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The Stairwell Stretch – Part 2

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In my last article, I introduced the concept of the stairwell stretch—when and how to use it, and how to estimate the length of hose you’ll need. In this article, we’ll complete the process by walking step-by-step through the actions the fire attack team must take to complete and advance the stairwell stretch.

Assemble the Stretch
Starting from the floor below, as with the apartment stretch, I recommend that your engine company firefighters assemble the attack hoseline 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 for the stairwell stretch 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.

At drop point # 1, in the hallway on the floor below the fire, the hosepacks are systematically placed on the floor, with the male coupling side of the hosepacks (two-strap side) facing toward the fire attack stairwell, and the female coupling side of the hosepacks (one-strap side) facing toward the standpipe hosevalve outlet.

We will use three 50-foot hosepacks, or a 150-foot stretch, for our scenario here, as this is fairly common for standpipe stretches. Remember: The two-strap side of the Denver hosepack is the male coupling side, and should be placed going toward the fire (fire attack stairwell). The female, one-strap side of the Denver hosepack should be placed going toward the water supply (standpipe hosevalve outlet; see photo #1).

Remember in the article “The Denver Hosepack” where we talked about building the hosepacks with two straps on the male coupling side? Now you know the reason 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.

This operation is very suitable for situations where the hosevalve outlet is in a cabinet, out in the public hallway on the floor below. However, most fire departments have buildings in their respective jurisdictions that have the standpipe hosevalve outlets in the stairwell. In this situation, I still recommend that you establish your drop point #1 out in the hallway on the floor below, and still lay the hosepacks down in a systematic manner. However, a slight adjustment will have to be made, as the female end of the attack hoseline will need to be brought back into the stairwell for connection to the hosevalve outlet, after the hose stretch begins.

Any hose that isn’t utilized and fully stretched out inside the stairwell will need to be pulled back down and out onto the floor below, and fully stretched out on the floor below. The properly completed and finished stairwell stretch requires that there are no extra piles of hose or “flaked out” hose anywhere within the stretch, but especially inside the stairwell. The hoseline needs to be completely and fully stretched out, tight!

The assembled 150-foot fire attack hoseline, ready to be stretched from drop point #1.

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 fire attack hoseline. Note: It is recommended to keep one strap on the nozzle section hosepack, as this will help keep the hosepack together and compact as it is being transported to the point of operation, which is drop point #2 on the fire floor landing, inside the fire attack stairwell, behind a closed and controlled entrance door to the fire floor (see photo #2).

Begin the Stretch
At this point, 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 only one section of hose (nozzle section), and stretching up to drop point #2, which is on the fire floor landing, inside the fire attack stairwell, behind the closed and controlled entrance door to the fire floor (see photos #3 and #4).

The nozzle firefighter and backup firefighter/company officer initiate the stairwell stretch by taking only one section—the nozzle section—up to drop point #2, which is the fire floor landing inside the stairwell.

As these firefighters proceed up the stairs to the fire floor landing, inside the fire attack stairwell/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 (if a half-landing exists). 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.

After the nozzle firefighter and backup/company officer reach drop point #2, the hosepack is placed intact on the fire floor stairwell landing. From here, hose is stretched up past the fire floor landing to the next landing. The next landing may be a half-landing in buildings with return stairs, or it the next floor landing in buildings with scissor stairs (as depicted in the photos). For return stairs with half-landings, you will only be able to stretch one-half section, or approximately 25 feet of hose, up past the fire floor landing. For scissor stairs, with a full run of stairs between floor landings (no half-landings), you will be able to stretch one full section, or approximately 50 feet of hose, up past the fire floor landing, to the next floor landing above (see photo #5).

Firefighters at drop point #2 place the nozzle section hosepack on the floor, identify the halfway point (contrasting stripe painted on the hose), and stretch hose up past the fire floor landing to the next landing above.

This technique has been used by firefighters successfully for years, and provides a hose layout that allows for charged hoseline to be more easily advanced out onto a fire floor, gravity-assisted, at least for the first 25–50 feet. Stretching hose up past the fire floor landing can usually be accomplished, but not in all situations. Specifically, the stairwell and fire floor landing need to be large enough, and the stairwell/fire floor landing configuration need to be conducive to a successful attack hoseline advancement.

In other words, when faced with a smaller overall stairwell, and/or smaller fire floor landing, in conjunction with an irregular fire floor stairwell landing shape and cumbersome fire floor door access, you will likely be better off making your fire attack and approach out onto the fire floor with most of the nozzle section placed on the stairs below the fire floor landing, and the rest of the hose stretched out on the floor below. This must be determined by the company officer in charge of the hoseline stretch/fire attack, and must be determined based on size-up of the fire attack stairwell configuration.

Proactive pre-fire planning of buildings in your response district, including short training drills that involve dry stretches, will help all engine company firefighters to visualize and quickly determine the best stretch for a given stairwell.

Additional Tips

Once the hose has been stretched up past the fire floor landing to the next landing above, a firefighter must be positioned on the upper landing to secure the hoseline as it is being charged. It is critical to maintain control of and keep the door to the fire floor closed while firefighters are positioned and operating above the fire floor.

When the hose is stretched up past the fire floor landing, the hoseline must be secured by the firefighter at the landing above, both before it’s charged and while it’s being charged (see photo #6). If this is not done, the weight of the water filling the hose as it travels upward will create enough force to pull the hoseline down several steps, thus ultimately creating a messy pile of charged, kinked hoseline midway up the stairs that will be very difficult to correct.

Securing the hose is simply a matter of a firefighter placing their knee/body weight on the hoseline to keep it in place as it is being charged. This is also when this firefighter should quickly don their facepiece, hood and gloves, and fully open their SCBA air cylinder to provide air up to their regulator. Ultimately, this firefighter is getting ready for the fire attack while securing the hoseline in place.

