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High-Rise Buildings – Understanding the Vertical Challenges

By Jerry Tracy and Jack J. Murphy with James J. Murtagh

High-rise fire safety experts Jerry Tracy and Jack J. Murphy, with James J. Murtagh, will soon release their new book addressing the numerous challenges of fighting fires in high-rise buildings. The book includes a valuable, in-depth look at air management in these structures.  Here are some key sections from four relevant chapters.

Chapter 6 / Other Building Systems

Firefighter Air Replenishment Systems (FARS)

Air replenishment of depleted SCBA cylinders for many Departments is with additional bottles delivered or carried into the building by arriving fire units. It may be customary that the fire units arriving above the first alarm assignment will have each firefighter carry one extra cylinder which would be deposited to a cache area chosen by the IC.

The location that would require the greatest number of SCBA bottles for exchange and rotation of members would be close to fire operations Branch. Those fire teams that are deployed to the Fire Branch/Sector would carry one extra bottle per firefighter ascending up into the building and deposit them at the ‘Target’ floor, two floors below the fire floor (See Fig.6-55).  Ultimately this will be designated the Forward Staging Branch/Sector (FwS)* that will become the cache for cylinders, tools, equipment in addition to fresh fire teams ready to deploy.  (*Refer to Section Forward Staging Sector (FwS)

Fig.6-55 Lieutenant Tracy of Ladder Company 4 arriving with Extra SCBA Bottles. Source: Keven Kroth, FDNY Rescue-1. 

A policy that requires members to carry extra equipment and weight above their normal complement of tools is placing great physical stress on these firefighters. The labor and effort required is cumbersome, time consuming and firefighters will become fatigued before any assignment of operations. Some Departments have incorporated into their SOP’s/SOG’s a system where an IC has the option to assist fire teams (bottle-brigades) whose primary duty will be to transport tools, equipment and cylinders needed for operations. These firefighters will be allowed to discard their full PPE (dress down) to their work duty station wear and shoes, in place of heavy work boots. This dress down is to reduce the fatigue effects and raising the body core temperatures while hauling this equipment up stairwells.

The concept is to position a firefighter at alternative levels to transport equipment up to another firefighter on an upper level and so on. This example can be utilized to transport equipment for teams being deployed to Forward Staging (FwS) in the effort to reduce the fatigue factor on these members before they are assigned the arduous work of fire suppression. What prohibits this model is the resources available for assignment to these distinctive non-firefighting tasks.

Fig.6-56 An SCBA bottle re-filling method at a remote (Dept. Mask Service Facility) and transporting to a high-rise building fire is both labor intensive, time consuming and not a sufficient on-scene air supply system. Once at the incident when elevators are inoperable a stairwell ‘bottle-brigade’ unit will have to carry, the supplemental cylinders up to the Staging (FwS) floor.  Source: James Murtagh 

An air management solution would be to have a means of replenishing depleted SCBA equipment on-site. New technology has brought about the Firefighter Air Replenishment System (FARS) installed in a building. It is a piping system that is installed within a building generally in a stairwell behind/adjacent to the standpipe riser or concealed within the wall.  It can be considered a standpipe ‘air’ supply system (See Fig.6.57). It provides the fire service with a dedicated, reliable and constant supply of air to replenish their depleted cylinders. The building may have a secured on-site air storage system that can be augmented by a filtered air compressor system or supplied from an exterior Air Connection Panel by a Department’s Mobile Air Support Unit (See Fig.6-58).

Fig.6-57 Firefighter Air Replenishment System Schematic. Source: Rescue Air Systems

Fig.6-58 A building exterior mobile air connection will provide a high-rise building with a continued air replenishment from a mobile air support unit (MCU).  Many high-rise buildings have multiple FDC connections for a large footprint building the local AHJ should consider two FARS air connections where possible on different sides of the structure or a remote location on the property lot.  Source: Courtesy of Rescue Air Systems.  

This tall building air replenishment method eliminates the need to haul and transport cylinders up many floors or have stored SCBA cylinders in a cache room prior to fire and emergency operations. Fire departments other than those of large metro cities do not have the staffing to fully support the duties involved producing the provisions of extra SCBA bottles. If high-rise buildings were equipped with an air replenishment system to refill SCBA equipment, it would reduce the physical demands made upon the firefighters. It would maximize a Department’s resource efforts to fulfill their duty to save lives and extinguish fire.

