Keeping the interior steps clear

How many times on a structure fire do you notice that the interior stairs constantly seem to be full of firemen.  This may lead to a very chaotic situation, especially if these steps need to be used for a rapid egress.  While operating on a top floor cockloft fire the other morning, this situation became a reality for me.

The firefighter operating the hoseline lost control of the nozzle, the line then hit me, causing my helmet and facepiece to be knocked off.  As a result my head began to burn…instinct took over and I realized I needed to exit to “get myself back together”.  

I attempted to exit via the interior stairs only to realize it was blocked by spectator firemen.  Luckily there was a window with a ground ladder that I could egress the fire floor on to.  I was lucky, in that I was able to readjust my ppe and continue to operate without any injury.  However I could have been seriously hurt.

Always remember this:  YOU ARE EITHER TRAVELING UP…. OR DOWN…. THE STAIRS, NOT STANDING ON THEM AND NOT BLOCKING THEM.  Next time you go to a job on an upper floor you might find yourself in a situation that you might just need those stairs.

Stay safe


5 Responses

  1. “Spectator firemen” – how true. Good points Chris, I know precisely the phenomenon you are talking about.

  2. This is a very interesting topic as it highlights many points about crews and the expectations of assignments. In this particular situation we are dealing with a top floor fire in the cockloft. My questions standing out front in the yard are:

    How many crews have I sent in the structure and where have I sent them?

    By sending in multiple crews have I caused this problem for the crews?

    Throwing companies at the fire till a result in extinguishment happens can cause this crowding problem, IC’s must allow for the companies to work but must also realize when the current plan or companies are not working.

    Are the crews actually going to their assigned areas in the structure or are they being a moth to the flame?

    Are the company officers doing their job by controlling this situation inside or are they relying on the IC to not send in personnel

    Realistically how many companies do I need to send to the top floor cockloft fire and what functions are they doing. Obviously we need water and some hooks but how many Truck guys do we need to pull for the engine? And by using the old saying I need to get by and search does not fly when we are dealing with a top floor cockloft fire, especially on the stairs to the cockloft or attic.

    It is very easy to blame the person or persons standing on the stairs but officers and IC’s need to control this situation, the company officer would need to not be so invloved in the operation that he does not recognize the hazard on the stairs. This situation has certainly caused many injuries on fires in the northern states.

    Spectator firemen have company officers unless they are being spectators also. If that is the case then we have a whole another set of issues.

    Now to help my brother Chris out on this one, as a firefighter you should always be moving while on the stairs, up or down. This is not the area to be milling around and screaming to move forward or lets go. The nozzle team and officer dictate how fast we move. I do agree that on occasion they may need a kick in the butt to get moving, but you are only putting the nozzle crew and the crew behind them in danger when you are crowding the stairs and blocking the egress from their current position.

    My last question on this topic would be to Chris, Were you yelling Squad coming through as you were advancing up the stairs? 🙂

  3. In June of 1998, a congested stairwell was one of many factors in a local fire in a private dwelling that seriously burned and hospitalized one firefighter and fours others, as well as injuring three others.

    Three times in the report, it is mentioned that the interior stairs was blocked, clogged, congested. At the time when firefighters on the second floor had to flee down the stairs, one firefighter is reported to have used his Hallgan bar in an effort to push members down and off the stairway.

    The fire was in a 24’x30′ two-story Cape Cod style dwelling, in a second floor bedroom and respective knee walls. At one point during the initial attack, various personnel from all four engine companies, as well as the first due truck, were inside the structure.

    Also noted, is the fact that the initial request for later arriving units to Level I stage, was not heard/acknowledged by those companies.

  4. Generalizing about stairways is usually correct….you land on the landing and move on the stairs. I have had to have the crew make the first contact with the fire at the top of the stairs in detached and row type residential structures, when a well involved upper floor is encounterd. This position is much like that in a flashover simulator and provides all the comforts of the same while begining to make the upper floor. After admiring our work for a second,we then pushed quickley in to finish what we had begun. Soooo…sometimes, time can be well spent at the top of the stairs when what is on the upper floor landing is not tennable, and those behind you will just have to be educated later in the front yard.

  5. Thanks for the reply Greg and good to see you here, Brother! Using the reach and penetration of the nozzle stream is something that I always stress to my men. If a momentary knock down at the top of the stairs (or from a safe spot anywhere along the stairs) is in order, by all means!! Hit it!!.
    By cooling the superheated gasses in that hallway or top of stair landing, (because most people do not generally keep large amounts of combustibles in the hallway in a PD, right?) it will help you on a few fronts. It may limit horizontal spread of the fire to other rooms. Also, by doing this you may make it easier on your team to locate the actual origin of this fire by knocking the fire back to its original room. Now it will be easier to find the fire room(s), and go get the contents that are burning.
    The biggest issue I have seen with the stairs does not normally involve the first arriving companies (as they have active roles in the search and extinguishment process). It arrives later into the fire (Which if things are going good….no big deal….but if things are going bad…they can be real bad, real quick)
    These later arriving units are “hungry to get some work”, but must be disciplined to leave the stairs open and stage at the floor below, saving air, and ready to work at a moments notice. The IC and unit leader must maintain and supervise the units to avoid the stairs from clogging up.
    I have personally witnessed men dive down a staircase head first to get off a rapidly deteriorating floor. Don’t let this happen at your next job, keep aware, keep the stairs open, stay safe…..Doug

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