The Floor Above. Why a game changer demands different training

Brian Brush on why we should – and shouldn’t – rely on the stairway when going above.


If you review the statistics, multi-story single family and multi-family dwellings are our most common fire. They also present the greatest risk as the core of the life hazard occupies an upper floor and the bulk of where the fire starts will occur on a lower floor. The game changer in residential construction is the open stairwell. Identifying this game changer is different than respecting it, acknowledging it and allowing it to change the way we operate.

The upper floors in private dwellings, and the interior path of egress, should be the focus of firefighters assigned to search. The upper floor also requires additional thought for ways to escape if stairs are compromised.
(Photo courtesy of author.)

Fires in multi-story private dwellings require an immediate search of the floors above the fire. Companies must make it a priority to provide more means of egress than the existing stairway.
(Photo courtesy of 5280Fire)

When preplanning new construction, make note of areas where you will be required to provide additional egress for firefighters working on the floor above. If these areas are out of the reach of your ladders, train on maneuvers to find other areas of refuge when the fire worsens.
(Photo courtesy of author.)

On the fire floor we search from the greatest threat (The Fire) out. This takes us directly to those with the smallest window of opportunity first and being true to our high risk for high reward mission. We search from there out keeping ourselves safer (searching towards an egress) and falls in line with rescue priorities by working from greatest threatened to least threatened.

So why would this be any different for the floor above you ask? The answer is the “game changing” open stairwell. On the floor above with an open stairwell this is the greatest threat. The chimney created by that open stairwell is how extension and byproducts of combustion travel to that floor. The top of this stairwell is where they will be the greatest intensity and concentration. This is also a highly likely place to find victims as it is the main path and probably the only path occupants have ever used from that floor. On the floor above we must treat the open stairwell as our fire and search from there out. We as firefighters must recognize this and, if we do ascend the stairs and initiate our search from there, we need to try to identify any other options for egress remote from those stairs so we can remove victims or ourselves without returning to that hazard. Secondly by making mental note of this hazard and beginning to train with this mindset we may prevent the mental breakdown of running back down stairs when it stuff hits the fan.

“That was how we came.” This thinking makes us believe that the manner in which we entered is the way we will leave, rather than training to work away from this point which has the greatest potential for the most extreme change. Consider taking refuge by closing doors, finding windows, even a closet while it is isolated buys us time in the event of a catastrophic change. Try some different training. Just even a few times, conduct a floor above search from the stairs, report all clear and descend a ladder from an off bedroom. Compare it to laddering a roof, cutting your vent hole and descending your secondary means of egress ladder, it is just one way to try this training develop thought. It also may assist with increasing your fireground laddering which, anyone who is really paying attention to fire fighter injuries and close calls will tell you that ladders save lives.

Additional Reading
“Trapped by Flashover: A Survivor’s Journey”, Mark Von Appen, Fire Engineering, December 2010
5280Fire.com, Metro Denver Firefighting News

Brian Brush is a Lieutenant with the West Metro Fire Rescue in Lakewood, Colorado. West Metro Fire Rescue serves 110 square miles and over 265,000 residents in the West Denver Metropolitan Area. The district operates 15 stations with 340 uniformed members and responds to an average of 24,000 calls for service annually.



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“To provide a point of critical thought about certain acts and events in the fire service while incorporating behavioral education and commentary in a referenced format.”

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Comments
Dave LeBlanc
Who Looks After The Victims?
Dave - I think the reason there is a debate is because the message is so contorted. From those that have chosen to manipulate the information to suit their position, the the ISFSI own website saying different things about what the tactics truly are. I agree 100% with giving everyone the information and letting them…
2014-11-20 22:06:56
Dave Skidmore
Who Looks After The Victims?
I'm glad you identified the "one issue no one is discussing, the lack of manpower on scene". My department runs a single apparatus, staffed with a minimum of 4 guys sometimes 5, with our second due being either our paid call or mutual aid - either option realistically being 10 plus minutes behind the first…
2014-11-19 22:01:40
Heath Smith
Who Looks After The Victims?
Great article Dave. I agree with your comment that "they became traditions because they work." And yes if you change the focus from life safety to your own safety how about holding a town meeting and letting those you swore to protect know whats going on, I am sure they will see your point!
2014-11-19 19:28:21
Ron Ayotte
Who Looks After The Victims?
Excellence as usual, Dave.
2014-11-19 03:39:35
Ron Ayotte
Your Eyes Are Useless When the Mind is Blind, Part III
David... excellent series.
2014-11-15 02:37:13
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