Issue 20: False Alarms
WHETHER DURING EXPLORATION or production, enhancing fire detection in oil & gas installations is critical to uninterrupted safe working, production, and protection of the environment. Safety design engineers and operators expect technology to increase not only the safety of a facility but to make it far easier to design, install and operate. This has lead to several new developments in fire detection equipment. Here Jonathan Gilbert examines the use of fire detection technology in the oil & gas industry. » Read more
Issue 20: Clean room protection
Heiko König, state-approved expert for the on-site inspection of fire protection systems, discusses the increasing importance of fire protection as part of the facilities management disciplines in chemical plants and laboratories. » Read more
Issue 20: Management Solutions
FIRE SAFETY AND asset protection are frequently closely aligned with security and in recent years industrial security management teams have two prime issues to consider: conventional precautions and measures in order to protect people from standard risks in hazardous environments and also protection from possible terrorist attacks which might hit their sites at anytime. Lars Waldow, computer software specialist, discusses the benefits of centralised security management systems. » Read more
Issue 20: Hazmat Incidents
INCREASINGLY FIREFIGHTERS FULFIL non-fire rescue and emergency roles and preparing to deal with Hazardous Materials (usually abbreviated to Hazmat) incidents has become a regular part of a fire crews emergency work. Neil Wallington, FME’s Consulting Editor reflects on this aspect of a firefighter’s role. » Read more
Issue 20: Flame & Flash Fire Protection
IAN HUTCHESON PROVIDES FME readers with a better understanding of fire and flash fire risks, as well as key regional safety standards and existing innovations in protective equipment on the market. » Read more
Tackling High Rise Tower Fires: Pre-Planning, Strategies, Tactics and some Real-Life Lessons Learnt
￼Paul Grimwood is a former London Fire Brigade firefighter and operational high-rise firefighting training instructor with four decades of experience, having attended high-rise fires in London and also in several US cities. He is currently a Principal Fire Safety Engineer with Kent Fire & Rescue Service. Along with a team of Fire Chiefs from the USA, Paul has delivered a highly sought high-rise firefighting training course (HRFTI) to fire authorities around the world. In this feature Paul outlines some of the difficulties involved in tackling high-rise fires.
Setting the Scene
When the author was invited to address a Korean Conference on High-Rise Firefighting in Seoul, his simple message was this:
"When we are faced with a serious fire at ground level, our firefighters often encounter great difficulties and exposure to some element of risk. When they are faced with that same fire, thirty storeys above ground, the physiological demands are much greater and the difficulties and risks are greatly magnified. There may be long time delays between a fire commander's chosen strategies becoming tactical operations on the fire floors. There may be changing circumstances during this delay that require the strategy to be altered. There will be a great demand for effective staffing to accomplish even the most basic operation and then, where firefighters are working hard, the need to support them in a continued attack on the fire will treble the resources operating on the fire floors.
To be effective you must have a pre-plan that is frequently practised and based upon the experience of those who have fought these types of fires and learned many lessons. The communication process at a high-rise fire will inevitably break down and the pre-plan must ensure that critical tasks, such as searching stair-shafts, elevators and roof, are documented as written assignments into the pre-plan.
Above all, avoid complacency! This is inevitably the firefighter's worst enemy. Approach every situation (even calls to automatic fire alarms) with care and professionalism and always try to be at least one step ahead of the fire's next move."
The Fire in Telstar House, London, England: A classic example of the difficulties and challenges of high rise firefighting
The Telstar House office fire in London’s West End district tore through five floors of a 13 storey structure after firefighters were forced off the fire floor due to inadequate flow rate of the firefighting water supply. Telstar House is a framed concrete office building built in the late 1960’s measuring approximately 300ft x 50ft. No sprinklers are fitted within the structure but all areas are covered by an automated fire detection system. There is no HVAC system installed.
Steve Dudeney, who at the time of the fire was an ADO [Battalion Chief] with London Fire Brigade, picks up the story
Three engines and an aerial ladder were despatched at 2044 hours to a Fire Alarm Actuating at Telstar House, Eastbourne Terrace, Paddington, London, W2. The first two engines and the aerial ladder arrived three minutes after the initial emergency call. Crews arriving at Telstar House could see no signs of fire.
The Primary Response
The Incident Commander (IC) approached the entrance to the building and was informed by an on-duty security guard that the alarm panel was indicating a fire on the 7th floor of the block. Asked if everyone was accounted for he could not be sure and the Station Officer (Captain) sent his deputy and a crew up to the fire floor. As they exited at 6th floor level and approached the entrance to the 7th floor office, the crew saw smoke and flames behind the door.
Meanwhile the Sub Officer and another firefighter entered the fire floor without BA and attempted to attack the fire in the first office work-station on the left, using a 19mm fixed hose-reel fitted inside the building. This had no effect on the fire that was burning from floor to ceiling and had entered the false ceiling panels overhead. They retreated to the firefighting lobby and closed the door behind them. At this time the two BA firefighters who had connected the 45mm (13⁄4") hose-line to the now- charged riser outlet on the floor below joined them.
Only a matter of minutes after the first two firefighters had withdrawn, the BA crew entered the fire compartment and were immediately faced with a severe fire that was rapidly consuming the entire 1,500 square metres [16,000 square.ft] 7th floor open plan office space. The heat was reported as ‘unbearable’ and the crew were immediately forced onto their stomachs where vision was nil and heat was beginning to penetrate their PPE. They withdrew and requested that the aerial ladder be deployed to ventilate the fire floor.
