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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Comments
Ron Ayotte
“FEAR” by Ric Jorge
Ric, excellent article. Your FD is not the only one that suffers from TAS (Training Anxiety Syndrome). Same circus, different community. As far as seeking help from an EAP, I did take advantage of my community's EAP 8 years into my career. I was heading down the road to a separation/divorce after I got promoted…
2014-12-04 16:04:47
Mike McAdams
Who Looks After The Victims?
Captain LeBlanc, Great point in the blog debating the new and old techniques and how to blend them into that first minutes on the fire ground. One of the first points stated was “Unless they know your manpower, resources and abilities, and are standing in that front lawn at 2:00 a.m., all they can do…
2014-12-02 14:45:23
Ruel Douvillier
Who Looks After The Victims?
I suspect these new tactics are all related to the NFPA standard that came out a few years ago recommending higher manpower on apparatus than the authorities having jurisdiction were prepared to implement. For the 30+ years that I've been fighting fires, UL and NIST have been using the data that they gained by setting…
2014-12-02 11:48:44
Joseph carroll
Who Looks After The Victims?
I work in a dept with 2 man Engine cos, man powers is an issue with our first due assignment. (3 engs,2 Trks , Batt Chief). Usually 13 Firefighters on the assignment. At times the exterior attack has no option, heavy fire too include exposures etc. some new leaders feel that this exterior attack is…
2014-12-01 19:05:51
Brian
Who Looks After The Victims?
Am I missing the old SSLEEVES-OCD pneumonic??? seems that one. It addressed alot of the things we have to think of, and the new Slicers is something that I think in right circumstances and construction would make sense, but at other times might be completely useless. I have watched and read alot of the NIST…
2014-12-01 02:10:06
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