available. I work in a large metropolitan system with
reasonable and, some would say, generous resources.
However, a significant high-rise fire will quickly deplete
those resources. There are only a few really large systems
across the fire service. Certainly, FDNY and the Chicago (IL) Fire Department (CFD) are two examples of
very large systems. When FDNY has a significant high-rise fire, members will likely handle it with resources
from within their system. But keep in mind, they will
be relocating lots of resources from other areas (
boroughs) of the city to fill holes and will ultimately still be
stretched thin across their overall system.
In Chicago, if you review some of the city’s most
significant past high-rise fires, CFD resources completed the firefight. However, during those firefights,
such as the 2004 La Salle Bank Building Fire, there
were lots of resources from other metro Chicago-area fire departments providing fire protection and
emergency services to various areas of the city. This is
a great example of how even the largest systems need
help from outside. And that is my point: We must
establish the processes and procedures to make this
happen well ahead of time.
Chicago Metro is a great example for us to follow.
Chicago Metro and the state of Illinois have established an excellent and proactive system of mutual
and automatic aid called mutual aid box alarm
system (MABAS). So, for a significant high-rise fire
in the city of Chicago, where a large number of CFD
resources are committed to that fire, you will see fire
companies and resources from outside the city of
Chicago backfilling empty CFD fire stations.
Another very exceptional system in our fire service
is the state of California. Because of wildland fires
and urban interface problems, the California fire
service has been proactive in this area for decades.
Remember, this was the origin of FireScope and, for
all practical purposes, the incident command system.
Terms like task force and strike team, now becoming
commonplace across the fire service, have been in
place for years and originated in California.
The lesson for all of us, especially those in smaller
and medium-sized systems, is to establish relationships
with your neighbors proactively—today. Build a system
like the Illinois MABAS or the California Mutual-Aid
System that creates a much larger resource pool than
most of us can assemble on our own. Remember, col-
lectively we are much stronger than we are individually.
Keep in mind, this goes much deeper than just asking your neighboring fire department to respond and
help you from time to time. Once again, I would use
the California system as a great example. A few years
ago, I was in metro Sacramento providing a training program. While I was in town, I was invited to a
full-scale high-rise exercise that was taking place in a
downtown Sacramento high-rise building. There was a
large number of fire apparatus parked along the Capital
Mall for several blocks, about ¼-mile long. There were
rigs of all colors, from numerous Sacramento Metropolitan Fire Departments, and some from longer distances away, within northern California. They were all
operating at this large high-rise exercise and simulated
high-rise fire. They were using the same equipment,
the same operating procedures, and the same radio
system. What a concept! Once again, this serves as an
example for all of us to follow.
Let me narrow this down just a bit further. In any
system, large, medium, or small, the report of smoke or
fire in a high-rise building is a big deal—and must be
treated as such. There must be a very strong and powerful initial assignment. For most systems, this should
include multiple fire companies and several chief
officers. I believe that a good starting point is as follows
(this resource recommendation is based on a minimum
staffing of four personnel per fire company):
● Four engine companies.
• The first and second, paired together to stretch,
advance, and operate the first attack hoseline.
• The third and fourth, paired together to
–stretch, advance, and operate a backup line on
the fire floor, or
–stretch, advance, and operate an exposure line
on the floor above, or
–relieve the crews on the first attack hoseline on
the fire floor.
● Three truck companies.
• The first truck company to the fire floor for
search and rescue operations.
• The second truck company to the floor above
• The third truck company to the floor below as the
first and primary rapid intervention team for the
The bottom line: You want to stay well ahead of the resource
curve and try to maintain an uncommitted tactical reserve,
keeping in mind most of your tactical reserve needs to be
in staging, ideally two floors below the fire floor.