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Winter Highrise Standpipe Operations

Water supply is vital for the completion of our job of extinguishing fires. It really is as simple as that.  Arguably, no incident demands for the quick actions of a competent driver as much as a Highrise building.  They are tasked with establishing and maintaining a positive water supply in this normally standpipe equipped building.  The added element of supplying a Fire Department Connection (FDC) certainly adds an additional dimension to that of a residential structure fire. 

Members are not simply grabbing pre-connected hoselines here. Unlike the bread and butter residential fire with only “cotton” between the Engine Company and the fire to complete the water delivery system, in the Highrise Engine Company Chauffeurs (ECC) are dependent upon many other devices.   Devices such as the FDC, perhaps the operability of a fire pump, the building’s interior piping, and standpipe riser connections (which may be obstructed, rotting away, or incomplete).

These hurdles do not release us from our responsibility of getting water to members stretching lines to the seat of fire.  Specifically, with the welcome of the winter season we now may face the possibility of frozen exterior connections. That FDC that we were so accustomed to supplying may now be frozen, inaccessible and unable to accept water.  Vandalism and physical damage, while a problem year round for many jurisdictions, pose many of the same challenges to completing our water supply mission.  Regardless of conditions at the FDC, environmental or man-made, we must complete our task of providing sustainable water supply to the upper floors.

A “Combat Ready” step is to address a FDC challenge, is to assemble an ECC standpipe bag in your operator’s compartment.  This bag can be easily utilized and quickly set into motion.  This bag will not add any tools to your complement on the Engine Company; rather it will assemble all of pertinent tools in one location.  When members are making the ascent up to the fire floor or making the stretch down the hallway is no time for you to have any delay in water supply because you cannot find what you need.  Putting all the necessary tools in one bag eliminates compartment hunting.  

The ECC Standpipe bag itself can be any bag you have laying around the firehouse.  We used the discarded Hydra-Ram bag; you know the one you removed so you can make deploying that tool easier. Don’t buy something new, look around for that bag collecting dust the firehouse closet.

             Reduce, Reuse, Recycle! Making your Engine Company "Green".

Once you have a your bag, here are tools you will want and, more importantly, WHY you want them:

  • Door Chocks:  Once we have determined the FDC is not usable we will need to stretch hoselines to the 1st riser and supply the system in this manner floor (or whichever floor you are parked closest). The one obstacle standing between you and the 1st floor riser is most likely a commercial steel door that is equipped with an interior panic bar. If you have a working fire, residents will be using the door to vacate the structure.  Chock it open!  Once you gain access to the building you will want to ensure that you do not lose access or have your 3” hoseline supplying the riser crimped by a closing door.  Carry various types of chocks to deal with various types of doors and hinges.  I would suggest conventional wooden chocks; metal hinge locks for doors with piano hinges, wooden “cherry bombs” made from wooden dowels, and a strap to hold the door open.


  • Spanner Wrenches:  Unfortunately, we do not run, hook up, charge and flow water at Highrise buildings at the frequency that we run residential structure fires.  As such, the parts of the standpipe riser system may have not been manipulated for 10-15 years!  This fact alone may make it virtually impossible to remove a riser cap with your hands.  Aside from two of your standard size spanner wrenches also consider carrying a collapsible variation of a spanner.  Many times the area immediately around the riser and cap will be a tight space and a standard spanner may not have the room to allow you to remove the cap.


  • Double Female:  Imagine the frustration if you hook up a 200’ section of 3” hose to the discharge on the pump panel.  You stretch the hose through 12” of snow to the exterior 1st floor door (successfully chocked open) only to reach the riser, cold and panting, to find out you cannot attach the hose.  Most, if not all riser connections are male threaded.  The hose you brought has a male end. In this instance, you will need the double female to make the connection work.


  • Spare SMALL wheel/Small Pipe Wrench:  For reasons that cannot be explained other than some people just like to steal “something” you will find the wheel to open the riser valve missing (back in the day these were brass and were stolen for the brass).  If the wheel is missing, you will be left with an exposed bolt head for you to rotate open, which is impossible with a bare hand.  Having a spare wheel will allow you to slide the new wheel onto the pipe and open the valve.  Additionally, you may also find a large wheel on a riser but due to renovations and aesthetic appeal the wall may be built up around the valve. This will limit the space you have to rotate the wheel to open the valve. Quickly switching to the smaller wheel or the pipe wrench will allow you open in the space you have.


  • Siamese:  This is the most expensive appliance that you would need, if you can afford it.  While not an absolute necessity, we want to “push” as much water as possible into the standpipe (be sure to open the standpipe valve before you charge the system as the pressure from hoselines can make it much more difficult).  Place the Siamese directly onto the riser pipe outlet or to a short pony section of 3” hose and you will have now have the ability to supply two 3” hoselines to feed the standpipe system.

                               If you have it, use the Siamese for maximum water.


  • Road Flares:  Once you have stretched your lines, chocked the exit door, connected to the 1st floor standpipe riser and are supplying water it is time to go back to work on the exterior FDC.  If it is damaged, then it is out of service and not usable.  If it is just frozen, ignite the road flares in your bag and begin the de-icing process.  It will only take a few moments of direct flame to eliminate most icing situations.  If successful, you can then attach additional lines to supply the FDC.


            The complement of tools and equipment for the ECC Standpipe Bag.


While this is not a selection of tools the ECC will use everyday, when the winter is here, and / or coupled with a FDC malfunction every ECC will be prepared.  Exercising this “Combat Ready” attitude only demonstrates your commitment and dedication to excellence as an Engine Company member.  We must always remember the mission of the Engine Company – We Bring Water!

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Comment by Jason Hoevelmann on December 27, 2011 at 1:30pm

Thanks for the info. We are preparing to update/change our high rise procedures and this is going to help. It's always good to get other perspectives and ideas and the pictures are awesome to complement the text; it helps tremendously! 


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