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Preplanning for Vandalized FDCs

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It would be impossible for fire crews to connect their fire hose to this post-mounted FDC with two missing female swivels.

It would be impossible for fire crews to connect their fire hose to this post-mounted FDC with two missing female swivels.

Thanks to the Internet, firefighters have access to hundreds of videos and articles on high-rise operations—tactics, training, standard operating procedures (SOPs), etc. But regardless of the circumstances surrounding a working fire in a high-rise structure, water application and rapid fire control will always be a high priority. If there’s one fixed star or one common denominator for success on the fireground, it’s the ability for fire crews to quickly put water on the fire. Rapid extinguishment seems to solve almost everything, regardless of the size of the structure.

When it comes to high-rise fires, rapid water application becomes much more challenging than at the average residential structure fire. A high-rise fire will most likely activate the fixed fire protection features prior to the arrival of the fire department. In addition, fire crews will need to use the standpipe system and connect to all fire department connections (FDCs).

Two out of three female swivels are missing on this wall-mounted FDC; the SpeedSwivel comes to the rescue with fire hose attached.

Two out of three female swivels are missing on this wall-mounted FDC; the SpeedSwivel comes to the rescue with fire hose attached.

When Problems Arise
In most cases, the fixed fire protection features—fire pumps, fire sprinklers, standpipe systems, control valves, pressure reducing valves, FDCs—will be intact and in good working order. Unfortunately, there are multiple factors, both human and mechanical, that can result in a partial or complete failure of the building’s fire protection features. Unless firefighters have conducted a preplan of the building and are confident and familiar with the existing fire protection features, they should be highly skeptical of their condition.

In other words, firefighters should not fool themselves into believing that every fixed fire protection system is perfectly maintained and operational at all times. I have witnessed too many cases to the contrary.

Theft of FDCs has become a huge problem for fire officials and building owners throughout America. Metal values have reached levels where thieves have expanded scrap metal recycling into a criminal activity. The brass FDCs on the exterior of buildings equipped with fire sprinklers or standpipe systems have become an easy target for scrap metal theft.

This photo demonstrates why it’s impossible for a male fire hose thread to fit a vandalized FDC with a missing female swivel.

This photo demonstrates why it’s impossible for a male fire hose thread to fit a vandalized FDC with a missing female swivel.

One of the highest priorities for the commanding officer at a working fire is to provide water supply to the fixed fire protection system. The FDC provides the best means to supplement water supply, increase nozzle pressures and support standpipe operations at high-rise fires. In most situations, the fireground commander will ensure that one of the first-arriving engine companies locates and connects to the FDC. When brass thieves remove the 2 ½-inch female (swivels) connections from the FDC, it becomes impossible for firefighters to connect hoselines.

The theft of FDCs is so disturbing to fire officials that the NFPA is now recommending that fire departments preplan an alternate means of water supply for standpipes and sprinkler systems with damaged or missing FDCs (NFPA 13E:Recommended Practice for Fire Department Operations in Properties Protected by Sprinkler and Standpipe Systems, Chapter 4 Section 4.2).

A vertical set of four FDC connections with some missing and some with a SpeedSwivel attached.

A vertical set of four FDC connections with some missing and some with a SpeedSwivel attached.

Solutions for Vandalized FDCs
One solution is a product I developed, called the SpeedSwivel. The SpeedSwivel is a portable hose adaptor that can be carried on any engine company; it attaches to the vandalized FDC and effectively restores it to its original design and capability. When firefighters encounter an FDC that’s been stripped of its swivel, they simply attach the SpeedSwivel to the FDC, then attach the hose to the SpeedSwivel. I think of it as the “missing link” for stolen or vandalized FDCs.

The SpeedSwivel is just one solution to damaged FDCs. Clearly, I’m biased toward it, but in the end what matters is that you prepare and train for what an engine company crew can do if they encounter a damaged FDC at a high-rise fire.

Additional solutions include:

  • Extend an aerial ladder pipe to a floor below the fire and utilize it as an exterior standpipe and water supply for an interior fire attack.
  • With adequate preplanning and training, fire crews can shoulder load and stretch 5-inch supply hose into a stairwell and provide firefighters with a temporary water supply.
  • It is possible, with certain limitations, to overcome a damaged FDC on a standpipe system by stretching a supply line into a building stairwell and, with the use of a double female hose adapter, connect to and back-feed the standpipe outlet.
  • The yard lay, apartment stretch and horizontal stretch are similar hose evolutions with versatility and a history of success; they’re generally used for quick attack or to avoid the use of a damaged post-mounted connection or a missing FDC. Crews can stretch various lengths of pre-connected 2½-inch hose with a gated Y and a choice of nozzles.

Water supply is critical at any fire scene, however, when it comes to high-rise fires, any delay of water can result in a disaster. When brass thieves steal an FDC from a structure they are also stealing the water supply for firefighting—putting lives and property at risk.

Authored By: Michael Cornelius

Michael Cornelius is a retired Phoenix fire captain and is currently employed by the Building & Planning Department as a new construction fire code inspector.

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