FIRE STUDIES >>>
By JAMES P. SMITH
High-Rise Buildings – Part 3
Firefighting Considerations and Strategic Concerns
lthough high-rise firefighting
typically is dependent upon the
full use of the building’s systems,
a fire on a lower floor can still be fought
by using some tactics that are more con-
sistent with ground-level firefighting. An
example is a fire that is within the reach
of ground or aerial ladders. Firefighters
may take advantage of these devices by
initiating ventilation from the exterior,
letting interior units advance on the fire.
Command should consider positioning
apparatus equipped with aerial devices at
the corners of the fire building on arrival.
A difficult situation that the incident
commander must recognize is whether
a fire is past the point of control by an
interior attack and whether there is the
threat of auto-extension of fire to the floor For safety purposes, operating exterior streams from aerial apparatus into a high-rise building
requires a high degree of coordination, since all personnel must be moved to the safety of the
above. If the fire is on a lower floor of the floors below the fire floor.
building, an exterior attack may be fea-
sible. Interior forces can withdraw from The highest floor on which outside to withstand winds of 110 mph. Wind
the fire floor. Through close coordina- streams will be effective depends on the can be a dangerous component at a high-
tion with interior units, outside streams reach and height of the exterior apparatus. rise fire. We must be concerned with how
can be used to knock down the fire. After If elevated streams are not available, then wind will affect a fire on an upper floor.
the fire has been knocked down from the the highest practical height would prob- At one particular fire, we had wind
exterior, interior hoselines can move onto ably be the third or fourth floor. Although speeds of less than five mph at ground
the fire floor and extinguish smolder- streams from windows of nearby buildings level, yet at the 14th floor, the wind was
ing fires. Units must be sent to the floors have been used in the past, they are usually driving into the building at over 40 mph.
above to extinguish any points of fire ex- too distant to effectively penetrate into the This created a blowtorch effect that caused
tension before they can gain a foothold. fire building and can only attempt to knock a rapid breakdown of fire barriers through-
These actions can mean the difference down some extension of fire via windows out the floor. There was a problem attempt-
between control of a fire and a total loss to the floor above. (An excellent case study ing to approach the fire area. Heat and
of the floors above. Should the fire start to on the effective use of exterior streams at smoke were being driven onto the advanc-
auto-extend from the fire floor and gain a high-rise fire is “New York City Bank ing firefighters, forcing them to take a great
control of the floor above, it may be too Building Fire: Compartmentation vs. deal of punishment. The wind’s intensity
late to stop the spread to additional floors. Sprinklers” by J. Gordon Routley, U.S. Fire attacked structural steel beams, causing
JAMES P. SMITH, a Firehouse® contributing editor, recently
Administration Technical Report 071.) the floor above to sag more than 15 inches.
retired as a deputy chief of the Philadelphia Fire Depart- This was unrecognizable on the fire floor
ment. He is an adjunct instructor at the National Fire Acad- Wind Dangers due to zero visibility. Companies sent to
emy and the author of the book Strategic and Tactical
Considerations on the Fireground, second edition, published
High-rise buildings are built to with- the floor above noticed the severe sagging
by Brady/Prentice Hall, and the accompanying Strategic stand high winds. The amount of wind and notified the Operations Section chief.
and Tactical Considerations on the Fireground Study Guide,