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The Apartment Stretch

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With the attack hoseline completely assembled, two firefighters initiate the hose stretch from the floor below at drop point #1.

Hello again, my brother and sister firefighters. We started our discussion (two articles ago) by emphasizing the critical need for proper weapon selection when combating all fires, but especially fires in high-rise buildings where a standpipe system must be utilized. However, even if you understand this, your professional battle to convince the naysayers, and those who are arrogant, ignorant and/or complacent, will be never-ending. There are those individuals out there who have convinced themselves, and others around them, that 2½-inch attack line is just too difficult to move and utilize. In other words, they have convinced themselves, and others they influence, that it simply can’t be done.

Maybe they are in the wrong job, and or maybe they need to spend more time in the gym and less time complaining about how tough the job is. Or, maybe they really can’t do it, for whatever reason. But make no mistake: It absolutely can be done, it has been done and will be done it the future by dedicated, professional firefighters. That is, those firefighters who are mentally and physically prepared, and who continually train for the mission. Plastering your monster truck with “No Fear” stickers and firefighter license plates doesn’t make you a firefighter; in many cases it’s simply false advertising. Those who train on how to stretch and operate 2½-inch attack line are truly walking the walk. Believe me, this is the team to be on.

So, we started with empirical data and evidence that supports the need for and the use of 2 ½-inch hose for high-rise firefighting and standpipe operations. Next, we introduced a very user-friendly high-rise/standpipe hosepack (the “Denver Hosepack”) and the associated equipment package. In this article, we will put it all together and attack a fire using the extremely user-friendly “apartment stretch.”

When to Use It

The apartment stretch, as the name implies, is specifically designed for fire attack in residential high-rise/standpipe-equipped buildings (apartment buildings). When should you use this tactic? Specifically, the apartment stretch can be safely and successfully completed in situations where:

  • The fire is still compartmentalized (within a fire apartment or other compartmentalized area)
  • The fire is behind a closed door
  • Most importantly, firefighters have control of, and maintain control of, the closed apartment door.

Keep in mind, the apartment stretch can and has been used to safely and successfully combat fires in commercial occupancies as well. Once again, the key here is fire department control of the door to the fire area.

One of the components that makes the apartment stretch so user-friendly is that the 2½-inch attack hoseline is stretched dry. Remember, as with everything we do, firefighter safety is of paramount importance. To stretch dry, and safely and successfully complete the apartment stretch, we once again must have control of the door to the fire area, it must be closed, and it must remain closed until the attack hoseline is fully charged and ready for fire attack.

In addition, the area where the dry stretch will be completed (usually a public hallway) must be clear of fire, heat, smoke, etc. In other words, it must be a non-IDLH (Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health) atmosphere. Put in simplest terms, the hallway must be completely tenable, with a certainty that it will remain that way, based on the fact that members of the fire attack group (usually truck company personnel) have control of the closed fire apartment door.

Hook Up & Stage Below

Two firefighters from the first engine company or the fire attack group remove the straps from the hosepacks and connect the hosepacks together, forming the 150-foot long fire attack hoseline.

One of the basic tenants of safe and effective standpipe operations is the fundamental importance of initiating the operation and hooking up to a standpipe hose valve outlet below the fire floor, usually on the floor directly below the fire floor.

There are several critical reasons for hooking up below the fire floor. Most importantly, it establishes an “umbilical cord” to safety. If firefighters must make a hasty retreat out and away from the fire area, following the hoseline will guide them out, down, and away from the fire to safety. In addition, one of the water appliances that helps us achieve safe and successful standpipe operations is the standpipe inline pressure gauge. This pressure gauge is hooked up to the hose valve outlet on the floor below and allows us to fine tune the pressure and ensure that the attack hoseline is properly pressurized (not over-pressurized or under-pressurized). To properly use the pressure gauge, the control firefighter must be in a tenable location, free of smoke, so they can read the gauge and make the proper pressure adjustments.

Hooking up the attack line below the fire, usually on the floor below, cannot be over emphasized. This is of critical importance!

I recommend that you send a team composed of several firefighters—a minimum of two companies, preferably three—to be the initial fire investigation/fire attack group. On the Denver Fire Department (DFD), we send two engine companies and one truck company up to a location two floors below the reported fire floor or floor of alarm. From here the engine companies will stage on the floor below, while the truck company goes up to the fire floor (floor of alarm) to investigate and attempt to determine the precise location of the fire.

