of us who have visited or live in large cities may find it impossible to
picture them without their famous skylines, but high rises and skyscrapers are
a recent innovation. The first high-rise was the Home Insurance Building, built
in Chicago in 1884. Starting with Chicago, and following with New York, the
U.S. embarked on an amazing and industrial development of high-rise buildings.
By the late 19th century, techniques for high-rise construction had
developed to such an extent that huge sky-scrapers became a reality.
more high-rises built every year, firefighting techniques have evolved to ensure the safety of
high-rise residents. Many of these techniques have been incorporated into firefighting
programs across the country and inform how wind-driven fires are approached.
Let’s break down high-rise firefighting innovations through history:
High-Rises and Firefighting
Most fire experts know that
the presence of wind can make any fire-fighting situation more dangerous. This
fact becomes even more relevant when regarding the top floors of taller
buildings, where the spread of heat and smoke can make finding safety more
difficult for trapped inhabitants. Although some high-rises come equipped with
automatic sprinkler systems and stairwell safety solutions, most high-rises in
big cities aren't properly equipped, delivering a greater threat to residents
and firefighters alike.
years, high-rise buildings have had a hand in challenging some of the most talented
firefighters in America, leading to a number of terrible casualties. In extreme
cases, firefighters may have to deal with problems such as:
means of ventilation
thanks to research efforts, some of these issues are now in the process of
being resolved with field-tested equipment and refined tactics.
On November 21st, 1980, the
Grand Hotel MGM fire in Las Vegas ended with over 600 injuries and 84 deaths. Military
helicopters were used to retrieve occupants from the roof and upper balconies
of this 26-story hotel, which likely prevented the death toll from reaching even
The significant heat that
wind-driven fires cause makes it impossible for firefighters to reach the
public hallways of high-rise buildings to conduct a standard attack.
Traditionally, fire departments met the challenge by delivering water from the
lower floors to the areas above through vertical "high rise nozzles".
Unfortunately, the early models were large and heavy, forcing firefighters to
lean out of windows to attach nozzles to windowsills. This method meant that
emergency service providers were exposed to potential injury from falling
debris or accidents. Over time, improvements to the High Rise Nozzle (HRN) design
allowed water streams a reach of 100 feet from 2 and a half inch hoses, and in
2008, FDNY, Polytechnic University, and NIST tested a new high-rise nozzle and
approved it for use in the field.
The constant struggle of dealing with high-rise building fires has led to
repeated testing in the Chicago Fire Department. As a result, a new tool has
emerged known as the "High-Rise Emergency Response Offensive"
pipe. Using a rigging design, stabilization and a dynamic pipe, the HERO
solution allows firefighters easier access to fire from the floor below the
blaze, and the system can be constructed in minutes by a two-person team.
The Evolution of High-Rise Firefighting
Today managing fires in
high-rise buildings requires professionals to follow a strict and reliable
plan. California, San Francisco, and many other jurisdictions have a countywide
plan for mutual-aid, which includes the high-rise plan. Because only a small
number of departments will actually have the resources required to manage a
high-rise fire, the general plan standardizes various procedures to give each
department in the county the same plan for response and training. Effective
high-rise firefighting operations need to begin long before firefighters reach
a destination. This means that each firefighting crew must have an in-depth
knowledge of the different members in their team, what will be required of
them, and the resources that are available.
Although steps are
certainly being made in the right direction when it comes to helping
firefighters tackle difficult circumstances with greater security and skill,
it's clear to see that solutions for High-Rise Firefighting may still require
you think that the issue of fighting fires in High-Rise buildings could be
managed? Do you think there are better options than HERO and the HRN?