Past articles have advocated properly designed and maintained automatic fire sprinklers as the best way to manage fires in industrial buildings. They have a proven track record. If they are doing their job, large caliber master streams (ground or elevated) are not needed. In fact, the water needed to supply large caliber streams is not anticipated in NFPA 13, Standard for the Installation of Sprinklers, because master streams are not expected to be needed. This article addresses buildings --, not process units, bulk storage tanks, or other “outdoor” fire hazards.
The motivation for this article is a review by the author of recent major industrial building fires where sprinklers were either needed but not installed, failed due to being improperly shut off, or were not adequate for protecting the hazard. In these cases, proper use of elevated master streams helps contain the fire to the building of origin and prevents spread to attached or nearby buildings.
If sprinklers are struggling to control a fire, initial fire service water delivery should be devoted to augmenting the sprinkler system through the fire department connection or other connections to the system. This has been discussed at length in other articles.
If sprinklers are not installed, or have failed such that a partial or complete building collapse has destroyed the sprinkler piping, consider the use of large caliber streams. Elevating platforms offer an advantage in terms of maneuverability and precision placement.
Lessons from Review of Several Fires
Control of the main body of fire is probably not possible. In two cases, large tire warehouses are fully involved and the incident commanders wisely realize they cannot control the large fire. Instead, they concentrate their efforts on the periphery to prevent fire spread. In some cases, this is done by defending a fire wall that may have some kind of breach; in other cases it is by cooling immediate exposures.
Access to the objective by the elevated stream is needed. Although this may seem obvious, evidence from a review of many photos and videos proves that many times streams are directed at no discernible or actionable objective.
To be effective, the streams must be high quality in terms of volume and pressure and “bore” into the fire. In many photos, one can see a weak stream being “lobbed” at a fire with almost no effect.
High volume streams require a strong water supply. If the sprinkler system ties into the municipal water system (which is usually the case in the United States) and the roof collapses and breaks major sprinkler supply mains shut off the damaged sprinklers while leaving adjacent undamaged sprinklers in service. Specifics on how to do this are addressed in previous articles. If this cannot be accomplished, then a large volume water supply needs to come from somewhere else. This should all be preplanned - as discussed in previous articles.
Application of aerial master streams is much more than just hosing down rubble. Instead, it is a precision application of water to accomplish a specific defensive operation. This may require firefighters to see from the air where the streams are going using elevating platforms. Much has been written by others about the dangers of firefighters operating at the top of traditional (meaning non-platform) aerial ladders. For departments that do not have elevating platforms, they should be summonsed under mutual aid.
Although this is a specialty situation that cannot be employed very often, it has worked successfully at five industrial and storage fires reviewed by this author. Through proper preplanning, these techniques can be successful in limiting fire spread, rather than simply throwing water with no real hope of making a difference. Feel free to contact the author at [email protected].
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