So far, 2020 has seen several noteworthy high-rise building fires. On Wednesday, January 29, a fire in a 25-story residential high-rise in Los Angeles left at least 11 people injured, one fatally. The fire was said to have begun on the 6th floor and spread to the 7th floor of the non-sprinklered building. Ironically, a fire that erupted on the 11th floor of the same building in 2013 displaced up to 150 residents and injured two people. On January 14th, nearly two dozen people were hurt, two of them critically, following a fire on the 24th floor of a luxury high-rise building on the Upper East Side of New York City. The fire started in an apartment's kitchen and spread through the entire floor. It was likely because the of an open door to the dwelling unit that the fire spread so rapidly throughout the floor.
One required fire protection feature found in nearly all high-rise buildings is a standpipe system. Standpipe systems are fixed piping systems with associated equipment that transports water from a reliable water supply to designated areas of buildings. These systems can significantly improve the efficiency of manual fire-fighting operations by eliminating the need for long and cumbersome hose lays from fire apparatus to a fire. Even in buildings that are protected by automatic sprinklers, standpipe systems can play an important role in building fire safety by serving as a backup for, and complement to, sprinklers.
Standpipes in high-rise buildings can serve to increase life safety, as well as property protection, because of the lengthy evacuation times associated with tall buildings. In many cases, emergency action plans advise occupants who are not in immediate danger of exposure to fire to remain within the building to allow responding fire service personnel better access to the standpipes within the exit stair enclosures (staged/partial evacuation). Use of standpipes at such times supplements the operation of the required automatic sprinkler system.
The design and installation of standpipe systems shall be in accordance with not only Section 13.2 of NFPA 1 but also NFPA 14 which sets the minimum requirements for the installation of both standpipe and hose systems. All high-rise buildings are required to be protected throughout by a Class I standpipe system. A Class I system provides 2½ in. (65 mm) hose connections at designated locations in a building for use by the fire department. A Class I system is typically required in buildings that have more than three stories above or below grade because of the time and difficulty involved in laying hose from fire apparatus directly to remote floors. For these reasons, Class I standpipes are the required system in high-rise buildings. (Refer to NFPA 1 for other conditions where a standpipe may be required in other than a high-rise building.)
Also per NFPA 1, the AHJ is authorized to permit the removal of existing occupant use hose lines where all of the following conditions are met:
- This Code does not require their installation.
- The current building code does not require their installation.
- The AHJ determines that the occupant-use hose line will not be utilized by trained personnel or the fire department.
It is not the intent to permit the removal of portions of the existing standpipe system other than hose lines, and that such remaining system components be maintained and available for use by the fire department or other appropriate fire suppression personnel. This is intended to explicitly allow the removal of nonrequired, occupant-use standpipe hose from buildings. Prior to the 2015 edition, some AHJs might have been wary of permitting the removal of occupant-use hose, lacking any Code language stating its removal was permitted. Provided that the hose is not required by NFPA 1 or the applicable building code, and no trained on-site fire suppression personnel would be expected to utilize it, the hose can be removed. It is preferable for untrained building occupants to evacuate rather than attempt to extinguish a fire using hose lines.
Like any other building fire protection system, standpipe systems must be properly maintained. NFPA 25 provides the specific details for inspection, testing and maintenance procedures, frequencies and documentation. The owner is responsible for maintaining the standpipe system and keeping it in good working condition. The local AHJ is then responsible for confirming through the owner that they have done their job in maintaining the system in accordance with the appropriate procedures.
Standpipe systems are critical for life safety, property protection and for efficient firefighter operations and their safety. Fires in high-rise buildings will continue to occur, but ensuring these systems, when required, are present and functioning, can minimize the impact of these events.
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