Original article → Standpipe Operations: Stretching and Advancing Hose
Author(s): Bill Gustin
Published May 23, 2014 | From Issue 5, Volume 167 of Fire Engineering
There is a vast difference in the number of firefighters needed to stretch hose from a standpipe when it is dry vs. once it has been charged. One company can stretch several lengths of hose; it is limited only by the number of hose bundles the members can carry. Once hose is charged, it becomes rigid and much heavier. Advancing a charged hoseline up stairs, around corners in the fire floor hallway, and through the fire apartment or office suite is a multicompany operation.
Every firefighter wants to be on the nozzle, but the nozzle won’t get to the fire if everyone is crowded at the end of the hoseline. It takes discipline and strong leadership for firefighters to resist their natural inclination to get close to the nozzle and the fire. Proficiency in stretching and advancing hoselines from standpipes can be achieved only by frequent, realistic, and intense hose evolution drills. Training is essential because no fire company performs standpipe operations at actual fires frequently enough to maintain its skills. Standpipe evolutions need to be practiced until they are nonverbal. Shouts of “more hose” muffled by self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) face pieces do little to keep a hoseline moving toward the fire. Similarly, you can tell that a standpipe operation is in trouble when you hear frantic radio transmissions for “more hose.”
Locating the Fire
Firefighters must first determine the location of a fire before they deploy hose. Determining the location of a fire in a high-rise building can be aggravating and take a considerable amount of time, but it’s nothing compared to the time that will be wasted if firefighters, in their haste and excitement, deploy hose prematurely on the wrong floor or from the wrong stairway. While revising my department’s high-rise fire procedure, I studied procedures from several departments as well as countywide high-rise standard operating procedures (SOPs)/standard operating guidelines (SOGs). Procedures differ on how departments commit the first-arriving engine company at a high-rise fire, and each department must decide for itself based on engine company staffing and how long its first-arriving engine will have to operate alone before the arrival of additional companies.
Some departments require that the driver/engineer of the first-arriving engine park the apparatus and enter the building with his crew. The reasoning behind this procedure is that at that stage in the incident there is a greater need for the driver/engineer to help his company carry hose and equipment and locate the fire than for him to secure a water supply and connect to a fire department connection (FDC).
Some procedures designate the driver/engineer as the elevator operator before lobby control is established. Say an engine company is staffed with three: an officer, a driver-engineer, and one firefighter. If the engineer stays with the rig, that leaves a crew of two, the officer and the firefighter, to ascend with hose and equipment and determine the location of the fire. Another justification for this procedure is that there will be ample time for subsequent-arriving engine companies to supply the FDC before the first-arriving companies are ready to deploy a hoseline.
First-arriving company officers will be under considerable pressure to accomplish several tasks in a very compressed time frame. One of the first tasks is to check the fire alarm system’s annunciator panel for the type and location of the alarm activation-for example, “water flow 14th floor, East stairwell” or “smoke detector elevator lobby, 35th floor.” It can be very tempting at this time to silence the fire alarm because it interferes with communication, but doing so may give occupants the impression that there is no fire. It is critical, therefore, that if firefighters silence the fire alarm, they immediately make an announcement to occupants on the alarm voice command (PA) system that the fire department is on the scene investigating a report of a fire or an alarm activation and that they should continue to follow their building’s fire emergency procedures.
Information from residents, building security, and maintenance personnel is also valuable, but fire department personnel must verify it. For example, first-arriving firefighters check the annunciator panel and find smoke detector activation in the 14th-floor elevator lobby. Security personnel advise that they are not needed because they already went to the 14th floor and found that a resident had burned microwave popcorn. This information should not be cause to cancel responding companies or for firefighters to take the elevator directly to the 14th floor.
Smoke conditions below the fire floor can be deceiving. As an example, reverse stack effect can cause smoke cooled by air-conditioning and sprinklers to sink to floors below the fire. A smell of burning rubbish on several floors is likely caused by a fire in the trash chute. High-rise buildings commonly have bus ducts that penetrate several floors to supply electrical power to mechanical and meter rooms. The ducts enclose copper bus bars used instead of wires in conduit. A report of an explosion, loss of power in the building, occupants trapped in stalled elevators, and smoke on several floors is likely to involve a short circuit, arcing, or fire in a bus duct. Also consider that a smoke condition in an apartment may be from a fire in the apartment directly below.
