The "Standard" Approach to Standpipe Operations

Possibly the best-known standard in the fire service regarding standpipes is NFPA 14.  The reason we are most familiar with this standard is probably because this standard gives the fire service power. NFPA 14 is the Standard for the Installation of Standpipes and Hose Systems. This standard is the authority we use that holds contractors and manufactures accountable to proper design and install of the systems to support our fire attack operations in buildings. In nearly every community, the fire code enforced on these systems is based on this standard and there is rarely any allowance for departure. If a contractor does not properly install a standpipe system and inspectors find it does not meet the standard, the work is not accepted and the structure cannot be occupied.  


Let us say a sprinkler contractor was operating in your city and he had two pipe fitters quit right before he started work on a mid-rise building. No matter how much he complained about not having enough help or staffing to install the 2 ½” piping the plans call for, the standard would not allow him to take a short cut. It is either installed to standard or it is not accepted. As much as we hang our hats on what NFPA 14 is telling others; if we aren’t looking at what it is telling us, is it a double standard?

A lesser known document regarding standpipes in the fire service is NFPA 13E. NFPA 13E is the Recommended Practice for Fire Department Operations in Properties Protected by Sprinklers and Standpipe Systems. I find it interesting that overall the fire service is more familiar with the standard for install then we are the recommended practice for operations. One possibility is that this is not a standard. This is a “recommended practice” so the strength of the terminology may be the cause. The other possibility is that people are uncomfortable with what the recommendation is stating.


NFPA modifies and adapts standards and recommendations through a periodic review process, based on feedback, lessons learned from events, and changes in technology and equipment. Most importantly NFPA recommended practices are directly based on the NFPA Standards. What better source for recommendations on how operate systems than the source setting the standards for how those systems are designed and installed. What are some of the recommended practices for fire department operations in properties protected by sprinklers and standpipes?

A source for recommended operations which is based on an installation standard would seem like enough to drive our practices and equipment selection, but once again it is only a “recommendation”.


That might be where the discussion ends if you are working for a volunteer department, but if you are in a career department there is one more standard you need to be familiar with. NFPA 1710 is the Standard for the Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression Operations, Emergency Medical Services and Special Operations to the Public by Career Fire Departments. In the 2016 Edition the review committee added high-rise occupancies to the standard. This occupancy is defined as “a building with the highest floor greater than 75’ above the lowest floor of fire department vehicle access”.


While many tend to focus on NFPA 1710 as a response and staffing standard it includes operational expectations as well. These operational expectations are the connection point back to where we started and should serve as the link for most to use these sources as their guidance for best practices.


Without operational expectations, it would be difficult to quantify the need for the staffing. Without a recommended practice it would be difficult have an operational expectation. Without a solid knowledge of how a system operates it would be tough to recommend a practice. Now with the clarity of how the layers of NFPA information is built look at what the operational expectation is for a career department at a fire in a high-rise occupancy, I think you will see some familiar numbers and information. 

Experience, institutional knowledge, resources, and countless other internal variables must be considered when making decisions for the equipment and operations of your department. The purpose of this post is to provide those making decisions with a readily available and familiar source of experience, technical knowledge and data which may show some of the external variables for decisions on equipment and operations for standpipe systems.