We need a HEROPipe

Published:  22 November, 2011

Chicago firefighter Michael Wielgat has invented a life-saving device that is set to revolutionise high-rise firefighting.

Fires in high-rises have become progressively hotter over the years and are more prone to spreading. This is due to higher chemical content in the different types of materials in the fire load. In some cases an exterior attack is still possible because the aerial platform can still reach it. In all other cases the normal progressive attack with handlines is carried out. However, in large fires above the 12th floor, these options are restricted to the limits of the human body regardless of personal protective equipment.  In December 1998, three firefighters from the FDNY died during a high-rise fire at 17 Vandalia Avenue in NY. The official cause of death was “thermal shock”. The extreme temperatures caused their bodies to shut down. It is too dangerous to attack from the inside, because the temperatures are too high and too many combustion gases have built up, but on the other hand there is no way of effectively reaching the fire from the outside either, as happened with the Chicago Cook County Building and La Salle Bank Fires in 2003 and 2004, as the One Meridian Plaza Fire in Philadelphia in 1991 demonstrated.

The latter fire cost the lives of three Philadelphia firefighters due to a variety of reasons, including a power failure, the absence of fire dampers in ventilation shafts, improperly installed standpipe pressure reducing valves, locked stairway doors and a rapid exterior fire spread when the windows gave in. Pictures of this fire have illustrated how Philadelphia Fire Department was left with no other option than to attack this fire from an adjacent building.

“Over the years, departments have been trying to regain tactical advantages in high-rise building, but the immense water pressures in these structures have made this an extremely difficult task to achieve,” says Chicago firefighter and product developer for Elkhart Brass, Michael Wielgat.

In the case of the One Meridian fire there was not enough pressure to supply adequate water for an attack. The pressure in the standpipes dropped below 60 psi. The report: Office Building Fire One Meridian Plaza Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (February 23, 1991) states: “Standpipe System and Improperly installed standpipe valves Pressure Reducing Valves (PRVs) provided inadequate pressure for fire department hose streams using 1 3/4-inch hose and automatic fog nozzles. Pressure reducing valves were installed to limit standpipe outlet discharge pressures to safe levels. The PRVs were set too low to produce effective hose streams; tools and expertise to adjust the valve settings did not become available until too late.” Once the fire size had increased in size, there was no tactical option of an exterior attack to gain control of the fire.

However, in a properly functioning high-rise building, firefighters may have to cope with pressures of up to 250 psi.

Michael decided to develop a solution that could deal with these particular low frequency/high-risk fires where interior attacks are unachievable and exterior attacks are not possible.

Safe operation within the operational guidelines and procedures of a department was the main requirement, but important was ease-of-use and the system’s ability to be transported up either a stairwell or in an elevator.

As a result of this, Michael developed the HEROPipe system in conjunction with Elkhart Brass, a monitor and nozzle manufacturer based in Elkhart, Indiana.

The HEROPipe is the only high-rise master stream system that enables firefighters to carry out an exterior attack at any floor level. Michael explains that the conditions on the floor below the fire are as normal, since heat and combustion gases rise. The elevated waterway is attached to a clamping system that has been designed for older constructed buildings and it can be secured to nearly any type of modern building construction, and in such a manner that the height of a building makes no difference to its operation. The stabilisers are hydraulic, so it can withstand the water pressures it has to cope with, while still being lightweight and extendible to most industry standard floor heights and any size window construction.

Attached to the telescopic waterway – extendible from 7.9ft to 15ft – is a remote controlled articulating monitor (Sidewinder EXM monitor and E7000 nozzle from Elkhart Brass). The nozzle is interchangeable, and depending on preference there is a choice between a fog nozzle and a smooth bore nozzle. The waterway has also been designed to cope with industry construction standards distances between floors. The monitor and nozzle deliver up to 900 GPM and at 80 psi.

Once the waterway has been extended, after the monitor has been attached it is easily rotated into the correct position. It has an automatic lock as well as another manual lock, to provide extra safety. The monitor can either be controlled  by a firefighter from the floor below, or it can be set up to automatically oscillate.

The FDNY has recently taken on the HEROPipe system, and Mike explains that they were not convinced when they first saw the information and videos online. However, after a short explanation of how the system worked, the FDNY team was able to set the system up within three minutes and 40 seconds. “When I was working with the FDNY, the firefighters expected that the system would be too bulky and was going to be difficult to transport and operate. However, after the first time they worked with it they experienced the complete opposite. They ordered four HEROPipe Systems for their special rescue units and the systems were delivered in late October.

“The other unique thing about the HEROPipe is that it has a special bracket attached to the monitor. This clamp enables the user to connect a transmitting thermal imaging camera to it, which streams images from the fire floor to the floor below, so it will provide a thermal  operational view, and the firefighter will be able to trace the seat of the fire by manual control. The whole system is powered by a lithium phosphate battery, so it also able to operate without human intervention for an hour and a half.”

Deputy Assistant Chief Jack Mooney, Chief of the Fire Academy FDNY, added: “Having evaluated the capabilities and operational considerations of this new technology we have concluded the HEROPipe System will provide us with a new tactical advantage to mitigate large scale high-rise incidents on floors that are out of the reach of current exterior attack methods. Taking into consideration all conventional or intentional threats, I believe The HEROPipe System will provide our  responders with a vital and effective tool toward their effort to protect the lives and property of New York City."

The remote control and automatic oscillation functions are especially useful during a scenario where a building has the potential to collapse. This means that several HEROPipe systems can be set up at strategic points, and programmed to individual requirements, meaning that in some circumstances the firefighters can focus on other tasks.

Michael explains that his biggest challenge is to convince fire departments that this system really will complete the tasks at hand. “We would recommend to operate it at 80 psi, because that is where you get the ideal type of flow that is required to penetrate a fire. The HEROPipe is extremely efficient at penetrating fires. For instance, the FDNY and Chicago FD are currently using “floor below nozzles”, which they stick out of a window and shoot the water via the ceiling into the fire. These tools are designed to provide a low GPM, as they are designed for smaller fires. The HEROPipe can penetrate a fire 140 feet deep with a low 8 ft ceiling, because the best way to approach a fire in this type of incident is from the exterior where the oxygen is supplied.”

Chicago Fire Department is also currently in the process of acquiring a set of HEROPipes. The system is not just catching on in the US, it has gained interest from all over the world, including France, Canada and China, as well as from the Civil Defence Forces in Dubai and Qatar.

  • Operation Florian

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