A fire’s location may be determined by being familiar with the floor below the fire, the use of search ropes and a thermal imaging camera (TIC), and observations from the exterior of the building. An example would be firefighters being greeted in the lobby by a frantic lady wearing a robe and slippers and carrying her Chihuahua. She tells them that the fire is in her apartment, 1505, and that she was cooking breakfast on the stove when a fire suddenly started in the kitchen. Her information is consistent with information on the annunciator panel, which is indicating smoke-detector and pull-station activations on the 14th, 15th, and 16th floors. With that information, firefighters take the elevator on phase 2 fireman’s service to the 12th floor; that’s at least two floors below the lowest floor indicating an alarm condition on the annunciator panel. The firefighters, finding no indication of fire or smoke on the 12th floor, climb the stairs.
As they ascend, they open the stairwell door at each floor landing to check conditions in the public hallway. They find no smoke on the 13th floor, light smoke on the 14th, heavy smoke on the 15th, and light smoke on the 16th. Firefighters are familiar with this building and know that each floor except the first floor is laid out identically. With that knowledge, they locate apartment 1405, the apartment directly below the fire apartment, which will give the firefighters an idea of the layout of the fire apartment. This is particularly useful when apartments are large and have two doorways leading to the public hallway-a door that typically opens to a living room that leads to the bedrooms and a second door that opens to a kitchen and a utility room.
Occupants may never use apartment doors that lead from the public hallway directly into a kitchen; consequently, it is not uncommon for these doors to be blocked by refrigerators or pantry shelves. Firefighters who enter the apartment below the fire can also determine and report wind conditions by opening a window or, preferably, a sliding glass door. This has to be done while the door to the public hallway and the stairwell door on the floor below the fire are open to accurately replicate wind conditions and predict the fire’s flow path on the fire floor.
When the location of the fire apartment is unknown, firefighters may locate the fire by using search ropes and a TIC. Ideally, ladder or rescue companies will do this task while engine companies ready themselves on the floor below the fire. This procedure is not without risk because personnel will not have the protection of a hoseline. Firefighters operating without the protection of a hoseline must remain constantly aware of fire conditions and their escape route. The risk is much less when sprinklers are affecting the fire, which would be indicated by a “fog” of cool white misty smoke. Say there is a heavy smoke condition on the 26th floor of a center hallway public housing building. The building has two stairwells that are 300 feet apart. The public hallway is filled with smoke, most likely because the door to the fire apartment was left open or occupants pulled a burning mattress or a piece of upholstered furniture into the hallway and closed the door to their apartment. In this case, a team of two firefighters equipped with a 200-foot search rope and a TIC can rapidly search for the fire.
If two or more teams are available, each team will extend its search lines from different stairwells. The search team will fasten the end of its search rope to the hinge of the stairwell door, close the door to keep smoke out of the stairwell, and proceed down the hallway as rope plays out of its search line bag. Knots tied at 50-foot intervals give the search team an indication of how far they have proceeded. The search team is familiar with the floor below the fire, so the members know that the hallways in this building are 300 feet long and that their search line bag contains 200 feet of rope. Therefore, if they fully extend their search line 200 feet down the hallway and haven’t located the fire, they know that the fire must be closer to the other stairwell. When the search team finds the fire apartment, it estimates its distance to the closest stairwell based on the number of knots the members counted as the rope played out of the bag and transmits this information to the engine companies standing by. This gives them a good indication of the amount of hose necessary to reach the fire apartment.
Once the fire apartment is located, the search team can either extend a primary search of the fire apartment and public hallway or close the door and withdraw to the stairwell. This will depend on fire conditions and the department’s procedures. It can be difficult to locate a fire in an office building because each floor is likely to have its own floor plan. It is a lot faster and easier for a team of two firefighters with a TIC and a search rope to locate a fire in a smoke-filled office suite than it would be for a crew of six on a charged hoseline. If the firefighters using the search rope cannot locate the fire, it would be relatively simple for them to wind their rope around its bag as they withdraw back to the stairwell where they began their search and extend again in a different direction. Firefighters searching for fire with a charged hoseline are safer than those searching without the protection of a hoseline, but consider the physical effort and air supply that will be expended advancing a hoseline, not finding the fire, and then backing out the line to search elsewhere.