Fig.6-59A One method of refilling SCBA cylinders is a Rupture Containment Fill Station located in a secured (FD Access Only) corridor room near a pre-designed stairwell.  This station also features an SCBA bottle quick connect if a firefighter is low on air. Source: Rescue Air Systems. Fig.6-59B Another method of refilling an air cylinder is while firefighters are wearing their SCBA bottle by connecting to FARS panels that can be located within in a stairwell. The local AHJ can pre-determine the floor levels for these air re-fill panels.

SCBA air replenishment systems exist but have been slow to be adopted in codes in most jurisdictions for the fact that building owners, developers and the public do not fully understand how these systems complement the mission and reduce the burden on the fire service in the preservation to life and property. It should be noted that in the International Fire Code (2015 Edition) the fire service supported Appendix-L Requirements for Firefighter Air Replenishment Systems to be ratified as an Addendum. Those outside the fire service cannot comprehend the time and effort to physically transport extra SCBA equipment is time critical to fire suppression and life safety.

As air supply is depleted (10 minutes on average) and teams are relieved to be rotated back to fire operations they have the ability to refill their SCBA cylinders inside a building at designated fill stations in under 2 minutes. (See Fig.6-59A). They may also refill cylinders while wearing the ensemble before their cylinder is fully depleted (See Fig.6-59B). This feature will be a vital resource for those teams of members who will be assigned the duties of Evacuation Search and Rescue above the Fire Branch/Sector where an IDLH may exist. These firefighters can refill their cylinders to increase their work time or time to exit if an uncontaminated atmosphere were distant.

NOTE: A high-rise building air replenishment system can be a Rupture Containment Fill Station that should be placed in a secured (FD Access Only) corridor room near a pre-designed stairwell, (e.g. Stair-A). This refill station room should be located no less than 5 feet and no more than 10 feet from the stairwell.  This refill station also features an SCBA bottle quick connect if a firefighter is low on air. A Rapid Fill Panel which provides a direct refilling capability maybe a wall mounted secured panel housed within a stairwell. Several fire departments have installed an air replenishment system in their academy training towers. The local AHJ should be aware when locating a Rupture Containment Fill Station that a small floor area bordering a stairwell is considered a ‘dead-space’ to architects that is not easily rentable.

The loss of one life is priceless but the savings to property loss can pay for these systems ten times over. In the meantime, our firefighters are operating in these dangerous and difficult arenas and doing the best they can with the resources at hand. Still to this day, they will be subject to the air supply limitations in the performance of their duties with the additional exigency of circumstances to locate firefighters who may become lost, disoriented and running low on air in thick toxic smoke. With a changing global trend to build super and mega tall buildings posing a greater logistical challenge, the need for a continual supply of breathing air is essential for firefighter safety.

NOTE: NFPA Research Foundation – An Analysis of Firefighter Breathing Air Replenishment Systems Report

By: Simin Gu, MS and Prabodh Panindre, PhD, April 2021

Chapter 8 / Command, Management, and Administration of High-Rise Fires and Emergencies

Forward Staging Sector (FwS)

Significant fires are those that necessitate the escalation to a higher alarm and call for the personnel resources that will be required to support and maintain ongoing operations. Already established Domains that will require additional resources (tools/equipment/SCBA) and personnel are the ‘Fire Sector’, ‘Evacuation, Search and Rescue’ Group and possibly other Groups established for a specific purpose (e.g. Rescue/Confined Space/Haz-Mat/Other). These resources need to be at a location in close proximity of these Domains. The travel distance needs to be minimal for Teams/Fire Units deployed for firefighter relief and rotation that need a rest period or Rehab. A FwS location best suited most often three floors below the fire or two floors below the ‘Fire Sector’. This is when the smoke migration is not subject to a ‘Negative Stack’ action. Although it is the policy of some Departments/Brigades that the investigative unit arriving at the target floor, two floors below the fire/alarm floor, would advise the IC if this floor were suitable for Staging. It would be the IC or Logistics Officer responsibility if established to supply and/or maintain the tools and equipment resources to be delivered and Fire Units directed to ‘Forward Staging’.

