Time-to-Task Meets the Tower
What do you need to fight a fire in a commercial office high-rise?
NFPA Journal®, May/June 2012
How do you determine the staffing needs for an operation as complex as a commercial office high-rise fire?
This is a much more challenging task than it is for fires in other kinds of buildings, since a fire in a non-sprinkler-protected, 50-story high-rise is quite different than a fire in a 10-story building with a properly installed, maintained, and operating sprinkler system.
We are currently involved with a project, funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Assistance to Firefighter Grant Program, that is examining deployment and tactics for use in high-rise building fires. The study will compare fire operations at various staffing levels in the same building, with and without sprinkler protection, as well as in scenarios where firefighters can safely use the elevators and where conditions force them to use stairways. The primary focus of the study is to determine the effect of crew size and the total staffing requirements for what we consider the most challenging incidents firefighters face.
We’re part of a study group, consisting of scientists, technical experts, and field-study professionals, that is determining the tasks required for a safe and effective high-rise fire operation. Each task is subjected to a “time-to-task” analysis; we’ve timed individual actions such as climbing stairs with full high-rise equipment packs, advancing hose from a standpipe to a specific fire area, and performing search-and-rescue operations. The time required to complete these tasks individually, however, is quite different than the time it takes to perform them in continuous succession. For example, a first-arriving company in a non-sprinkler-protected building where the elevators are unsafe for fire department use must determine the fire floor, assemble a crew in the lobby, ascend the stairway to an area one or more floors below the fire, hook up to the standpipe, advance fire hose to the fire floor, then advance hose toward the fire area and operate the hose line. The most efficient operation involves a continuous movement from the fire apparatus to the fire area, but is this physically possible? Crews were timed ascending the stairway to the 15th floor in full fire gear carrying their high-rise equipment. They accomplished this task in less time than we anticipated, but reported that they had misgivings about their physical ability to continue the task of stretching the hose line to attack the fire.
Some of the questions we intend to answer during the full field experiments include: What is the best way to support or assist this first crew on the fire floor? What is the minimum number of firefighters required to deploy this first fire line? How long will their air supply last under these strenuous conditions? Similar staffing and time issues will be answered for each task necessary to save lives and property during a high-rise fire. The questions posed here are only a few of the many that will be addressed as part of this study.
This study is a follow-up to an earlier study conducted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) on residential fire deployment. The NIST study supported the staffing provisions found in NFPA 1710, Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency Medical Operations, and Special Operations to the Public by a Career Fire Department, for a low-hazard residential structure fire. High-rise fires are listed in NFPA 1710 as high-hazard occupancies that call for increased staffing, but the standard does not provide specific staffing requirements.
We’ll bring you updates as the study progresses over the next several months.
For more on the Multiphase Study on Firefighter Safety and Deployment of Resources, visit firereporting.org.