Standpipe Operation Constants
Not all standpipe operations are performed in exactly the same way. We will examine the options for stretching and advancing hoselines based on conditions on the fire floor later. First, let’s look at two tasks that are not options; they are constants that will always be performed before firefighters advance a hoseline into harm’s way.
First, always fully flush a standpipe outlet before connecting to it. Consider the rust, sediment, and debris that have been lying dormant in piping for years. Flush the outlet until the water changes from black or brown to clear. Second, always determine and adjust hoseline pressure with the nozzle flowing while it is fully open (photo 1); you must do this before opening the door to a fire apartment that is keeping the hallway tenable or when the hallway is untenable before leaving the refuge of an enclosed stairwell. Remember that static pressure is meaningless in determining a hoseline’s flow capability. For example, the floating valve inside of a pressure reducing outlet valve (PRV) may not open fully because of corrosion. A faulty PRV is likely to flow sufficient water to stiffen a hoseline and develop sufficient static pressure on an inline gauge, but the line will go limp when the nozzle is fully opened (see “Testing Pressure-Reducing Valves,” http://bit.ly/1byHoxO).
Last May, my company conducted flow tests at a 10-story apartment building with an attached four-story parking garage. We connected an inline gauge to a standpipe outlet on the second floor of the parking garage and recorded a static pressure of 170 pounds per square inch (psi). When the nozzle was fully opened, the pressure dropped to 40 psi. My first thought was, Who was going to pay for the pipe that burst somewhere in the system? It turned out, however, that the fire pump supplying the apartment building and parking garage failed to operate. The jockey pump developed the static pressure of 170 psi.
Connect Below the Fire Floor
Some fire departments allow companies to connect to standpipe outlets on the fire floor under the following conditions: (1) The outlet must be in a fire-rated enclosed stairwell, and (2) a closed door to a fire apartment is keeping the hallway clear of smoke. Modern high-rise buildings commonly have standpipe outlets in enclosed stairwells at each floor landing. Similarly, NFPA 14, Standard for the Installation of Standpipe and Hose Systems, has permitted standpipe outlets at mid-landings of return stairways rather than at floor landings. Connecting to a stairwell outlet on the fire floor is faster and requires less hose than connecting to an outlet below the fire floor, but it can get firefighters in trouble when conditions are less than ideal. Consider that conditions in the public hallway may not remain tenable once the door to the fire apartment is opened and, to make matters worse, smoke and heat may be drawn toward the relative low pressure in the stairwell. This can make it difficult and punishing for the firefighter at the standpipe outlet to read the inline gauge and readjust pressure in the hoseline. Accordingly, connecting to an outlet in the stairwell on the fire floor may not be an option for fire departments that assign ladder company personnel to force the door to the fire apartment to search it before engine personnel have a charged hoseline in position.
Later, we will examine a method of extending a hoseline from a gated wye that must be performed on the floor below the fire. Consider also that older buildings may not have standpipe outlets in the stairwells; instead, they are in hose cabinets in public hallways. This almost completely eliminates the option of connecting on the fire floor because it is extremely dangerous. Firefighters who have connected their hoseline to an outlet in the fire floor hallway have lost their lives when they lost water or were overwhelmed by a wind-driven fire or ran low on air because they could not find their path of escape. Tragically, they followed their hoseline, which led them back to a cabinet, not a stairwell that led to safety.
