Fire Fighting in Canada

Features Structural Training
High-rise training

The firefighters climbed the stairs to the 19th floor, hooked up to a standpipe, deployed an attack line, advanced onto the 20th floor and flowed water. It had all the elements of a routine high-rise fire attack – except there was no fire and no walls or windows, just bare concrete with railings.

August 10, 2010  By James Bond and John Lehmann

The firefighters climbed the stairs to the 19th floor, hooked up to a standpipe, deployed an attack line, advanced onto the 20th floor and flowed water. It had all the elements of a routine high-rise fire attack – except there was no fire and no walls or windows, just bare concrete with railings.

Fire captain provides initial instructions to residents using the building’s public address system and a prepared script.
Photo courtesy Surrey Fire Service


The firefighters from Surrey, B.C., were engaging in some unusual high-rise training, thanks to a unique partnership between Surrey Fire Service, ITC Construction Group, Pacific Rim Fire Protection and the Century Group. The training offered the firefighters important hands-on experience in the systems approach to safety in high-rise buildings that Surrey Fire Service initiated in 2008. However, some extra effort was required to provide this invaluable training.

A consultant’s report on Surrey’s high-rise capabilities led to the department’s decision to overhaul its high-rise firefighting procedures and move to a systems approach to safety in high-rise buildings. This approach requires a greater degree of co-operation between building occupants and fire departments.


The Fire Prevention Division works with building owners to educate residents, and the Fire Operations/Training Division works with fire suppression personnel to ensure that building practices and fire department procedures are compatible. The key issues are to educate high-rise occupants regarding a modified defend-in-place strategy, and to train suppression crews to effectively use a building’s fire protection systems in conjunction with the defend-in-place policy.

In Surrey, a Fire Prevention Division inspector visited each building to meet with its managers and occupants and explain the defend-in-place policy. The policy was well received by building occupants who attended the public education sessions.

Training sessions were conducted for all career suppression crews, in three parts:

  • Part 1 covered the roles of the initial eight arriving members;
  • Part 2 required the deployment and use of high-rise hose bundles in a high-rise stairwell, through hands-on training;
  • Part 3 examined high-rise strategies and tactics and incident management.

The first sessions, held in two residential high-rises, explained and demonstrated the roles of the initial eight firefighters to arrive: incident commander; lobby control member; elevator operator; and a four-member recon/attack team. The final member would be the pump operator, supplying the fire department connection (FDC) that is covered in the second training session.

In the first session, fire crews received instruction on apparatus placement, fire alarm control panel operations, PA system operation and firefighter elevator operations. With co-operation from the buildings’ strata councils, the crews practised using the PA system to make announcements, as dictated by the defend-in-place policy, and conducted elevator safety checks while the elevators were in firefighter mode.

Water flows from hose on the unfinished floor of the high-rise.
Photos courtesy Surrey Fire Service


The crews also rode in the elevator wearing full personal protective equipment (including SCBA) and carrying all the required high-rise equipment. At one point when the elevator was full, the crews were asked to put on their SCBA masks and go on air, to demonstrate the need to consider a possible emergency in the elevator rather than load it to capacity. The final lesson was a static demonstration of proper hose deployment in a high-rise stairwell.

The second session was intended to be hands-on training, where the crews would connect to the FDC, flow water into a standpipe, hook up to a standpipe valve, charge the hose line and advance it, finally flowing water. Flowing water was important because it demonstrated the need to have a standpipe valve operator to monitor system pressures, assist with hose advancement, control the stairwell and maintain the entry door as a viable means of egress.

The challenge was finding a high-rise location where training with flowing water could occur. Surrey’s high-rise committee solved this dilemma by finding a 21-storey residential high-rise that was under construction and met all the criteria – the building’s concrete was poured but it didn’t have any windows in yet, and it was located next to two wooded empty lots owned by the City of Surrey, so there was a suitable area where hose streams could be directed.

After a series of meetings, an agreement was reached between the construction company, the fire sprinkler company and the building owners to allow Surrey firefighters to access the building to attach supply lines to the fire department connection, carry their equipment to the 19th floor and attach lines in the stairwells before flowing water off the side of the building.

The biggest concern for the associated companies was the potential for a water leak. While there were no windows on the 21st floor, insulation and drywall were already being installed six floors below. A proactive risk-management plan was put in place: two portable water vacuums as well as mops and buckets were staged on the 21st floor whenever water was being used. The plan was going well when there was an unexpected water leak from a valve that became clogged with debris and failed to close fully.

Fabricated standpipe system allows for standpipe drills and monitoring of water pressure.
Photos courtesy Surrey Fire Service


During the training, the crews pumped into the FDC at the required pressure and then attached attack lines to the standpipe valves in the stairwells. They then advanced the lines onto the floor to the safety railings and flowed water into the wooded lots. The session gave the members the opportunity to experience the effects of different reduced water pressures and to experiment with different nozzles (e.g., fog versus solid-bore). They also were able to feel how much more wind is present at higher elevations, and to see the effect it could have on a wind-driven fire.

During another part of the session, a standpipe training prop was created to allow crews to simulate connecting to an FDC and then advancing their lines from the standpipe valves. Crews are able to experiment and compare different flow rates from both a pressure-restricting and pressure-reducing valve. The prop is portable and easily shipped to other fire halls for training.

The suppression crew members clearly benefited from these training sessions, which offered hands-on experience in a high-rise environment. However, the training division also learned some valuable lessons.

Two key points to be considered when training off site are:

  • Respect other people’s property and rules. We are used to being in control of a fire ground: we make the decisions, move people and equipment to suit our needs, and rarely get any argument. On someone else’s turf, we need to fully understand and play by their rules.
  • Have a risk management plan in place. Give it some serious thought and incorporate a plan that will actually work if needed. It may just save your training and your reputation.

The single biggest lesson to be learned from Surrey’s experience is not to be afraid to explore new training opportunities. Don’t rule out a training session because no one has done it before, or because it will be hard work to set it up. The better and more realistic the training is, the better trained the firefighters will be, resulting in less injury and death to firefighters and civilians, as well as less property damage. A better-trained fire department results in a safer community for residents, workers and visitors.

In Surrey’s case, the willingness to take that extra step to create quality training opportunities will increase the safety of its firefighters as well as thousands of occupants of high-rise buildings.

The Surrey Fire Service and the University of the Fraser Valley are sponsoring the seminar Managing High-rises: A Systems Approach for the Fire Service, on Sept. 15, 2010 (8:30-4:30) at the Justice Institute of B.C. Theatre. Additional registration information may be found at

James Bond is the deputy chief in Surrey, B.C. John Lehmann is the training officer.

Print this page


Stories continue below