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Fighting Fire with a Standpipe or an Engine Stretch

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Considering the best way to get water on a fire in a multi-story building

By Mike Kirby and Tom Lakamp
Published Sunday, June 1, 2014 | From the June 2014 Issue of FireRescue

StandpipeThink about every urban, suburban and rural area where you respond. Hopefully you can come up with a few scenarios where you would have to decide if you should use the standpipe or stretch from the engine. These scenarios can have many variables and “what-if” situations added to them.

To come up with a list, you have to pay attention to your running areas. Have you made medical, fire alarm, gas leak or service call responses to these buildings to become familiar with their characteristics? Do you go out, inspect and preplan, or do you just walk through the buildings? Do you practice hose layouts in these locations? If you don’t spend time in these buildings, you won’t be able to say whether you should stretch from the engine or use the standpipe. The only way to know what’s going on inside a building—its hazards, protection systems (standpipes) and layouts— is to get into the building before the fire.

In our system we have multiple dwellings that are three to six stories with standpipes—parking garages, commercial occupancies, hotels/motels, hospitals, industrial facilities and other occupancies—that present the decision to use either the standpipe or stretch from the engine. There are many factors to consider when making this decision. Surely if you have standpipe-equipped buildings, you have buildings with basements and sub-basements, as well as those under six stories in height, and as you start operations within these buildings, you must make a choice. Often, unless you’ve preplanned the building, this choice is made within seconds upon arrival. Be prepared and have the right mindset to find success with whichever decision you make, because “the fire goes with how the first line goes.”

Initial Considerations
Your initial considerations will often focus around where the fire is located within the building. For a five-story building equipped with standpipes, with a fire on the first floor, the quickest way to get water on the fire is likely from your apparatus. Additionally, for below-grade fires, often the safest means to get water on the fire is by stretching from the apparatus to the fire, as your standpipe valves will be in the chimney releasing heat and smoke from the fire.

A lot of us use our apparatus-deployed fire lines much more often than our standpipe hose systems. We’re more familiar with our standard hose layouts, practice them more often and are probably better with them. This doesn’t mean we aren’t proficient with our standpipe hose systems; it’s just human nature to be better at the tasks we do more often.

Additional considerations are related to your standard hose loads and lengths, the types of stairs encountered, the type of standpipe system and the possibility of performing a rope stretch.

What’s the Reach?
As we think about a fire location and make our initial decision, we must know how far our standard hose systems will reach. Can we rapidly stretch to the 4th or 5th floor of a multi-unit dwelling with a 50′ setback from the apparatus to the entrance door? If we do that, can we advance down a long hallway to a fire area or apartment? Do we have hose beds that are static or preconnected? If everything on our engine is pre-connected our longest bed is 250 feet, and we have a stretch that takes 50 feet to get to the door, 200 feet to traverse the stairs and 50 feet for the apartment, then we’ll come up short. We must be able to estimate and know this ahead of time. In this instance, we need to use our 150′ or 200′ high-rise standpipe hose, hooked to the floor below, to reach our fire apartment.

Success also depends on taking the correct pathway to the fire. Often there are multiple entrances or stairwells in large buildings and selecting the wrong location can inhibit your ability to reach the fire with either the hose from your apparatus or the standpipe hose system.

Available Access
Access is one of the most important considerations when determining whether to use the standpipe or your apparatus. If there’s a long straight run, scissor-type stairs, or wrap-around stairs where stretches from your engine will be long and labor-intensive, then the standpipe will be the quickest option. If there’s a stairwell with a well-hole, then this feature will enable a rapid vertical stretch of hose and might be quicker than using the standpipe. If there are outside entrance walkways or exterior stairwells and you have rope systems to raise hose, this might be quicker than hooking to the standpipe system.

Wet or Dry System
standpipe2Quite often charging the dry standpipe with water from the engine takes a great deal of time to get good flow from the riser, as we discussed in “Car Fire, Magnified” from FireRescue’s February 2012 issue, p. 34 (www.firefighternation.com/article/strategy-and-tactics/fighting-vehicle-fires-parking-garages). In our experience, it’s sometimes easier to stretch via the stairs or use a rope stretch to get water on the fire from your apparatus-stretched hose systems.

Most wet systems will afford you the ability to get water quickly from the riser, but the water might be poor flow and pressure. In this situation, you must have a backup plan to get water on the fire, and this may involve stretching fire lines from your engine.

A Rope Stretch
The rope stretch affords you the opportunity to rapidly get hose into a building from the apparatus. You can quickly stretch your standard fire line or a 2½” line with wye for two fire lines—if you’ve practiced. Take into consideration avenues of escape and safety when stretching with a rope and secure the hose so the weight of the hose and water doesn’t pull it down the building.

We have a couple of buildings with standpipe risers in the hallways that are under six stories and have standard return-type stairs without well holes. It would take additional time and hose to stretch to the middle of the floor above from the standpipe riser in the hallway. These buildings have large windows in the stairwell on the landings and afford the opportunity for us to stretch hose up the exterior, stage on the floor below and attack a fire on the floor above rather rapidly. To be successful on this type of stretch, we must have practiced and mastered this skill prior to the time there’s a fire in this building.

Below-Grade Areas
Below-grade areas are a common concern for firefighters in large, standpipe-equipped buildings. We’re all familiar with hooking up on the floor below a fire floor, laying out our hose and then initiating attack on the floor above. When we open the fire door into the hallway or room, smoke exits and goes up and away from us for the most part.

Now consider the same building with a fire one or two floors below grade, and you access the area from the same stairwell that services the rest of the building. This stairwell has a standpipe riser and a fire door and is relatively clear as you descend and start to hook up hoses. When considering this option, where do you stage hose? How will you operate the standpipe valve in the chimney? These are two very important considerations and our experience has shown us it’s often best if you can stretch to these below-grade fires from an apparatus stretch. This will ensure you can be led to safety by following the fire line and avoid putting a valve operator directly in the chimney for long periods of time. With this option, it’s often best to perform reconnaissance, as with any fire of unknown location and size in a large building, to determine the best entrance location.

Where To?
As you begin to think about your response areas a little more, there’s always more than one way to complete a task. Consider your options and think about the quickest way to get water on a fire. You need to be proficient in all tasks and stretches required by you as an engine company. Get out into your buildings, assess the best way to go to work and then practice. Often the occupants or owners of these buildings won’t have a problem with you laying out hose lines for practice.

The best way to know how proficient you are in a certain location within a building is to practice at that location with your hose systems. Theory and kitchen table discussions only go so far—get out there and deploy the hose from your apparatus.

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