There is, however, one important exception to the rule of not stretching hose from cabinets in the fire floor hallway-that is, fires in health care facilities. Firefighters who have carefully evaluated fire and smoke conditions; the effect of sprinklers; and the risk to patients, facility personnel, and themselves may consider connecting to a cabinet in a smoke-filled hallway to keep smoke from contaminating areas beyond the smoke barrier and stairwell doors that would otherwise have to be chocked open to advance a hoseline. If you choose this option, it is very important to assign a firefighter with a strong light who can sound with a tool to guide personnel toward a path of escape.1
Conditions Indicate Procedures
When the door to the fire apartment is closed, keeping the public hallway tenable, a hoseline can be costretched dry to the fire apartment. This method takes less time, fewer personnel, and less physical exertion than advancing a charged hoseline up stairs and down a hallway, but its success depends on the hallway remaining relatively clear of smoke until firefighters are ready to attack the fire. It is critical that the door to the fire apartment remain closed until the nozzle and sufficient hose to reach all points within the apartment are laid out at the apartment door and the hose is charged and flowed with the nozzle fully open. Once the door to the fire apartment is open, conditions in the public hallway can rapidly deteriorate from tenable to life-threatening for anyone not wearing full personal protective equipment and SCBA. This requires the hallway to be clear of police officers, building personnel, and occupants before the door to the fire apartment door is opened. My department has experienced two occasions when police officers ran past firefighters stretching a hoseline in a tenable hallway and kicked in the door to the fire apartment. Police officers were hospitalized in both incidents. Stretching dry to the closed door of a fire apartment may not be possible when ladder company personnel force the door and search a fire apartment before engine company personnel have a charged hoseline in position.
When stretching dry, position the nozzle and at least 50 feet of hose on the hinge side of the apartment door. Fifty feet will allow the nozzle to reach every point in an average-size apartment. Large apartments and hotel suites can require substantially more hose. Doors in apartments typically open against a wall; therefore, advancing hose from the hinge side allows a fairly straight advance. Conversely, advancing from the latch or knob side may require the hose to make a sharp turn. When you stretch to the fire apartment and encounter the hinge side of the door before the latch side, set the nozzle down against the wall at the hinge side, walk 50 feet back on the line, and bring the double “butt” (couplings) up to the hinge side of the door. Arranging hose in this fashion is hastened when the nozzleman carries a “working length,” 50 feet of hose, along with the nozzle.
When you stretch toward the fire apartment and encounter the latch side of the door first, continue to stretch past the apartment until the first double coupling behind the nozzle is at the hinge side; then turn toward the wall and stretch the nozzle back to the door. The nozzle is flowed prior to forcing the fire apartment door (photo 2). This necessitates radio communication with the firefighter adjusting the pressure at the standpipe outlet below the fire. Although concern for water damage is secondary to fire control at this stage of the incident, do not direct streams toward elevators and meter rooms. Firefighters must control the inward swing of the door when forcing entry; they can do this with tubular webbing.
When a fire floor hallway is filled with smoke, lay hose out on the floor below in a fashion that will eliminate potential kinks and facilitate a smooth advance. It is common practice to stretch hose on stairs one or two landings above the fire floor before it is charged. This allows the force of gravity to assist advancing the first sections behind the nozzle. My department no longer allows this practice; when the fire floor hallway is untenable, all hose is to be stretched out and charged on the floor below the fire and advanced charged up the stairs to the fire floor. This change in procedure was brought about for the following reasons:
- Laying hose on stairs above the fire floor can be performed only under ideal conditions. Smoke in a stairwell can reduce visibility to a point where firefighters cannot see potential kinks, such as hose caught under or between railings.
- Hose flaked in a stairway is a considerable tripping hazard for throngs of fleeing occupants carrying small children, flat screen TVs, and bird cages.
- An officer can observe and supervise the entire stretch without having to go into the stairwell.
- Two-and-a-half-inch hose tends to kink when it is laid up and down narrow stairwells.
- In our experience, most of the errors that occurred in our standpipe evolutions were caused by a lack of coordination between firefighters stretching hose in the stairs and those stretching hose in the hallway the floor below the fire. When the fire floor hallway is filled with smoke, opening the stairwell door to advance a hoseline will, in effect, turn it into a chimney, endangering occupants descending stairs above the fire floor. Additionally, reverse stack effect can contaminate a stairwell several floors below the fire floor. It is critical, therefore, that firefighters keep the stairwell door to the fire floor closed until they are certain that occupants will not be endangered.
Determining Stretch Length
Determining the length of hoseline, the number of personnel necessary to advance it, and their positions on the hoseline is achieved by being familiar with the floor below the fire.
