Hose and hose connections
Volume 24, No. 1
One of the most discussed topics in regards to commercial and industrial building fire protection is the use of occupant hose and hose connections. Most of these questions are centered around the training of employees on the use of fire hoses and then if the hoses are removed who should be aware of this. This article is meant to cover a couple of things; first we will discuss some of the background/logic around fire hoses in these locations and secondly we will cover some issues for the emergency responder to consider.
Back in the late 1800’s there was a considerable emphasis placed on the use of manual fire fighting equipment. This was due mostly in part because the invention of automatic sprinkler systems had not taken hold throughout the country. The few sprinkler systems that were installed at this time were perforated pipe systems. Also, people were just more focused on manual fire fighting than any automatic means of fire suppression. It was just always assumed that the fire department and the people employed at the facility would attack a fire and extinguish it. Most of the time, due to the mill construction that was employed back in those days, the structure would be saved but most of the contents consumed by fire or severely water damaged.
It was during this same time that a considerable number of industrial and commercial businesses elected to install fire hoses inside the building to make it easier for the occupants and the responding fire department to extinguish a fire. Also, many industrial facilities began installing private hydrants and equipping hose houses with the basics needed to attack a fire. This is still the case today, especially when the facility is located outside of the city limits. There is even an NFPA standard, NFPA 24 which gives guidance on the installation of private fire mains and their appurtenances. Also, in certain places, local Authorities Having Jurisdiction (AHJ’s) have particular requirements as well.
The first thought during all of this process, was that originally the employees were the first line of defense and back in that point of time it was common place for employees to attack a fully developed fire in the same clothes they wore to work.
What has transpired over time in the commercial/industrial building sector is that most companies or building owners have moved away from training for the employees in regards to manual fire fighting. This, in most cases, was due to the cost of training and outfitting the employee with the correct gear to protect them as emergency responders. As a result of this, many times the fire fighting equipment has either been discarded or is no longer maintained. This leads to a false sense of security in many ways. For instance the employees who have been working at the location for a long time will not be aware that the facility fire brigade or emergency responding group has been disbanded; hence, when a fire occurs, they think that there will be a response from the plant employees. This in itself could result in an employee becoming killed or seriously injured. Also, significant delays in the fire department arriving could result as they might not be called right away thinking that the employees will address the situation. The other part of this is that the equipment remains in place and someone who is not trained attempts to utilize it. This could result in injury or death as well.
When a facility elects to do away with the “in-house” fire brigade or response team, several questions normally crop up. What do we do with the hoses? What about the hose house equipment? What do we do with the hose connections in the building? Whom should we contact?
I typically respond to this by first asking that they contact the local authority having jurisdiction, next they should ask their current property insurance carrier for their requirements. For reference purposes, keep in mind that NFPA 14 covers standpipes and hose connections as well. Once this has been covered, the site should establish fire protection goals and conduct a through analysis of what the sprinkler system design is. An example of this would be if for instance the facility has an ESFR (Early Suppression Fast Response) sprinkler system, the fire might be knocked down and easily extinguished with small diameter (1½ inch) hose streams or the sprinkler system might completely extinguish the fire. If the sprinkler system design is for fire control, then the expectations are for someone to provide final fire extinguishment. Keep in mind this might require that a fire brigade or response team be re-established if the goal is to halt a fire’s progress. This would mean large diameter hose streams, 2½ inches and greater being used by advanced interior brigades or the public fire department. This should be part of the pre-emergency plan, knowing what the sprinkler system design is and what anticipated hose stream demands were accounted for within the water supply.
During pre planning tours, public fire departments are often surprised that 1.5" hoses are connected to small diameter pipe (perhaps 1.25"). These small hose connections are not intended to be true standpipes. They are there for first-aid firefighting or overhaul. NFPA 13, “Standard for the Installation of Sprinkler Systems”, does not require full standpipe systems. Another local code might require standpipe connections, however. It is essential to determine this ahead of time. An NFPA 13 small hose connection cannot supply 2.5" hose streams nor can they supply 1.75" hose to their full potential. If NFPA 13 small hose connections are provided instead of true standpipes, hose for anything more than initial attack or final extinguishment should be brought in from outside. At large facilities, this can be a challenge and may require significant manpower. A public fire department may need to consider an automatic second alarm at confirmed fires to get the needed resources to the scene.
What this also means to the emergency responder is that there may be a significantly larger fire when they arrive as there may not be any form of interior fire attack by the local plant emergency responders. As part of the pre-emergency plan by the emergency responder, a review of what the plant will provide in regards to interior/exterior fire attack should be conducted. Also, if the site once had hoses inside the facility, the emergency responder should note the location of these connections so they can be used.
All the above mentioned items should be part of the fire department or emergency response team’s pre-emergency plan. It’s always better to be prepared in advance and know what the status of the plant fire department and hose connections are prior to the event.