Not All Egress is Created Equal

This is a great example of knowing our still districts and the areas that we know will present unique problems when on fire.  As you can see this building presents a nightmare of a stairwell, especially if the stairs are a target of arson or lower apartments begin venting fire and smoke into this common area. We can almost count on occupants hanging from windows if the fire is anywhere near this area of the building.  Thanks goes out to 4’s for the write-up and pictures.

This is in 4’s still district just above Motor City.  There are several apartment buildings in this complex (at least 10) and they are paired in sets of two.  This is the center “web” of stairs that connects one building to the other and is the only way out for most of the residents.  So which way is up?  Good question.  The fact is every stair maze is different.  In most cases in order to get to the top floor apartments you first must go down at least one flight of stairs, over and back up at least one flight of stairs to get to a pathway that subsequently leads you to the right set of stairs to make it to the top(Sound like a maze?…It is).  How do you get down?  Well the answer is about the same as above.  There is no direct pathway to the bottom level and what you thought would have been the bottom may surprise most people to find at least one unit tucked to rear of the structure. 

 How is this complicated stair structure supported?  The only main walkway is a single twin tee concrete beam supported by concrete posts and some posts are supported by steel box supports.  From this center piece, all of the paths are constructed almost as if they are built to access only one or two units before a different path is constructed. 


As you can see, ladder access is difficult at best.  To get from the parking lot you almost always have to go down hill to get to the building.  You would think there is road access from the “C” side of the structure because of the two plugs back there, however access is minimal because of the off road conditions you would encounter to reach the hydrants, and thats if they are even working. Because of the grade/terrain ladder access from the rear is down to 35′ or 45′ ground ladders and even those can only be used in a few places due to the terrain.  The building does have some pull stations but it is not monitored and still requires someone to dial 911 before the FD will receive any info that there is a fire at this building.  Throughout the maze of stairs you will find BBQ propane grills, spare LPG bottles, trash and gas meters all tucked away into any area that is protected from the weather. 

What is your thoughts?…..1st floor fire vs 3rd floor fire, ladder rescues, first line, stretching the line, search.

Explore posts in the same categories: 6. Building Construction/Hazards

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12 Comments on “Not All Egress is Created Equal”

  1. RR E8T Says:

    Very wierd design. What would usually be a fairly simple hose stretch becomes one that has many different corners added into it. You could almost think about stretching with a rope stretch if its a top floor fire and you were short on people to assist you with the corners in the maze. If the fire was heavily involved in the stairs it brings up a good example of when that first line knocking down the main body of fire instead of getting distracted with ladder rescues could make all the difference and make the quickest effect on protecting occupants.
    If it was a first floor fire, pre-mature ventilation before water is ready could have a pretty dramatic results on the occupants should it start venting into the stairwell area.
    Interesting setup….gets you thinking a bit.

  2. GaryLane Says:

    Bummer for the people that live here if there is an arsonist in the neighborhood…. I like the idea of dropping a rope for hose hoist/stretch…someone has to be heads up for a quick “recon” of the maze/stairs before anybody starts a dedicated stretch up a certain way and gets “lost”. Trying to go by just the pictures and dependent on your local equip/tool setup, what about laddering the “easy” access side and getting to victims on the porch/balconies via rope rescues? Do you have/wear a harness in your bunker pants? Not sure if this would be available due to rapid fire spread or manpower issues?…Could you make your way across by just walking/crawling….maybe at least to some parts of the complex? Great catch and photos for discussion!

    • RR E8T Says:

      You make a real good point about a quick recon. Most of our 3 story apartment complexes have a pretty cut and dry stair layout. Finding your access is usually pretty obvious, but it seems you could make a costly mistake here if you dont know the exact route before you charge and advance the line. Could pay off big to shoulder that hose load for a few moments while someone gets a quick look.
      Just my quick thoughts…

  3. Robby O Says:

    The only thing bad about doing this stretch dry is the inability for you to spray down the stiars as you go. With wood and even metal stairs I have found that you need to give them a good spray down befor putting hose on them…With wood it will buy you some time and keep your escape route good if the fire starts impingin on the stairs. Also if you are on the fire floor and have comanies going to the floor above it allows for them to operate with an increased level of safety. With metalt stair and railings it keeps them cool and reduces hose line burn through due to the metal heating up. Just some things I have found in my experiences.

  4. Salazar Says:

    Having been to these apartments once or twice, you hit the nail on the head the stairs and access are a pain. When I was at 4’s we had talked about trying to ladder the various landings to get hoselines in place. This does two things, reduces the length of your stretch and keeps the stairs mostly open for evacuations….plus you don’t have to worry about trying to dodge all the trash and the bikes in the pathway.

    There use to be an occupant on either the 2nd or 3rd floor who had her own chain escape ladder to get out because she knew the difficulty in getting to her.

    Good job boys and girls with getting alot of city specific stuff up here for everyone to have access too. Keep up the good work.