- Locate the apartment or an approximate location below the fire.
- Locate the closest stairway, keeping in mind that if the closest stairway happens to be a smoke tower, it can be a poor choice for an attack stairway and it might be necessary to use a more distant stairway.
- Count the number of doors between the apartment below the fire and the attack stairwell. This will give firefighters advancing the hoseline in limited visibility a frame of reference-for example, “The fire apartment is the fifth door on the left.”
- Count the number of corners in the hallway at which a firefighter will have to position to move hose around it. Ideally, position a firefighter at each corner.
- Determine the amount of hose needed to reach the fire using the following method: Say that the fire is reported in apartment 1610, and the 16th floor is filled with smoke but, fortunately, the firefighters are familiar with the building and know that apartment 1510 is directly below the fire apartment. If the hose connected to a standpipe outlet in the attack stairway can reach the door of apartment 1510, how much more hose will be needed? The answer is at least 100 more feet: that’s 50 feet to ascend return stairs without a well and 50 feet for the nozzle’s stream to reach every point in an average-size apartment. Remember that large apartments will require more than 50 feet of hose. This method of determining the length of the stretch is foolproof provided the location of the fire apartment is known and the fire floor and the floor below are configured similarly.
Stretching on the Floor Below the Fire
For a simulated fire in apartment 411, a company of three firefighters would stretch one 100-foot flat bundle and two 50-foot Denver loads of two-inch hose with 1½-inch couplings. Apartment 311 is less than 100 feet from the attack stairway, so 200 feet of hose would be sufficient to reach and penetrate the fire apartment. After connecting the bundles, a firefighter would pick up the coupling joining the 100-foot bundle to the first 50-foot bundle because it marks the middle of the stretch (photo 3). He would then walk the coupling down the hallway, flaking out the bundles in a “U” configuration. Since their hose is relatively kink resistant, the firefighter would then walk the coupling marking the middle of the stretch back to the nozzle and attack stairway, which arranges the stretch in a “W” configuration (photo 4). Arranging 200 feet of hose in a “W” configuration limits the length of hose that will have to be pulled into the stairway to 50 feet.
A company of three firefighters would perform a stretch similar to that in photos 3-4 but with four 50-foot Denver load bundles of two-inch hose with 2½-inch couplings. They would first flush the standpipe outlet and then connect the four bundles in the sequence indicated in photo 5. Bundle 1 would be connected to the standpipe with a “pigtail,” a gated wye, and an inline gauge; bundle 4 would be connected to the nozzle. In photo 6, four Denver loads of 2½-inch hose are stretched in a similar fashion but with one exception: It will remain in a “U” configuration. Because of the relatively narrow width of the hallway, the 2½-inch hose cannot be arranged in a “W” configuration because it will kink. The “U” configuration will be more difficult to pull into the stairwell. In the previous scenarios, three firefighters were sufficient to carry their hose bundles to the floor below the fire and stretch them, but they will definitely need help to advance the hose to the fire.
Factors influencing the number of firefighters needed to advance a charged hoseline are its length, its diameter, the number of corners it must be maneuvered around, and the type of stairway. The size and weight of the hose are also significant factors influencing personnel requirements. A common mistake fire officers make when performing a standpipe evolution is underestimating how physically demanding and personnel intensive advancing 2½-inch hose can be.
There are two principal reasons for this miscalculation: First, many fire departments acquire most of their skills and experience in advancing 2½-inch hose in a training tower with no hallways and no corners to maneuver the hose around. Consequently, they become accustomed to advancing only three lengths: one on the floor below the fire, one for the stairwell, and one for the fire floor.
Second, firefighters are permitted to train with 2½-inch hose in a semiupright position, allowing them to use their leg muscles to pick up and move the hose. Advancing 2½-inch hose is difficult enough without making it unnecessarily harder; therefore, if the heat layer and visibility allow personnel to use their leg muscles, they, of course, should do so. The advance will be faster and less physically demanding. Firefighters who must advance 2½-inch hose on their knees have to rely entirely on their arm strength, which will rapidly diminish, especially if they are in less than excellent physical condition or lack upper-body strength.
