High rise protocols are paramount

Ray McCormack, Lieutenant Ladder 28 with the New York Fire Department has attended several high rise fires and spoken about his experiences at the HROC High Rise Operations Conference. Here Ray shares his thoughts with FME readers regarding fighting balcony fires in high rise buildings. 
Balcony fires are unique in that they can be strictly balcony fires or be interior fires too. The rapid burning that occurs with balcony fires is based upon fuel load and they are not typically ventilation limited. The amount of exposure to the outside air greatly increases the burn rate plus the danger for occupants is extension to the interior, auto exposure and smoke spread. Initial impressions can be deceiving for firefighters and so the use of all high rise building fire protocols must be followed along with knowledge of extinguishment options.
Balcony fires often present with more fire initially than after firefighters arrive on the fire floor. It is common, during reflex time, to see some diminish… This is typical where the fire load was minimal or strategically placed and it failed to breach the occupancy or extend.
Some balcony fires do extend into the occupancy, while some extend from the occupancy to the balcony, and some from balcony to balcony either latterly or vertically. Any of these scenarios is possible and may not be evident upon arrival.
On arrival, firefighters must attempt to identify the fire floor using the floor number which may be done by counting or through dispatch information. On scene issues include miscounting, poor visibility and floor labelling variations once inside the building and it can be easier sometimes to count down from the roof or a visible setback.
Hose-line operations should start with the standpipe connection from the floor below, unless exterior walkways are present which can allow for same floor hook-up. It is also vital to identify if the fire is located on a shared balcony as this will provide an enhanced alternative extinguishment position if necessary. Also utilising an adjoining apartment for extinguishment will allow for safer operations if the fire apartment is being affected by wind or stack effect.
For many residential occupancies, there is often only one balcony and it typically serves the areas where residents gather daily : living room, dining and kitchen. These spaces are commonly open, built without doors or hallways. Fires in these open spaces are prone to rapid fire growth and firefighter safety is also reduced due to the lack of protective walls or doors.
Exterior fire growth on high rise residential buildings can start as a balcony fire and if flammable facade components are encountered, will spread rapidly.
When a multi floor exterior fire is encountered in a vertical line beyond the reach of ground based streams, extinguishment should be provided by interior handlines. These attack lines should be stretched to an adjoining apartment window or balcony using a flanking position for fire attack. Hoselines deployed adjacent to the fire can gain a rapid foothold utilising the uninvolved space  (knocking down fire from below and above), allowing additional hoselines to be established or redeployed directly in line with or closer to the vertical fire line to extinguishing any remaining fire.
Balcony fires pose a unique danger to occupants and firefighters due to the almost unrestricted ability of the fire to develop and extend. Early recognition of the fire’s scope, along with the appropriate handling or appliance deployment model, gives us the best chance for rapid and safe extinguishment.

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