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The Standpipe Equipment Kit

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Hello brothers and sisters! In our discussion of engine company standpipe operations on this site, we’ve covered a lot of ground. Specifically, I wrote about standpipe systems and the probability of low system pressure caused by a variety of factors. From there, I introduced the user-friendly “Denver Hosepack.” In the last three articles, we stretched hose off the standpipe for both the “Apartment Stretch” and the “Stairwell Stretch.” These tools and tactics should give you a good foundation upon which to build your engine company high-rise/standpipe operations.

In this article I would like to continue this discussion, and tie up a very important loose end. We’ve discussed hose, hose packs and hose stretches—but, as with any engine company operation, hose is just one component of the necessary equipment to accomplish the mission. As we all know, by itself the hose is just that—hose. Without the essential water-delivery appliances and tools, our engine company fire attack operation is simply not going to occur. You can’t put your thumb over the end of a “big line” and call it good.

So, with that said, I would like to give you a rundown of the essential and “nice to have” water-delivery appliances and tools that must accompany the hose for safe, and successful standpipe operations.

The Need for Portability
For our non-standpipe/ground-based operations, most of the necessary water-delivery appliances and tools can be found in the brass compartment (aka engineer’s compartment) on the pumper. In addition, most pumper apparatus are set up with multiple tool brackets that store spanner wrenches and other frequently used tools. The pre-connected hoselines have pre-attached nozzles, and the pump panel has pressure gauges—as well as flow meters on many pumpers—so that the engineer (pump operator) can regulate pressure and flow with precision.

However, for standpipe operations, we must bring these critical appliances and tools with us, sometimes up many floors. For this reason, we have to give serious thought to what we’ll need in our standpipe kit. Specifically, the kit must be efficient. We want to have the appliances and tools that we really need, especially when we are 25 floors above the pumper. At the same time, we want to keep the standpipe kit as lightweight, manageable and as easy to carry as possible.

The standpipe equipment kit/tool bag consists of a canvas tool bag with all the essential water appliances and tools for standpipe operations, along with several “nice to have” items. Photo courtesy Dave McGrail

The Essentials
Let’s start with the essentials. And when I say essentials, I really mean essentials! That is, the tools and appliances that absolutely must be inside the standpipe kit if we want to have a safe and successful operation. They include:

Standpipe Inline Pressure Gauge
This water-delivery appliance has been around for years, and over the past few decades, it has started to become a fairly common piece of equipment across the American fire service. Prior to its application and use, measuring pressure and flow on the fire floor were really just a guess—and sometimes not a very good guess. This method depended on the engineer introducing a precise pump pressure into the building’s standpipe fire department connection (FDC). Quite frankly, even the best engineer would be very hard pressed to pump the system to a precise pressure, given all the variables.

The standpipe inline pressure gauge takes much of the guesswork out of it. For all practical purposes, this appliance gives us a mini, remote pump panel. We’re able to regulate pressure—and thus flow—by simply reading the gauge and using the hand wheel/valve (opening/closing) to increase or decrease pressure (just like throttling up or gating down at the pump panel).

All hydraulic calculations, along with flow testing to verify those numbers, should be completed prior to the incident. I recommend that you label the housing of the gauge with specific pressure numbers for the three most common standpipe hose layouts, as follows:

  • 150 feet – 75 psi
  • 200 feet – 85 psi
  • 250 feet – 95 psi

The standpipe inline pressure gauge is an essential water appliance for standpipe operations. Photo courtesy Dave McGrail

The standpipe inline pressure gauge is an essential piece of equipment for high-rise/standpipe operations. It’s critical to have a tool to identify what the outlet pressure is, and thus give us the ability to regulate said pressure. We don’t guess on hoseline pressure for our most frequent, ground-based operations, and we absolutely should NOT be guessing what the outlet pressure is for a fire on the 25th floor.

One last thing: Don’t forget to test this gauge on a regular basis, ideally once a week. Test it at the pump panel, flowing real water, preferably through your high-rise hose packs, and compare the gauge reading with that of the pump panel gauges. They should read the same.

Nozzle (Secondary/Backup)
As you know from the article regarding the Denver Hosepack, I recommend that you place your primary nozzle on one of the hosepacks. This reduces reflex time and allows us to be more efficient as we stretch our hose and initiate fire attack. This nozzle is our primary nozzle.