The one equipment resource in great demand will be (full) SCBA cylinders to replenish those spent from use. These replacement cylinders may be delivered to the scene by a fire unit that specializes in SCBA replenishment with firefighters assigned that have the ability (carts/hand trucks) to transport multiple cylinders to the FwS location. In addition to that there are Departments/Brigades that have a policy that each firefighter arriving beyond the initial first alarm units will bring with them an extra SCBA cylinder. This extra bottle will either be amassed in a location upon entering the building or brought up to FwS. Departments/Brigades that have Firefighters Air Replenishment System (FARS) installed in the building has the advantage to be relieved of the enormous challenge and responsibility of time and personnel to physically endure the labor of transporting what could be hundreds of SCBA cylinders. Most Departments/Brigades do not have the personnel resources to accomplish this restoration and resource. This should be a priority for the AHJ to require local codes be changed to require a FARS system installation especially with Departments/Brigades lack sufficient staffing. The Chief Officer assuming the supervisory function of organizing and managing this Sector will be challenged to assemble Teams and their equipment in a space where they can easily deploy up to the FS and either relieve those firefighters standing by as ‘Attack Staging’ or proceed directly to the fire floor to be rotated into the action of operations.

The FwS Supervisor would be monitoring the FS tactical operations channel to determine what progress is being accomplished or not. These circumstances will determine the mode of dress for the fire units being staged at the FwS can assume, whether to be standing ‘At the Ready’ or to dress down by removing their SCBA gear, opening or taking off their PPE bunker jackets. This is to lessen fatigue and body core temperatures. As suggested earlier in this Chapter this Supervisor should have a firefighter assigned as an assistant or ‘Aide’ that would also monitoring the tactical channel or Command channel if and when established. This ‘Aide’ would also perform the administrative function of recording units entering the FwS and those deployed and times noted in Appendix-8.7.5 Forward Staging Log. This ‘Aide’ may have the ability to survey the floor for any available resources that could be used for comfort and hydration replenishment, a water source and drinking cups, etc. as well as restroom facilities. Lacking these resources, the IC and/or Logistics Officer should be notified of the need to provide drinking water to the FwS and made available to the entire Sector and the Triage and Rehab Sub-Groups. The fire service has evolved with its commitment to the health and safety of their firefighter ship. The need for the hydration, chairs, misting fans, etc. resources would have been considered in the Response Matrix as alarms escalate to maintain health and wellbeing by providing all the supplies and replenishment resource needs. An area or space needs to be established for SCBA bottles replacement. This cylinder cache needs to separate those bottles that are full and empty. The firefighters delivering full cylinders would collect those empty to be transported back for refilling.

Fig.8-8 Forward Staging Sector (FwS), with Triage and Rehab Groups. Source: Jerry Tracy

This FwS Sector should be further apportioned with Sub-Groups for Medical Triage and firefighter Rehab, (See Fig.8-8). The Triage Group would be organized, equipped, and have adequate space to examine, attend to, including administering oxygen to building occupants and firefighters with the establishment of the EMS ‘Triage Group’. The floor below the Staging floor is suggested so that it may offer some privacy to those being attended to and not create anxiety to those awaiting deployment into action. The second sub-group to be established would be the firefighter ‘Rehab Group’ for Teams and fire units having been relieved from fire operations. This space should be located one floor below ‘Triage’. Firefighters would proceed to this space/floor to rest, rehydrate, and stabilize their physical wellbeing. Those firefighters who have been given an adequate rest, replenishment and stabilization could be reassigned back to FwS if needed and firefighters in need of medical attention would be brought and registered into the ‘Triage Group’. This group would be supervised by an EMS Chief Officer as the ‘Medical Branch’ established at the Command Post and staffed by EMS Officers as Triage and Treatment Leaders.

They will be supervising BLS and ALS teams performing Triage of firefighters and civilians, to then be treated or transported as priorities dictate. Staff permitting it is suggested that an ALS Team be designated a ‘Rapid Treatment Team’ RTT that can deploy to a location where a member who has been rescued/removed by a RIT and is in need of Medical attention or treatment before transport to the Triage Group or Hospital. The location of this Team to best serve the needs of the firefighters engaged in battle may be with the Attack Staging Units and RIT under the supervision of the FSS. The Triage Group Supervisor may suggest a different location if it were best suited for the transport of patients with the availability of elevators in a bank not subject to failure or smoke. The Medical (General Staff) Chief would coordinate the allocation of resources needed at ‘Triage’ and the transport of patients to hospitals as priorities warrant, (See Fig.8-9).

