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Establishing a Water Supply at a High-Rise Incident

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Spot the apparatus as far from the building as feasible for safety from falling debris (100–300 feet). Photo courtesy William Porter/Sacramento Fire Department

If your department responds to a decent number of high-rise fires, you probably (hopefully!) have some detailed standard operating guidelines (SOGs) that provide overall direction for on-scene tactics and priorities. The Sacramento Fire Department (SFD) is no different. In this article, I’ll review the SFD’s SOG for establishing water supply in a high-rise firefighting incident. If your department doesn’t already have a robust SOG addressing high-rise water supply, you can use ours as a reference. And even if you do already have an SOP for this, comparing yours to the approach we use may give you some tips or a different perspective.

Step by Step

Connect hoses to a horizontally arranged FDC manifold by working out from the middle (from bottom, up for vertical manifold) to facilitate subsequent connections by later-arriving companies Photo courtesy William Porter/Sacramento Fire Department

The key to water supply at a high-rise: You must establish an adequate and redundant supply for firefighting operations and/or building sprinkler systems.

The first-arriving engine (E1) drops the captain and firefighters at the point of entry for lobby, systems and elevator control operations. The engineer then drives to the fire department connections (FDC) for the standpipe. Two connections are made to the FDC with 3″ hose.

The finer points of this initial operation include:

  • Spot the apparatus as far from the building as feasible for safety from falling debris (100–300 feet). (See photo 1)
  • Connect hoses to a horizontally arranged FDC manifold by working out from the middle (from bottom, up for vertical manifold) to facilitate subsequent connections by later-arriving companies. (See photo 2)
  • Connect the discharge hoses to engine outlets remote from the engineer’s panel to reduce exposure to hoses carrying pressures in excess of 300 psi. (See photo 3)
  • Lash the hoses to a substantial object at both the FDC and at the engine discharge, again for personnel safety. (See photo 4)
  • Cover the hoses at the FDC with a ladder and salvage cover or backboard for protection from debris.

Connect the discharge hoses to engine outlets remote from the engineer’s panel to reduce exposure to hoses carrying pressures in excess of 300 psi. Photo courtesy William Porter/Sacramento Fire Department

The second-arriving engine (E2) drops their crew at point of entry for fire attack operations. The engine then proceeds to E1’s location and lays an LDH supply line to the supply hydrant. E2 makes two intake hookups to the hydrant and connects the discharge to the supply line to E1. The entire supply system is now charged using hydrant pressure. After placing the pumps in gear and verifying that the transfer valve is set to volume (if applicable) to maximize flow, E2 increases its pump discharge pressure to 50% of the required discharge pressure. E1 then throttles up to the full required discharge pressure.

This initial pressure is obtained by consulting the high-rise pump chart carried on all engines, which lists the system pressures for all high-rise buildings. For those buildings with a fire pump, the initial pump pressure is set to a “standby” pressure of 50 psi less than the building system pressure, allowing the building systems to function as designed. For buildings with no pump system or with a dry standpipe, the pressure is determined by adding elevation pressure (5 psi per floor) to 130 psi.

Lash the hoses to a substantial object at both the FDC and at the engine discharge, again for personnel safety. (See photo 4) Photo courtesy William Porter/Sacramento Fire Department

The next steps:

  • E2 sets its engine control to throttle (rpm) mode, E1 sets its engine control to pressure (psi) mode. This prevents the engine control systems from working against each other during supply or discharge pressure changes if both were set to pressure control.
  • Both engines flow a small amount of water from their booster reel hoses in a position to cool the pavement under the exhaust discharge and to circulate water through the pumps during standby operations.
  • Upon arrival, the third and fourth engines set up a supply system to support the sprinkler system, if separate. If the building system is combined, the second supply system will duplicate the first system.

The engines are now monitored for increase in rpm indicating that water is flowing through the supply system. This indicates that the building system is at least 50 psi below design pressure and is not keeping up with the flow. When this happens, both engines are throttled up 50 psi, increasing the discharge pressure to a “takeover” pressure of 50 psi above the design pressure. At this point, the IC is notified that the system supply has been taken over by the engines. Note: Takeover should be expected if several attack lines are in operation; if that’s not the case, the IC should be alerted to troubleshoot system faults such as a failed fire pump, unexpectedly open standpipe valves or broken pipes in the building.

Many buildings have multiple standpipes/FDCs that are not inter-connected (see photo 5), requiring a recon of the fire location and timely communication to the water supply group. Photo courtesy William Porter/Sacramento Fire Department

Preplanning & Practice

Preplanning high-rise buildings is essential due to the variations in the location and marking (or absence thereof) of the FDCs.

Many buildings have multiple standpipes/FDCs that are not inter-connected (see photo 5), requiring a recon of the fire location and timely communication to the water supply group of which standpipe is to be used so that the correct FDC can be chosen.

As with any low-frequency, high-complexity operation, practice is essential to ensure that you can perform correctly and efficiently when a high-rise fire does occur. To this end, use your SOPs for each and every response to an alarm in a high-rise building. If the call turns out to be overdone popcorn in the microwave, there will be a lot of hose to pick up. But when the real one hits, you’ll “play” the way you practiced—and the training will be well worth it.

Stay safe and be ready.

Author’s note: I’d like to thank Tony Ott, Sacramento Fire Department Engine 56, for assistance with this article.

Authored By: William Porter

William Porter is an engineer at Sacramento Fire Department Station 6. He joined the SFD in 2002 and was promoted in 2009.

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