From the Floor: January 2017
Building a highrise program from the ground up
How many firefighters does it take to redesign your highrise and standpipe-equipped building-operations procedures? It’s a rhetorical question, based on that old lightbulb analogy, because every fire service does things a bit differently.
When our administrators supported a committee for our highrise project, they knew there would be growing pains, but the outcome, if done properly, would have buy-in and be supported by the crews on the floor.
After realizing that our department could do better, our process started with a few firefighters forming a committee under the leadership of our fire-training academy. By searching the interwebs, these firefighters found that departments do things completely different, and determined we should investigate upgrading our equipment and procedures. Now, just because something is on the web doesn’t mean it’s going to work for your department. We learned right away that we were going to need a team approach. We started with the end in mind and basically created a shopping list of gear we wanted, but we had no proof of concept or evidence to support our claims – yet!
The committee of about eight quickly realized that several United States departments had gone to 65-millimetre, lightweight hose with a smooth-bore nozzle for all highrise firefighting operations. How could our group convince the training branch, our administration and 900-plus firefighters that we needed to change? The answer was lots of research, testing and proving our methods by applying what worked elsewhere to our department.
Step 1: We watched tons of fire training videos and broke down the complex nature of a perfect highrise fire into its systems and how everything applies to the new NFPA 1710 document. We read articles and talked to departments. The common denominator in our research was the Denver Fire Department highrise pack, and we could not ignore it. Phone calls were made, emails and documents were shared, and we travelled to learn from Denver’s assistant chief, Dave McGrail, who has written a textbook on modern highrise fire fighting.
Step 2: Armed with research and evidence-based best practice, a report was written and submitted to administration looking for support and a budget for sample equipment and test procedures. We wanted to make sure another department’s system could work for our service. NFPA 1710 speaks to more than 15 specific benchmarks for highrise firefighting procedures, and we wanted to be able to significantly capture most, or if not all of them, in our new SOP.
Step 3: After acquiring a small budget to buy sample equipment, we tested five types of hoses and several nozzles: weight when wet and dry; feel and drag resistance; flow calculations; friction loss; coupling performance; kink and restricted flow; and nozzle-pattern break point at several pressures. By the time the testing was complete, we had started to learn the importance of testing to get buy-in from crews; we needed more firefighters to try the larger hose at reduced pressure to see and feel what we wanted to do.
Step 4: Two main tactical procedures were tested with variations in manpower – the apartment hose lay and the stairwell lay. We determined that both procedures would cause major change in our deployment of operational crews. We wanted to meet the 1701 benchmarks that reduced reflex time and increased crew safety. The cascading effect would start to frame the development of a new operating procedure that would require a training plan for 900 firefighters to complete before implementation. We were behind schedule and had not ordered hose, nozzles, angled elbows and pressure gauges. We are now more than one year into this process.
Step 5: Gaining consensus about exactly what we wanted to buy that was cost effective and met our needs was challenging. We needed strong leadership from committee members to move forward. Final approvals were secured, the budget was finalized and we are ordering equipment and creating a training schedule to run all 900 firefighters through a half-day course at our academy. Before firefighters show up, they will watch videos and drill on the new hose and nozzles and become familiar with a completely new way of attending a highrise or standpipe-equipped building. We’ve filmed our first of several videos, drafted the SOP, and have started to look at the logistics of scheduling the go-live date for implementation after the training is complete in late spring.
Our next step is to figure out how to quickly shoot better-quality training videos with an iPhone, and edit on the interwebs! This may or may not include some background music that the committee has not yet approved – AC/DC anyone?
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