actions or operations need to be readjusted during that period of interruption. Standpipe operations are not common for units located in the suburbs so they must have an understanding of the systems. If a building is equipped with a standpipe the reason is obvious and units should be prepared to launch a strategy utilizing these systems ASAP.
Every firefighter regardless of assignment, engine, truck or special unit should have this training, because it is imperative to understand the concept of water supply, delivery and resolution to problems so that anyone can be called upon to perform the tasks required. Quick water on the fire is Key in controlling fires, as they say “as the first line goes, so goes the fire.” Beyond PD’s pre-plans are appropriate for other types of buildings, high rise, low rise, large shopping malls, big box retail or distribution structures, apartment complexes and the list goes on. The plans of operation (SOP’s/SOG’s) are not the same for all building and occupancy types. A hand stretch from the apparatus is appropriate for PD’s but not for buildings with standpipes. There are exceptions, even the FDNY will acknowledge for below level and lower floor fires, e.g. first or second floors, a hand stretch may be acceptable. The hand line of choice would still be the 2½” hose. The FDNY would stretch from a static hose bed and not from a pre-connected bed with limited lengths of hose.
• Communications and radio discipline.
Communications on the fireground is vital for the overall efficiency and coordination of operations, and firefighter safety. There will be those instances where numerous units and individual members equipped with radio communications are operating and the channel becomes overwhelmed with talk. Other than establishing multi-unit drills it’s difficult to stage this type a training exercise. The focus of training in communications and radio disciple needs to begin with the integration and the use of common terminology, to describe conditions, places and things occurring on the fireground. Plain language can become misinterpreted in vital situations wasting time in deployment to immediate emergency situations. Taking a moment to think and compose your message will expedite the transmission. In that moment listen for announcements currently being broadcast, so as not to step on others transmitting. This is vital during crisis situations, e.g. loss of water, firefighter missing, disoriented or trapped, flashover and catastrophic collapse. Practice changing channels when the need calls for a separate channel to be created either to continue ongoing fire operations or the establishment of a special branch of operations. Have a policy in place that will expedite accountability of personnel when a Personnel Accountability Report (PAR) is requested.
• Ladder company duties.
Not everyone wants to be a Truckee nor do they fully understand the purpose and function of Truck duties and responsibilities. The duties are more than search and rescue and can be expounded upon aside of acronyms e.g. LOVERS U – L- Ladders O- Overhaul V- Ventilation E-Forcible Entry R- Rescue and Search S- Salvage U- Utilities. This acronym does not emphasize the most profound function of assisting the Engine in its attack and extinguishment of the fire. Granted the Truck will perform all the duties of LOVERS U, but the facts are that if a Truck arrives simultaneously with the Engine they may provide the 360° size up, force entry and while searching for life they will determine the location of the fire and attempt to confine it (closing a door) awaiting the hose line. This information will be transmitted to all and most specifically to the Incident Commander (IC) and Engine officer leading the attack. Because of limited staffing Truckies may also assist with the advancement of the line or by removing kinks. Coordinating ventilation on the fireground has been recognized by the fire service for many years now and with the most recent research conducted by NIST and UL there is greater comprehension. When encountering fires in high rise and low rise ventilation and smoke control is different from other structures. Horizontal ventilation is not initiated until the fire is controlled and conditions are in your favor. You would not vent windows subject to wind on that face of the building. Those decisions should be made by the officer in charge on the fire floor and with comprehensive intelligence both interior and exterior of the space. The venting of stairwells should also be delayed until an assessment is made to determine if the vertical draft created will impact the advance leading out of the attack stairwell. This is why these decisions are to be made by the IC. Many departments today are pressurizing stairwells with portable fans in an attempt to keep them smoke free during fire operations. There are high rise and low rise structures designed with interior atriums that have skylights above. Some codes allow these skylights to vent upon the activation of alarms and also require the atrium to be sprinkler protected. In the case of non-automatic venting of the skylight a halyard should be available at roof level to manually open the skylight. If that does not work, Truckies do have tools and they like to use them. Just give everyone else a heads up before you take out the glass, Lexan or whatever is being used for the passage of light.
These are but a few of the most profound subjects of training needed outside the urban areas of our cities. It is inevitable that they will be called upon for major fires in downtown high rise and alarms to low rise in their own districts. Our training should always incorporate a factor of worst case scenario to be ready for those situations.
Not everyone will agree with the priorities I have set and that’s ok we can debate the issues. Debate is good and it shows that you are a “Student of the Game” as declared by a great mentor and friend in this profession Bob Pressler.
Gerald Tracy retired as a battalion commander with the FDNY after more than 30 years of service. He developed numerous training programs for the FDNY, including programs for firefighters, company and chief officers. Tracy was the catalyst to research conducted by NIST, UL and NYU Polytechnic Institute on fire behavior and wind-driven fires. He served on the NFPA Project Technical Panel reviewing “Firefighting Tactics under Wind-Driven Conditions” and has authored numerous articles for trade publications. He was recently awarded the Tom Brennan Lifetime Achievement Award.