The Fire Develops
At about 2053 hours, the fire blew a window out on the 7th floor and flames began to run up the face of the building. The fire service had been in attendance for no more than 6 minutes. At this point most of the windows on the fire floor had failed and flames were licking the 8th floor above when a second crew were committed into the fire floor. However, the fire was now too advanced for the hose-line in use and the limited flow-rate of around 350 litres/min [90gpm] was unable to deal with the fire’s fast-growing development.
An additional hand line was got to work by inserting a dividing breeching (siamese) into the 6th floor riser - this involved a temporary loss of supply to one of the lines. The first crew were then forced to withdraw due to low-pressure warnings on their BA leaving a single crew of two on the fire floor as no crew rotation or relief system had been set up in time. This retreat was slow as a large amount of electrical cabling was now hanging from the ceiling and the crew were becoming entangled in it.
Up on the 7th floor, the retreating BA crew had actuated their PASS alarms (Automatic Distress Signal Units) and two emergency crews (Rapid Intervention Teams) were sent in to rescue them. One of the firefighters had become disorientated and wandered back into the fire where he soon collapsed. His partner quickly located him and was able to drag him back toward the exit where they were rescued by the RIT teams. It is worthy of note that at this time the firefighter who went to the aid of his stricken colleague was also suffering from severe heat exhaustion and had only just qualified out of recruit training school three￼weeks before. The first firefighter was admitted to hospital intensive care with severe heat exhaustion and burns and his partner was also admitted for heat exhaustion.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner (then Senior Divisional Officer) Terry Adams picks up the narrative:
I was ordered on at 12 engines and on arrival was told that the Incident Commander had just increased the assignment to 20 engines and four aerials. I was informed that a crew of four were reported missing on the 7th floor and that the internal attack had ceased as crews were being withdrawn.
This proved to be a critical decision as it was at this time that the fire development was at its most intense. All of the missing firefighters were found quite quickly but two had been overcome by heat stress and were removed to hospital (after just 15 minutes fire exposure). We were told by hospital staff that one was "lucky to survive" and this was mainly due to his level of fitness.
In recovering these personnel from the 7th floor, the firefighting impetus was temporarily lost and the fire spread rapidly to involve upper floors as it was very windy. As the windows failed the fire looped back into the floors above. The fire loading was significant as the floors were open plan about 50 metres by 30 metres. Most firefighting at this time was undertaken from the exterior, using hand-lines on the ground or aerial streams. I had handed over incident command to an Assistant Chief and was adamant that the only way we were going to put the fire out was from the inside. Street water supplies were adequate but the building itself only had one 100mm (4 inch) dry rising main – strange for such a large building.
After about another 45 minutes, I persuaded the Assistant Chief to let me resume the internal attack from the fire protected stairwell. We established that we could have four aerials working to prevent lateral fire spread at the other end of the floor from where we would commence the internal attack from the stairwell.
We re-established a bridgehead on the 6th floor where crews could gather before being committed. By this time, the fire had spread from the 7th to the 10th floor. The plan was to deploy two hand-lines from the lobby doors into the fire commencing with the 10th floor as this should stop the vertical fire spread. Crews were rotated after about ten minutes on a fire floor, regardless of their how they felt, as conditions were very strenuous. We worked the two hand-lines in together with a Sector Commander at the doorway. This was having success and was stopping further upward spread after about 30 minutes and we re-assessed the attack and came back down to the 8th floor and commenced the same plan.
By this time certainly the 7th, 8th and 9th floor were in the diminishing phase of burn. As a result, one hand-line was sufficient as we were really mitigating further damage. This was achieved by committing one crew at a time into the fire floor with a hand-line and again rotating crews frequently.
Fire eventually consumed the whole of the 7th to 10th floors. Four Aerial ladder water towers and a high flow ground monitor used from the roof of an adjacent building assisted in controlling the fire on the lower floors while a valiant and successful effort by BA Crews eventually limited the spread of fire to 10% of the
11th floor by 0200 hours the following morning. Over 150 firefighters on more than 35 units fought this high-rise battle through the night.
London Fire Brigade’s high-rise Standard Operating Procedure has since been revised but there are also national revisions being made to high-rise procedures following a series of events in other parts of the UK. Main changes to the London policy will be two hand-lines to be deployed, one as a back up line and the attack will be initiated from two floors below the fire floor.
Other Major High Rise Fires – Similar Experiences
In addition to the Telstar House fire, that in the Windsor Tower, Madrid, and others since then have repeated fireground experiences that have already been learned previously by firefighters in New York, Los Angles and Chicago.
- Calls to an automatic fire alarm with nothing showing from the exterior
- Time delay in getting the fire service attack hose-line operating
- Firefighting crews not familiar with the building layout and installations
- Rising main standpipes unable to provide sufficient water or pressure
- Heat exhaustion of firefighters within 15 minutes on the fire floor
- Heavy demands on resources and staffing
- An absence of sprinkler installations allows rapid fire growth
- Available flow-rate on interior hose-lines unable to match involved fire load
Fire Middle East acknowledges the kind assistance of Paul Grimwood in the preparation of this article. For more details of the author’s extensive work on high rise firefighting, visit www.euro-firefighter.com