Advancing hose of any size up stairs, down a fire floor hallway, and into an office or apartment requires a minimum of six firefighters-that’s a nozzle team of three and at least three individuals who are respectfully and affectionately known as “mules.” The nozzle team consists of a nozzleman, an officer, and a third firefighter who takes a position somewhere between the attack stairwell and the fire apartment. His task is to “lighten up” on the hoseline (photo 7) and maneuver it around corners in the hallway. Again, count the number of corners on the floor below the fire and position a firefighter at every corner. Once the nozzle reaches the fire apartment, he moves up the line and assumes the role of the door position firefighter for the fire apartment. There, he pulls hose from the hallway and feeds it into the fire apartment. Once the nozzle team reaches the fire apartment doorway, members pull the first double coupling behind the nozzle. This ensures that they have at least 50 feet of hose laid out right outside the apartment door for the nozzle’s stream to reach any point in the apartment and makes it easier for the door position firefighter to feed hose into the fire apartment. This also frees the mules to perform other tasks because there is now sufficient hose at the fire apartment. The hoseline, however, will never get to the fire apartment if the mules do not do their job; the nozzle team would be sunk without them.
At least one mule operates on the floor below the fire. It takes at least two mules to pull 2½-inch hose laid out on the floor below (photo 8) and push it up the stairs to a second mule positioned at the mid-landing (photo 9), who will push it up the stairs to a third mule positioned at the fire floor landing. His task is to feed hose to the nozzle team as it advances down the hallway. Fewer mules may be necessary to move smaller-diameter hose up straight-run stairs with no half-landing or when hose can be pushed up a well opening.
Extending the Hoseline
It was recommended that once the nozzle reaches the door to the fire apartment, the nozzle team pull up at least 50 feet of hose to the doorway. It is very difficult, however, to wrestle a 50-foot loop of 2½-inch hose to the door of the fire apartment, especially when operating on your knees. Following is an alternative: Advance the 2½-inch line into the fire apartment and knock down the main body of fire. Then, remove the tip from the 2½-inch nozzle and connect 50 feet of 1¾- or 1½-inch hose. This gives the nozzle team the mobility to go from room to room to extinguish any remaining fire.
Stretching short in a residential high-rise building is an avoidable mistake because firefighters can familiarize themselves with the floor below the fire. Firefighters are at a disadvantage in office high-rise buildings because every floor may be laid out differently to suit the needs of individual tenants. Consequently, firefighters with no frame of reference could have insufficient hose because they did not know the most direct path to reach the fire.
In photo 10, firefighters rapidly extend a hoseline using a gated wye. A charged hoseline connected to outlet 1, the right side outlet of the gated wye, is advanced to the fire. Additional hose is connected to outlet 2, the left side outlet, and is laid out to facilitate a smooth advance without kinks. When the nozzle team calls for more hose, they must advise that they are in a position that does not require a continuous flow of water. The nozzle team is advised to open the nozzle to bleed the pressure and firefighters at the wye shut down the hoseline and disconnect it from outlet 1. The hoseline disconnected from outlet 1 is connected to the additional hose connected to outlet 2 and is recharged in a matter of seconds. Discharge pressure, as read on the inline gauge connected to outlet 2, will have to be increased to compensate for the friction loss in the additional hose.
All concepts, methods, and techniques examined in this article will not be applicable to every fire department. The article is intended to encourage fire departments to take a hard look at their high-rise firefighting procedures and emphasize the importance of prefire planning and having the proper equipment and training to fight a high-rise fire.
- This option is examined in greater detail in “Standpipe Operations at Health Care Occupancies, “John Grasso and Jack J. Murphy Jr., Fire Engineering, March 1999, page 89.
BILL GUSTIN is a 41-year veteran of the fire service and a captain with the Miami-Dade (FL) Fire Rescue Department. He began his fire service career in the Chicago area and conducts firefighting training programs in the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean. He is a lead instructor in his department’s officer training program, is a marine firefighting instructor, and has conducted forcible entry training for local and federal law enforcement agencies. He is an editorial advisory board member of Fire Engineering and an advisory board member for FDIC. He was a keynote speaker for FDIC 2011.