“Learn from history or you’re doomed to repeat it”. You’ve heard this before. I’m just preaching to the choir. Just recently we experienced another horrible fire loss, this time in London. The focus quickly centered on “Cladding”, and the media couldn’t get enough. Dubai has shared with many of the same combustible siding problems. But high-rise fires have been happening and will continue to happen with or without a cladding issue. This might be the hot topic of discussion for the decade but solving the underlying epidemic begins with having multiple evacuation options available early in any emergency.
Supplemental Evacuation is the win/win that fire officials and the public that they are charged to protect have been looking for. It’s not a new thing either. It serves as a plan for families with little ones as well as elderly and disabled individuals.
- 99% of the World’s ladder trucks don’t reach above the 7th floor.
- The Lethal dose (LD-50) to a human being suffering a fall is 10 meters.
- Fire doubles nearly every minute.
Pretty scary huh? Trust me, I know. I also know that the ladder trucks are usually the last ones to arrive and can rarely can get into a good position due to the typical chaos of an emergency scene. People are trying to move their cars, onlookers are in the way, press, police and even other department vehicles have been left unattended as they rush to help, even supply lines on the ground from the first engine companies. I understand the time involved in setting up the stabilizers and getting the platform into the air, much less into position for a rescue, all while keeping one eye on the power lines. I still remember my fire chief walking around and yelling “My baby, my baby” at us during our drills. It was stressful enough without his help but he was preparing us for that emergency and everything that goes along with it. The fact is, is that it is an incredibly difficult scenario to plan for yet it will likely happen sooner or later in your career. I’m not here to offer criticism without hope. My goal is to share with you solutions that are available to present a better outcome to these emergencies.
Supplemental Evacuation Equipment (SEE) for Rescue
Consider the financial and logistical burden of training multiple responders (on different working shifts) for advanced rope-rescue techniques. Alternatively, rescuers can operate this equipment proficiently and with limited training all while practicing at a low height in a controlled environment. Imagine everyone on duty being qualified to carry out SEE Rescue. The time to deploy the SEE versus a traditional high-angle/rope-rescue set-up is a great advantage. So maybe it’s not just one person that you are rescuing. Imagine that you just arrived on-scene to a nursing home (elderly care) facility with smoke showing. Many agencies have a “evacuate in place” policy. This is due to the logistical fact that there haven’t been any solutions to evacuate dozens of elderly or disabled individuals safely. Until now.
I like to refer to is as a “muster station” because it immediately reminds us of a very similar drill. Just show up at your assigned station and prepare to be evacuated. The SEE can be deployed in the most needed area and patients wheeled to and staged at this muster station. As one rescuer slides them softly into the protective suits to prepare them for descent, the other rescuer assists them gently out of the window. The SEE slowly descends them automatically to the rescuers below. The caregivers can also assist with this process and be evacuated by the same means when appropriate. It may be necessary to evacuate them earlier to assist with the patients on the ground floor. Once safely on the ground they can be moved once again by wheelchair to the staging area while the rescue operation continues. One by one, life by life, until the floor is clear.
If the conditions change or additional floors need to be evacuated with the same SEE, then it can be packed up in about 90 seconds and can be taken to the next area where it is needed.
Now imagine how great it would be to show up and the equipment was already installed and the facility staff was preparing the patients to evacuate at the muster stations that your evacuation plans dictated. Your rescue teams could be dispatched to the appropriate muster stations that you created and initiate the mass rescue. Your limited resources can immediately be set up to support and protect the external, vertical egress. This can be done by smoke mitigation or hose streams for temperature reduction and fire-deterrent.
Two-man rescue teams can easily deploy portable evacuation systems at areas far above the reach of ladders. These create solutions to address areas above the reach of aerial apparatus capabilities and at a fraction of the cost. Deployment can be accomplished in many ways. Stairs, elevator, ladder truck, helicopter or even better, pre-planned staging of equipment or permanent units pre-installed in different muster stations. These tools are lightweight, have a small footprint and can be utilized for difficult technical rescue locations where traditional equipment is too bulky or heavy. They have been designed to earn the limited space that most rescue trucks have available.
Supplemental Evacuation Equipment (SEE) for the Public
SEE benefits for the fire services begin by offering an enforcement aspect while shifting more responsibility to the building owner, building management and ultimately, the building inhabitant to plan for two ways out.
First responders are the only ones trained and equipped to extinguish a fire. When they arrive to the chaos of most multi-story emergencies, oftentimes their resources must shift priorities toward conducting rescues. Every attempt to avoid delaying an offensive fire attack should be made and pre-planned placement of SEE supports these efforts.
In a pre-planning environment placement of a muster station may be unique for each structure. You know your department’s capabilities and vulnerabilities, take these into account as you do your pre-fire building inspections. It may be a beachside or lakefront building that offers no access to one entire side of the structure. While placement of SEE should be spread throughout the entire structure, greater quantities could be positioned on this side to compensate.
Algorithms are available to help responders determine the ideal number of SEE needed based off of the floor (height), number of occupants and capability of equipment. These can easily be adjusted to find an overall evacuation time estimate that makes sense for the type of occupancy that you are mitigating.
Through the public eye SEE pre-planning can be thought of in a number of ways. It can serve as peace of mind for a family, it can be a solution for a business searching for a way to protect its human capital and it can also be seen as an answer to the evacuation of an entire floor of a hospital. Either way the cost/benefit relationship is simple to determine. How many people will the SEE serve and how much is it. A family of five looking to equip their penthouse might pay $4000 for the protection, or about $800 per life. An office with 25 executives sharing that same equipment might average $160 per life. Either way, this is quite affordable considering the value of what it provides. SEE could easily be compared to a new TV or a nice dinner depending on the number of lives that it will protect.
If your department is looking for a guide, The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has created standards for Supplemental Evacuation and it has been in their Code for nearly 10 years. It is part of the Life Safety Code Annex B in the latest printing and offers helpful information for those looking to make their communities safer.
Property, life and casualty insurance companies are just some of those excited about SEE. Wouldn’t it be great to incentivize everyday citizens, corporations and healthcare occupancies by offering great discounts if they were to incorporate these life-saving technologies? Remember, protecting their customers directly affects their bottom line and is the ethical thing to do.
Ask yourself how much could the citizens in your community save by preparing for supplemental evacuation? How long would it take until these savings covered their initial investment? How can you value the peace of mind these solutions offer? Let’s work together to change the status quo and stop allowing history to remind us of these vulnerabilities.
For more information, go to www.HRES.com