Once the precise location of the fire has been determined, the truck company officer will communicate with the first due engine company officer on the floor below and recommend which stair they should utilize for fire attack. The engine company officer will identify and establish a fire attack stair based on reconnaissance information from the truck company coupled with his own size-up information. At this point, we know where we are going, and we have established which stair will provide us with the safest, best, fastest and closest access to the fire apartment/fire area. Now we can begin the stretch.

Getting Started

After the two firefighters reach the fire floor hallway, or drop point #2, the firefighter at the half-landing in the stairwell will fine-tune the hose stretch, making sure that the hose is fully stretched out, against the outside wall (in most cases), avoiding well holes and open stair treads that could lead to major problems, kinks, etc.

OK, so here we go. Starting from the floor below, I recommend that your engine company firefighters assemble the attack line in the hallway (not the stairwell), as the hallway is usually less congested than the stairwell, and usually provides a bit more room to work. We will refer to this starting location as drop point #1. At drop point #1, we systematically place the hosepacks down on the floor, in an orderly and precise manner, and begin the operation.

The company officer will have determined the total length of the stretch and thus the appropriate number of hosepacks to utilize. (Note: A DFD engine company will bring a minimum of three 50-foot hosepacks into the building, so there will be a total of six 50-foot hosepacks between the two fire attack group engine companies). An accurate estimate is critical in order to have enough hose to reach and operate in the fire area, but not too much hose, which would make the overall hose management much more difficult and cumbersome.

Generally speaking, 50 feet, or one hosepack, will be sufficient to reach from one floor level to the next (from the floor below to fire floor); 50 to 100 feet (or one or two hosepacks) will reach the fire apartment on the fire floor (depending on the size of the building, length of the hallway and fire apartment location); and 50 feet or one hosepack will be sufficient to reach all areas of a typical fire apartment (not all fire apartments, but certainly most).

We will use three 50-foot hosepacks, or a 150-foot stretch, for our scenario here, as this is fairly common for standpipe stretches in residential high-rise buildings. At drop point #1, the three hosepacks (one of which is a nozzle section hosepack), are placed on the floor in the same orientation, with the two strap/male coupling side facing toward the entrance to the fire attack stairway, and with the nozzle section closest to the stairwell entrance (Photo 1).

Remember in the last article where we talked about building the hosepacks with two straps on the male coupling side? Now you know why. This simple procedure makes initiating the standpipe hose stretch (apartment stretch or stairwell stretch) much easier by ensuring that the hosepacks are properly oriented, which will lead to a faster, smoother and precise operation.

Step by Step

At this point, two firefighters from the engine company or fire attack group will remove all of the straps and connect the hosepacks together, creating the 150-foot-long fire attack hoseline (Photo 2). Note: I recommend keeping one strap on the nozzle section hosepack, as this will help hold the hosepack together and keep it compact during transport to the point of operation (drop point #3/fire apartment entrance door on the fire floor).

Next, two firefighters or two members (nozzle firefighter and backup/company officer) of the fire attack group will begin the hose stretch by picking up and carrying two sections of hose, and stretching up to drop point #2, which is just inside the fire floor hallway from the fire attack stairwell (Photos 4 and 5).

As these firefighters proceed up the stairs to the fire floor and drop point #2, the other firefighter from the first engine company, or another member of the fire attack group, will follow behind and assist with the stretch by stretching the necessary hose at the half-landing (Photos 6 and 7). This half-landing will become a serious friction point, and requires the positioning of a firefighter during the stretch to maintain positive forward movement of the stretch. This firefighter is only positioned here long enough to ensure a proper stretch and to fine-tune the hose stretch before proceeding back down to charge the hoseline. Note: Photo 8 shows hose properly stretched out in a stairwell during a standpipe stretch.

After the middle hosepack (or hosepacks for longer stretches requiring 200-feet or more) is properly placed on the floor at drop point #2, the nozzle firefighter and backup (company officer on the DFD) continue down the fire floor hallway to drop point #3, which will be just outside the fire apartment door (Photos 9 and 10).

Photos 11, 12, 13, 14 & 15 show the how the apartment stretch is completed and what it looks like in various configurations.

Photo 1

Picture 1 of 15

Three 50-foot Denver hosepacks placed in position at drop point #1 on the floor below the fire floor. Note that the hosepacks are oriented with the two-strap side (male coupling side) toward the entrance to the fire attack stair. This helps facilitate a precise hose stretch, and increases the speed of the operation. (The red bag in the photo is the standpipe equipment kit with all the necessary tools and water appliances to complete the stretch).