  5. TRUCK 4 Says:

    Thanks for all of the feed back for this building. Obviously there are plenty of ways to “skin a cat” so to speak. We have talked about several ways to do fire attack on this building and any ideas help. As far as the roof top rescues go, ropes are not a good idea because there is no place to anchor any thing. These buildings were constructed with central heating and the only HVAC on the roof is single unit AC and there is only a few of them, most of which do not appear to even be functional. The construction of the roof is flat all the way to the edge so bracing a single firefighter as an anchor would not work as you have nothing to brace yourself against. I think the best that we could get is perfect positioning of the turntable of the trucks, may have to cut down a small pine tree or two to accomplish this, and use the full extension of the ladder. Obviously this won’t reach very far with the 20′ set back from the curb to building but its all we have. There is rarely any flat or semi-flat ground to stick a portable ladder to for rescue.

    As for fire attack, our best bet is that it is a top floor fire so that verticle ventilation through the wood roof deck will allow us to slow the horizontal travel of the fire through the cockloft and auto ventiliation would not impinge on any other units. It wouldn’t take much for this fire to break through the drywall to get into the woodframe walls and into the cockloft. Most units are heavly furnished and some even have full sized propaine grills in the living areas to move out to the front walkway or deck if they have them or they have next to nothing in them. Having everything in place and getting the hole cut fast just prior to or as the hose team is making entry would clear up conditions enough to give easy entry to the hose team and hopefully confine this fire to the room of origin.

    Keep the good info comming in.

  6. Ditto Says:

    A good pre plan and recon would be very beneficial. There are a lot of things stacked against us with this one. I don’t know much about the access on these, but rescue and fire attack are going to be difficult. Going back a little ways in time, I think a pompier ladder would work well in these. Since we don’t have them anymore, something we could use are roof ladders. Put the hooks over windows, railings, or anything else that would hold them. Maybe it isn’t the ideal way, but it could get the job done. As for fire attack, and protecting egress maybe an apartment lay would work. The two 1.75″ lines could allow you to do fire attack, protect the stairs, or any combination of the two. The 1.75″ lines are easier to move, and that could be beneficial however, a 2.5″ is managable with training, produces more gpm, and could also be effecitvely used in this situation. I think it just depends on how much water you need. There is no substitue for gpm’s.

    • RR E8T Says:

      Speaking of the old days with pompier ladders have you seen this….. Very impressive.

      Anyways since we are not actually going to pompier up, we have had good luck throwing the ladder at the best angle possible and then using the hooks to bite around the window sill/railing when the ground is uneven. Just gives you the extra stability when someone is coming down. Essentially the hooks are footing the top while someone is footing the uneven bottom. Anything to help us keep it solid and as safe as we can under the conditions.

      • Lynch Says:

        A non-traditional stretch to the upper floors may be useful here. If we break the 100′ attack section of our preconnect, shoulder it and carry it to our point of attack, drop the coupling down and connect it to the supply section of our hose we may save a significant amount of time and get water on the fire faster. This would only work on upper floors. I think vertical vent is a must on the top floor of this complex. With the potential difficulty getting lines into place, getting the fire to go up and out is a must. Only my opinion

  7. TRUCK 4 Says:

    Guys the other options for a portion of these buildings could be that we hook a single 3″ line to the rear of a Truck Co., then as long as the fire conditions warrant it, we could use the ladder pipe as a mobile offensive fire attack with high GPM. This could be similar to the way that other large cities use their tower ladders to quinch heavy volumes of fire while they stretch their hand lines into place. This is not necessarly a first option and I would be very weary to use it but if we need it, like Ditto said above, there is no substitution for GPM.

  8. JG Says:

    Thanks to 4s for submitting this!

    There are so many things wrong with this compex! The twin-T with masory columns section is the safest structure in this complex. The rest of the stair and walkway system is constructed of wood joists connected to the building with metal joist hangers (many of which are rusted through and held on with one or two nails). A thin sheet of concrete is added to the top of the walkways adding more weight to an already unstable platform. How much more weight can the walkway hold? 4 to 15 firefighter fully bunked out means an additional 1000 to 4000 pounds along with hoses full of water. Now add in the added stress of the impact load of everyone running out and into the area!
    I do not disagree with any of the tactics and strategies offered, as we will have to keep an open mind and eye to what the fire is doing and how the structure is responding (CONTINUOUS SIZE-UP).
    I firmly believe that the greatest amount of lives to be saved at this structure will be saved by putting every effort towards preventing the fire in the first place! I know, this should go without saying, however with reports of BBQ grills, propane bottles, and the obvious condition of the structure, to go along with access problems on all sides, egress problems throughout, the management and residents should be informed of all possible problems. I know, we have done this already, I did it once myself, and It was done prior to me and after me, but we have to continue to work with our fire prevention to correct the issues before a catastrophic event.
    Should a fire happen prior to the corrections:
    Fast aggressive fire attack
    Quick back up line to protect egress (all the wooden stairs)
    Engine companies be familiar with forcible entry(the truck company will have many jobs to accompish)
    Plan B: big water at the ends with fog streams (yes, I know, fog streams?) The plan is to extinguish the stairs and walkways and keep them intact. With the condition of the structure a smoothbore may just bring it all down. Remember the lines are for egress protection only. Once we remove all the people (firefighters) we can and the decision to go defensive is made, we can change the nozzle.

    Just another opinion.

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