Brian Brush on why we should – and shouldn’t – rely on the stairway when going above.
If you review the statistics, multi-story single family and multi-family dwellings are our most common fire. They also present the greatest risk as the core of the life hazard occupies an upper floor and the bulk of where the fire starts will occur on a lower floor. The game changer in residential construction is the open stairwell. Identifying this game changer is different than respecting it, acknowledging it and allowing it to change the way we operate.
(Photo courtesy of author.)
Fires in multi-story private dwellings require an immediate search of the floors above the fire. Companies must make it a priority to provide more means of egress than the existing stairway.
(Photo courtesy of 5280Fire)
When preplanning new construction, make note of areas where you will be required to provide additional egress for firefighters working on the floor above. If these areas are out of the reach of your ladders, train on maneuvers to find other areas of refuge when the fire worsens.
(Photo courtesy of author.)
On the fire floor we search from the greatest threat (The Fire) out. This takes us directly to those with the smallest window of opportunity first and being true to our high risk for high reward mission. We search from there out keeping ourselves safer (searching towards an egress) and falls in line with rescue priorities by working from greatest threatened to least threatened.
So why would this be any different for the floor above you ask? The answer is the “game changing” open stairwell. On the floor above with an open stairwell this is the greatest threat. The chimney created by that open stairwell is how extension and byproducts of combustion travel to that floor. The top of this stairwell is where they will be the greatest intensity and concentration. This is also a highly likely place to find victims as it is the main path and probably the only path occupants have ever used from that floor. On the floor above we must treat the open stairwell as our fire and search from there out. We as firefighters must recognize this and, if we do ascend the stairs and initiate our search from there, we need to try to identify any other options for egress remote from those stairs so we can remove victims or ourselves without returning to that hazard. Secondly by making mental note of this hazard and beginning to train with this mindset we may prevent the mental breakdown of running back down stairs when it stuff hits the fan.
“That was how we came.” This thinking makes us believe that the manner in which we entered is the way we will leave, rather than training to work away from this point which has the greatest potential for the most extreme change. Consider taking refuge by closing doors, finding windows, even a closet while it is isolated buys us time in the event of a catastrophic change. Try some different training. Just even a few times, conduct a floor above search from the stairs, report all clear and descend a ladder from an off bedroom. Compare it to laddering a roof, cutting your vent hole and descending your secondary means of egress ladder, it is just one way to try this training develop thought. It also may assist with increasing your fireground laddering which, anyone who is really paying attention to fire fighter injuries and close calls will tell you that ladders save lives.
Brian Brush is a Lieutenant with the West Metro Fire Rescue in Lakewood, Colorado. West Metro Fire Rescue serves 110 square miles and over 265,000 residents in the West Denver Metropolitan Area. The district operates 15 stations with 340 uniformed members and responds to an average of 24,000 calls for service annually.
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