Standpipe Fire Hose Stations Save Lives, Protect Property

They're needed in commercial structures and where fire department response time exceeds five minutes.

USING thermal imaging cameras in addition to water from standpipes, firefighters extinguished a fire in a power-generating turbine that was protected by a sprinkler. Constructed of steel framing with concrete floors, walls, and roof deck, the building had a smoke detection system, a wet-pipe sprinkler system, and a dry-pipe standpipe system that provided full coverage.

When a worker discovered the fire, he immediately shut down the turbine and reported the blaze to the fire department. When firefighters arrived at the scene, fire crews entered the turbine room with two thermal imaging cameras to locate the seat of the blaze. When water from the sprinkler system failed to extinguish it, firefighters successfully extinguished it with the hose line.

This amazing firefighting story, which took place in Maryland in 2004, is just one example of how a standpipe fire hose station can be an immediate, first line of defense against fire during those first critical minutes. What exactly is a standpipe fire hose station? It is life-saving fire equipment that still serves a purpose in modern fire protection.

Standpipe and hose systems provide a means for manual application of water to fires in buildings. They do not take the place of automatic extinguishing systems, which are an important form of protection in large buildings. The National Fire Protection Association defines Standpipe Fire Hose Station (14-2003, Ed. 1-4.28) as an arrangement of piping, valves, hose connections, and allied equipment installed in a building or structure, with the hose connections located in such a manner that water can be discharged in streams or spray patterns through attached hose and nozzles, for the purpose of extinguishing a fire, thereby protecting a building or structure and its contents in addition to protecting the occupants.

There are three classes of standpipe systems: Class I Systems [2-1/2 inch (64 mm) hose connections] are provided for use by fire departments and those trained in handling heavy water streams. In high-rise buildings without sprinklers and beyond the reach of fire department ladders, Class I systems provide water supply for the primary means of firefighting (i.e., manually). Class II Systems [1-1/2 inch (38 mm) hose lines] are provided for use by trained building occupants until the fire department arrives. Finally, Class III Systems shall provide [1-1/2 inch (38 mm)] hose stations to supply water for use by trained building occupants and [2-1/2 inch (64 mm)] hose connections to supply a larger volume of water for use by fire departments and those trained in handling heavy water streams.

Fire hose stations are needed in commercial structures that include, but are not limited to, office buildings, dormitories, airports, hotels, elder care facilities, correctional facilities, hospitals, industrial plants, retail malls, and anywhere fire department response time exceeds five minutes.

Multiple Benefits
There are multiple benefits of standpipe fire hose stations. However, in this article we will discuss four key advantages to using the manual fire equipment.

The first benefit that makes fire hose stations a clear choice for fire protection is quick suppression. Standpipe hose systems can be effectively used in the incipient stage (after everyone is safe and the fire department has been called), often extinguishing the fire before automatic systems activate.

Darrell Harguth, the former assistant chief/fire marshal in Contra Costa County, California, said occupant hose holds tremendous value in today's commercial structures. "Workers can control or extinguish fires by using occupant hose long before the fire has developed to the point of activating the sprinkler system. Occupant hose has always been, and should continue to be, an important element of balanced fire protection. Occupant hose is essential for employees' safety and building protection," he said.

The second key benefit of standpipe fire hose stations is that they require only one person for operation. Standpipe hose systems are activated and operated by one person, and they do not depend on heat, smoke, or flame to spread before water is applied to the fire. This manual equipment provides total reliability in case automatic systems fail.

"The tools of our trade include the time-honored direct application of water on a fire, when the fire is at its initial stage of ignition," said Larry Larson, deputy fire chief of the Hillsborough Fire Department in California. "Interior pre-connected hose provides the first line of defense in many key applications, such as large storage and commercial buildings, and especially where response from a volunteer fire department may be delayed."

The third benefit of fire hose stations is that they provide minimal water damage. The equipment can minimize water damage because water can be applied directly at the base of the fire, versus indiscriminate spray from automatic systems. Additionally, the hose systems can be turned off immediately.

Finally, fire hose stations will help provide occupant safety and rescue in times of need. Standpipe fire hose can be used to allow time for evacuation, defend a means of egress, or defend occupants who cannot evacuate the building.

Proper Use of Standpipe Fire Hose Stations
It is important to remember that someone should fight a fire with a standpipe fire hose station only under the following circumstances:

  1. The fire department has been called.
  2. Everyone is safe.
  3. The fire is small and does not appear to be spreading.
  4. The fire is not between you and the exit.

If the above conditions are present, then operating a fire hose station is quick and simple. Here are three steps to remember when learning how to operate the equipment:

  1. Open valve completely.
  2. Pull hose entirely off rack.
  3. Water will flow when hose is free and nozzle is open.

The simplicity of the equipment's operation "provides the opportunity for trained staff to control or extinguish a fire while it is still small, before the fire develops sufficiently to activate the sprinkler system and long before arrival of the fire department. Fire prevention codes need to maintain requirements to install first aid firefighting equipment in all occupancies," said Robert L. Davis, acting fire marshal in the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District.

Fire Hose Station Maintenance
According to NFPA 25-2000 Edition, fire hose stations should usually be inspected or checked every 90 days (or as specified by local AHJ--Authority Having Jurisdiction). The plant owner or workers are responsible for making sure that the fire hose station is regularly checked and maintained.

As long as the questions below are regularly reviewed, building occupants should be able to identify key concerns with the fire equipment and contact the local fire authorities if a repair or maintenance check is needed. Fire hose stations will not be an effective firefighting tool if they are not properly maintained and inspected for quality assurance. Consult with your local fire department if you have any questions related to the appearance of the equipment in your workspace.

  • Are the operating instructions legible?
  • Does the cabinet appear to be intact, with no cracks or breaks in the glass?
  • Is the cabinet door easy to open?
  • If a locked cabinet is installed, does the lock function properly?
  • Will the hose rack swing out at least 90 degrees from the cabinet?
  • Are any safety seals broken or missing?
  • Is there any obvious damage or corrosion to the hose valve?
  • Is the valve handle missing?
  • Does the hose appear to be folded neatly on the hose rack?
  • Is the hose connected to the rack nipple or valve?
  • Is the hose intact, with no breaks, holes, or tears?
  • Is the hose nozzle missing?
  • Are all warning labels and tags free from damage?
  • Are the valves, hose, nozzles, fire extinguishers, etc. easily accessible?

Balanced Fire Protection
Many fire protection specialists around the country believe standpipe fire hose stations are a critical part of any building's fire protection plan. With proper training and education, building occupants can use a fire hose station to knock down a fire well before rescue personnel arrive. All that the equipment requires is one individual who is well-informed and trained about the benefits and appropriate circumstances for using a standpipe fire hose station, as well as the three simple steps to properly operate it. That one person can be the critical difference between a small fire and a tragedy.

Recognizing a longtime need for more education and training on the proper operation and maintenance of standpipe fire hose stations, FEMA recently launched a new Web site, www.rackhosetraining.com. OSHA requires that building owners provide education and training on fire hose stations if that equipment is to be included in a building's fire protection plan, but after some research, our association did not find any training program that meets those requirements. The free site was created in response and is intended for anyone who hopes to learn how to use this important fire equipment.

This article appeared in the August 2006 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

This article originally appeared in the August 2006 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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