The primary nozzle should be attached directly to one of the Denver hosepacks. Photo courtesy Dave McGrail

It’s essential to have a secondary/backup nozzle inside your standpipe equipment kit. The secondary nozzle becomes essential in the event that there’s some sort of mechanical failure with the primary nozzle. In addition, the secondary nozzle might be used for extending the hoseline. This nozzle should be of the same, lightweight type as our primary nozzle. I recommend a simple, lightweight 2½-inch x 1½-inch ball valve shutoff, with a set of smooth-bore stacked tips (1¼-inch x 1 1/8-inch x 1-inch for maximum versatility).

The secondary nozzle is another essential water appliance that should be carried in the standpipe equipment kit. Photo courtesy Dave McGrail

60-Degree Elbow (Lightweight)
Depending on the standpipe systems and hosevalve outlets that you use, you may not need 60-degree elbows, but the need is so common that I consider it essential for most fire departments to carry at least one in their standpipe kits. On the Denver Fire Department (DFD), our engine companies carry two 60-degree elbows.

Standpipe hosevalve outlets are often installed incorrectly, at bad angles, or are simply located in a very tight space. This is a real issue in my city, as most of the standpipe hosevalve outlets are located inside cabinets on the floor. Adding to that, in many buildings, the outlet is actually installed facing straight up. So, attaching directly to this outlet would result in a major kink in the hose. The 60-degree elbow solves this problem, making it an essential piece of equipment for high-rise operations.

60-degree elbows are often necessary for standpipe connections. In this photo, you can see how we used two 60-degree elbows on an improperly installed standpipe hosevalve outlet that is facing straight upright in a cabinet. Photo courtesy Dave McGrail

Even hosevalve outlets consisting of exposed piping in the stairwell are sometimes installed too close to the wall, and or at odd, non-user friendly angles. The fire code specifies “accessible hosevalve outlet.” It doesn’t say anything about it needing to be pointing in the correct direction—or even a commonsense direction. After installation, if it doesn’t leak, the guys who completed the installation are all too happy to move on with their lives. They don’t see it from an engine company operational standpoint, period!

The bottom line: One 60-degree elbow is essential equipment for all standpipe kits, and two are essential if you encounter the same type of problems that I do in my city. One last thing: Specify lightweight, aluminum alloy elbows. Brass and chrome elbows, such as the ones you can take off an old pumper before the rig goes to the bone yard, will get the job done, but they are way too heavy for long-term use in your standpipe kit. The unnecessary extra weight in the kit really adds up.

1½-inch x 2½-inch Increaser
This increaser/adapter allows us to extend a 2½-inch attack line straight off the nozzle, without shutting off the water at the hosevalve outlet. This is done by removing the smoothbore tip, exposing a 1½-inch thread, and then attaching the added 2½-inch hose to the 2½-inch thread of the increaser.

The 1½-inch x 2½-inch increaser is an essential adapter that should be included in the standpipe kit. Photo courtesy Dave McGrail

In addition, this increaser can, in some cases, be used on a 1½-inch hosevalve outlet to increase the size to 2½-inch. The key here is to ensure that the 1½-inch hosevalve outlet is being supplied by the same, large diameter riser. This would typically occur with Class III standpipes where a 1½-inch hosevalve outlet is located right next to a 2½-inch hosevalve outlet. If a 1½-inch hose valve outlet is by itself, it’s a Class II (occupant use only) standpipe, and is probably supplied by a small diameter pipe, usually from the domestic water supply. Increasing the outlet size here will not yield positive results.

Other Adapters
In most jurisdictions, cities, counties, fire protection districts, etc., there’s a need for some sort of “area specific” adapters to accomplish standpipe operations. For example, in my city, there are a number of buildings that have a slightly different thread pattern on the hosevalve outlets and thus require a specific adapter, which has become an essential equipment item for the DFD Standpipe Kit.

This adapter is an essential pierce of equipment for DFD engine companies. Determine what adapters you might need before the fire occurs. Photo courtesy Dave McGrail

Our colleagues in the San Francisco/Oakland Bay Area will attest to the fact that a 3-inch x 2½-inch reducer/adapter is an essential piece of equipment for their respective standpipe kits, because many standpipe hosevalve outlets in Bay Area cities are equipped with a 3-inch hosevalve outlet.

Carefully study your city, district, etc., preplan your high-rise standpipe-equipped buildings to the best of your ability, and determine what, if any, adapters are necessary for your operations. They should be considered essential equipment for your standpipe kit. Maybe you don’t and or won’t need any adapters, but I doubt it. A careful examination and preplanning of your buildings will likely prove the need for some sort of adapter or adapters.

Spanner Wrenches
The need for spanner wrenches is self-explanatory for any firefighter. One spanner wrench is essential for the kit; two is nice. They are typically small and lightweight, so my recommendation is to go with two.