Loose Ends

Let me work to tie up any loose ends and make some final comments. To summarize, the apartment stretch has three drop points:

  1. Drop point #1, on the floor below the fire floor, preferably out in the hallway.
  2. Drop point #2, on the fire floor, inside the hallway, at a location just inside the fire floor/hallway from the fire attack stairwell.
  3. Drop point #3, on the fire floor, just outside of the fire apartment door, or entrance into the fire area (behind a closed and controlled door).

Also, I must reinforce and emphasize two critical points.

  1. It is absolutely critical to initiate the stretch from below the fire floor, usually the floor directly below. This is a critical safety issue that must be adhered to; if it’s not, it can and has resulted in firefighter injury and death.
  2. To safely complete the dry apartment stretch, the door to the fire apartment/fire area must be closed, remain closed, and be under the control of our firefighters—firefighters from our fire attack group. On the DFD, this task is completed by firefighters from our first-due truck company. Your standard operating procedures may differ in terms of who performs this task, but the bottom line remains the same: Assign a team to this location, and have them control the door!

One last thing: Over the past 20 years or so, I have been training firefighters all over the world. One of the components of the apartment stretch that sometimes causes heartburn with some firefighters is the part where we stretch the hose past and beyond the fire apartment, based on the swing of the fire apartment door, or entry door to the fire area. This is done, once again, to ensure that we have as much straight 2½-inch hose as possible going straight into the fire area. No turns means a much smoother and easier advancement into the fire area.

Some firefighters are concerned that if a firefighter is in trouble and retreating, they will follow the hoseline in the wrong direction. Now, of course, in the heat of battle, on the fire floor, anything can happen. But I believe that we have built in safeguards to prevent this from happening. First and foremost, we position a member at the door who assists with advancement of the hoseline at this friction point, but is also positioned here to specifically serve as a point of contact at the door. This member can and will guide members to safety should they get into trouble and need to retreat. In addition, we train our firefighters (truck company members) to proactively establish refuge areas (apartments) on both sides of the fire apartment, when possible (same side of the hallway). This creates a safety area, or an area of refuge where a firefighter could easily seek shelter should he turn the wrong way out of the fire apartment. It’s particularly important to proactively establish these refuge areas to provide a safe location for firefighters to retreat to in the event of a wind-driven fire.

Practice, Practice, Practice

The false perception of 2½-inch hose as a heavy, cumbersome and difficult-to-move-and-operate weapon has been proven wrong time and again by solid firefighters who safely and successfully complete an apartment stretch and subsequently kill the fire. You can do it too! Like the old saying goes: A guy is walking down the street trying to find Carnegie Hall. He is lost, so he asks a person on the street, “Excuse me, how do I get to Carnegie Hall?” The stranger appropriately replies, “Practice, practice, practice.”

How do firefighters get good at stretching, advancing, and operating 2½-inch attack line? “Practice, practice, practice.” Now of course there are a few other components, including additional personnel assigned to the line for movement (the DFD, and many other fire departments, pair the first two engine companies together). In addition, as I’ve stated before, we specify lightweight hose. But by far the most important aspect of being able to do it is the proper mindset and attitude of the firefighters who will be performing the work.

Give it a try, and let me know if you have any questions. Next time, we’ll talk about the “stairwell stretch.” Stay low.

Author’s Note: I would like to express a special thanks to the professional firefighters from the Denver Fire Department Engine Co. 23, who allowed me to photograph them performing an apartment Stretch. Those firefighters are: Lieutenant Eric Jean, Engineer Sean Lyons, Firefighter Robert Brown and Firefighter Fernando Martinez. Thanks Brothers!

Authored By: Dave McGrail

Dave McGrail is a 30-year veteran of the fire service and assistant chief with the Denver Fire Department (DFD) assigned to District #2 in the heart of Denver’s busy downtown high-rise district. As a captain, Dave served as the company commander of DFD Engine Co. 3, and then Rescue Co. 1, two of the DFD’s busiest fire companies. He instructs internationally on a wide range of fire service topics, specializing in high-rise firefighting and engine company standpipe operations. Dave holds associate’s degrees in fire science technology/fire suppression and fire prevention and bachelor’s degrees in human resource management and fire service administration.

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