In addition, during the dry hose stretch, the nozzle firefighter should place the nozzle up on the stairs, perhaps two to four steps up above the fire floor landing (photo #7). This is done to ensure that when the hoseline is charged, there will be plenty of room to work as the hoseline stretches out. If the nozzle is placed on the fire floor landing, in a haphazard manner, with several linear feet of hose “flaked out” on the landing, you will end up pushed up against the door when the hoseline is charged, and there will likely be a pile of kinked hose on the landing.

The nozzle should be placed on the stairs, approximately two to four steps up, to account for the expanding hoseline when it is charged. This will make for a smoother operation on the fire floor landing as the fire attack commences.

Give yourself some room to work. It is much easier to pull a few feet of charged hoseline down the stairs and place the nozzle in the best position to allow for door swing, and thus initiate fire attack, than it is to pull several feet of charged hoseline back up the stairs and out of the way if you have too much charged hoseline on the stairwell landing to begin with.

After the hose is fully and properly stretched out within the stairwell, any extra hose not used in the stairwell must be pulled down to the floor below, and stretched out on the floor below (see photo #8).

Control the Door!
When performing the stairwell stretch, the most critical safety procedure of all is to control the door to the fire area. For the apartment stretch, we emphasized the critical importance of ensuring that members of our fire attack group (usually truck company personnel) establish and maintain control of a closed fire apartment door.

For the stairwell stretch, control of a closed door to the fire floor is even more important. Keep in mind, we are doing a stairwell stretch based on size-up information that indicates heavy fire involvement on the fire floor, just on the other side of this stairwell entry door. In other words, that closed door is the only thing separating us from an extremely hostile and deadly atmosphere. Therefore, it’s essential to establish a charged hoseline (“loaded gun”), ready to knock down fire (“bullets”), before we open the door.

After the hose is fully and properly stretched out within the stairwell, any extra hose not used in the stairwell must be pulled down to the floor below and stretched out on the floor.

Of major concern here is that we are once again stretching dry, and we are stretching above the fire floor landing, in order to achieve an easier and more efficient advancement (gravity-assisted) of our heavy, charged hoseline. During this dry stretch, and while the hoseline is being charged with water, we have a firefighter positioned above the fire floor landing, securing the hoseline. In addition, as part of our overall operation, we will, in most situations, have at least two fire attack group members (truck company personnel), proceed at least five floors above the fire floor inside the fire attack stairwell to complete a reconnaissance and identify if any civilians are located inside this stairwell, before we commence with our attack and contaminate this fire attack stairwell with deadly smoke and high heat.

With one or several firefighters initially operating above, we absolutely MUST establish, and maintain control of the stairwell door that leads directly to the fire floor. When the door to the fire floor is opened, the heat and smoke from the fire floor will be given a direct path into and up the fire attack stairwell (given a positive stack effect/air movement), which could be deadly to civilians and firefighters alike. We will only open this door after we have a charged hoseline in place; when all firefighters are at or below the fire floor landing; and when our size-up, search and reconnaissance indicates that there are no civilians in the fire attack stairwell above the fire floor.

A big part of door control also revolves around proactive and intelligent firefighters thinking about and preventing the creation of a “flow path” that could exacerbate or help create a wind-driven fire. In addition, once the hoseline is charged, and the door to the fire floor is opened, we should evaluate the fire conditions and our ability or inability to advance out onto the fire floor. Should we encounter extreme fire conditions, where we are not at all able to control and knock down enough fire to advance out onto the fire floor, we can always close the door again.

Having control of this door will allow us the option to close it, protecting the attack team and allowing us to re-evaluate our operation, with the potential of utilizing alternative attack strategies and tactics. And, don’t overlook the fact that if forcible entry is needed at the outset to gain access through this fire floor entry door, we must remember to complete the forcible entry with as much finesse as possible, and maintain the integrity of this door, so that we can in fact close it again, if necessary.

Ready, Set…
With the hoseline charged, and all members of the fire attack team fully protected with their respective PPE, operating on air, and ready to go, we can open the door to the fire floor and initiate our fire attack.

Remember: All firefighters should be at or below the fire floor landing before we open the door, and the door should be opened in a slow and controlled manner. It is at this point that the engine company officer will evaluate the fire conditions, and order the nozzle firefighter to open up as necessary. If the fire can be knocked down and controlled, the company officer can then order the advancement of the hoseline out onto the fire floor.

If hose was stretched up past the fire floor landing, it will allow for a smooth and easy advancement out onto the fire floor for the first 25–50 feet. Once all of the hose from above has been fully stretched out onto the fire floor, there will be a critical need for the second engine company to assist with the movement of the hoseline from the stairs below the fire floor landing, and from the floor below. Our forward progress and positive advancement depend entirely on the assistance from the second engine company.

Requests for additional hoseline by the nozzle team should be quantified, such as “give us five more feet” or “give us 10 more feet,” rather than the generic “more line, more line.” This keeps the advancement smooth, and prevents pushing the nozzle team faster than they want to go.

A Final Word
OK, so there you have it. That’s how to complete a stairwell stretch. Key points to remember:

  • Compared to the apartment stretch, the stairwell stretch is a low-frequency stretch.
  • There are only two drop points for the stairwell stretch—drop point #1, located on the hallway of the floor below the fire, and drop point #2, inside the stairwell on the fire floor landing.
  • If possible, stretch the hose up past the fire floor landing to the next landing above to help facilitate a gravity-assisted advancement of the charged hoseline out onto the fire floor.

Our success with this, and all hoseline stretches, is based on the quality and quantity of your training. Give it a try, and as always, let me know if you have any questions. Stay low!

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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