Pipe Wrench
A large, lightweight, aluminum, 18-inch (minimum) pipe wrench is another essential piece of equipment. It can get you out of many jams, such as when you need more power and force to remove a cap, or actually turn on a stuck valve.

An adjustment rod is used to adjust the pressure on fireground adjustable PRVs. This is essential equipment if you have these types of PRVs in your jurisdiction. Photo courtesy Dave McGrail

Pressure-Reducing Valve (PRV) Adjustment Rod
Whether this small tool is indeed essential for your high-rise kit depends on one thing: whether you have fireground adjustable pressure-reducing valves (PRVs) in your high-rise/standpipe equipped buildings.

There are two specific types of fireground adjustable PRVs. One is called a Giacomini, which is an European/Italian-made valve, and the second is the new Elkhart Fireground Adjustable PRV. Both of these PRVs operate in a similar manner with regard to adjusting pressure: An adjustment rod is inserted into one of the holes located on a rotating barrel; from there, the pressure can be adjusted by using the rod to rotate the barrel.

The “Nice-to-Haves”
At this point, we have the absolutely essential water appliances and tools in the kit. Remember, we must have the tools we’re going to need, but at the same time, we need to keep the kit as lightweight as possible. With that said, let’s finish by talking about some of the “nice to have” tools and equipment that we might want to add to the kit.

Wooden Door Wedges
A good supply of door wedges carried in the standpipe kit can be beneficial, especially when we are 25 floors above the pumper. Generally, wooden door wedges are fairly lightweight, but a little weight here and there adds up. In addition, they do take up some space in the kit, and need to be carefully organized. I recommend placing them on the bottom of the kit.

Several wooden door wedges should be carried in your standpipe equipment kit in a space-saving, organized manner. Photo courtesy Dave McGrail

Wire Brush
A wire brush can be used to clean the threads of a hosevalve outlet, removing rust, paint and small burrs that might prevent attaching your appliances and hose. The lack of standpipe system maintenance in some buildings will dictate the need for this tool.

Standpipe Hosevalve Hand Wheel
Some engine companies will carry a standpipe hosevalve hand wheel in their respective kit. This is based upon the experience of missing hand wheels at the hosevalve outlets in some buildings. High-rise public housing is a good example of where hand wheels are often missing or damaged, due to theft and vandalism. The key here is to make sure that the hand wheel you place in your kit will fit on the valve stems where they’re frequently found missing. These are not a one-size-fits-all item. But, generally, one size does fit all in a specific building.

Chalk, Grease Pencils, Markers, Etc.
Chalk, grease pencils and markers are mostly used by the chief officer or commander who’s supervising a specific area. Specifically, they can be used for operational accountability of companies and units assigned to specific areas, divisions, groups, etc. The markers allow a commander or their assistant to keep track of resources by writing resource situation/status information directly on a wall, usually on the floor below the fire.

In addition, these markers might be used by search groups to account for the completion of searches in certain areas, not unlike the procedure used by USAR teams at large-scale events.

One of the problems with chalk and pencils is that they tend to break into small pieces overtime as they bounce around in the kit against other, heavier pieces of equipment and water appliances. I recommend storing them in a small, rigid box, such as Tupperware. This will protect them from damage, and ensure that they’re usable the night you need them.

Door Strap/Search Markers
Door strap/search markers have been used by fire departments for years. Made from old tire inner tubes, they were originally designed to keep a door latch from engaging, and thus keep a door from locking behind a crew as they pass through a door into another area, room, etc. The door strap is simply placed over both doorknobs of a door, thus blocking the latch from engaging.

On the DFD, we enhanced the use of the door strap by also utilizing it as a search marker. After a search is completed in a certain area, the door strap/search marker is left in place on the outside doorknob only, thus indicating completion of a specific search. I’ll talk more about this in a future article on truck company operations.

Pliers, Channel Locks, Vise Grips, Other Hand Tools
Various small hand tools, such as pliers, channel locks, vise grips and screwdrivers, can be handy and less cumbersome than the large pipe wrench for opening a valve that is missing a hand wheel, as well as completing various other tasks. A screwdriver can be used, in some cases, to remove some types of pressure restricting devices (PRDs) such as orifice plates. Remember, as with anything that goes in the kit, keep it as lightweight and compact as possible.

The Right Tools Make the Job
Well, there you have it—the essential items and a few “would be nice to have it” items for safe and successful engine company standpipe operations. If you do nothing else, order a standpipe inline pressure gauge, and get it in your kit as soon as possible.

It’s an exhilarating experience to properly stretch a line off a standpipe and attack a high-rise fire. Having the appropriate equipment, and training on it ahead of time, will give you the confidence to accomplish this difficult and dangerous mission.

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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