Fig.8-9 Hierarchy of Command, EMS Medical Branch, Triage Group and Rapid Treatment Team. Source: Jerry Tracy

Chapter 9 / Firefighter Fire Unit Response

Firefighter Air Replenishment Systems

Replenishment of depleted SCBA/Air Cylinders for many Departments has been that each firefighter entering the high-rise building initially is required to carry one extra cylinder and leave it at a cache location chosen by the IC. The obvious choice would be that firefighters as they are deployed up into the building to perform operations in the Fire Branch/Sector would ascend to a target floor. This floor (two floors below the fire floor) could be the extra cylinders cache location as well as for extra tools, equipment and fresh fire teams established as the Forward Staging Branch/Sector. Otherwise, the SCBAs can be left in the lobby initially and then transported by other fire teams to Forward Staging when established.  The physical transportation of cylinders is cumbersome, time consuming and firefighters will become fatigued having to transport them in the initial stages of operations. Some Departments have incorporated into their SOP’s/SOG’s a system where an IC has the option to assign fire teams/fire units whose primary duty will be to transport tools, equipment and cylinders needed for operations. (See Section-

An air management solution would be to have a means of replenishing depleted SCBA equipment on site.  A Firefighter Air Replenishment System (FARS) is a piped system installed within a building often in or near a stairwell. It is considered an ‘air’ supply system like a water supply in a standpipe system. It provides the fire service with a dedicated safe, reliable, and constant supply of air to replenish their depleted cylinders. This eliminates the need for dedicated personnel who will be a Bottle-Brigade or Rapid Assent Team (RAT) to haul and transport cylinders up into high-rise building or have a stored cache prior to fire and emergency operations. Departments other than those of large cities do not have the resources of personnel to fully support the duties involved producing the provisions of extra SCBA bottles. If buildings were equipped with an air support and replenishment system to refill SCBA equipment, it would reduce the burden of logistics and physical demands made upon our personnel. It would maximize the personnel efforts at hand to fulfill other duties to save lives and fire extinguishment. These in-building air replenishment systems are currently existing in many districts throughout the U.S.A. but have been slow to be adopted in most jurisdictions. Firefighters will have the ability to refill their SCBA cylinders inside a building at designated fill stations in under 2 minutes. They may also refill cylinders while wearing the ensemble before their cylinder is fully depleted. This feature will be a tremendous resource for those fire teams who will be assigned the duties of Evacuation Search and Rescue above the Fire Branch/Sector where an IDLH may exist. These firefighters can refill their cylinders to increase their work time or time to exit if an uncontaminated atmosphere were distant.

The loss of one life is priceless but the savings to property loss can pay for these air supply systems ten times over. In the meantime, our firefighters are operating in these dangerous and difficult arenas and doing the best they can with the resources at hand. Still to this day, they will be subject to the limitations of air supply in the performance of their duties with the additional exigency of circumstances to locate firefighters who may become lost, disoriented, and running out of air in thick toxic smoke. (Refer to Chapter-6, Other Building Systems, Section-6.3.5, FARS System and Chapter-12 Looking Ahead to New Designs and Techniques, Section-12.5.3 An Air Management System for 987 Feet and Above)

Chapter 12 / New Technologies – Cities 2.0

An Air Management System for 984 Feet and Above 

As we continue to reach new building heights with Super (984 ft.>/300m>) and Mega (1969 ft.> /600m>) structures, the new fire service challenge is air management in these super tall buildings. The fire service task at hand today, before any lessons-learned is how do we execute a continual air supply system that supports the Fire Sector operations for suppression, evacuation, search and rescue efforts. This frees up numerous personnel to manually transport SCBA bottles up to the Operations Floor. The expectations are not if, but when the elevators fail, ‘Expect the Unexpected.’  Considerations must also be given to the super tall ‘Pencil’ buildings with a narrow footprint.  Presently a Firefighter Air Replenishment System (FARS) has been installed in a 70-story building above grade with an addition 7-stories below for a total of 77-stories.  With these changing super and mega tall building environments, the need for a continual supply of breathing air is essential for firefighter safety (For more information refer to Chapter-8, Section Forward Staging Sector (FwS) and Chapter-9, Section 9.10.2 FARS).


Gerald (Jerry) Tracy served more than 30 years with the Fire Department of the City of New York (FDNY), retiring as a Battalion Commander. His assignments began as a firefighter in Engine-90 in the Bronx and Ladder-108 in Williamsburg Brooklyn. As a Lieutenant he was assigned to Ladder-4 in midtown Manhattan and Captain of Tower Ladder-35 on the Upper West Side. He formed and became the first Captain of Squad-18 a special operations unit and only squad company located in Manhattan. Squad-18 would respond to every fire and major emergency in their response area of Manhattan. He developed numerous training programs as well as refining and improving firefighting policy and procedures for the FDNY. He authored numerous articles for Fire Engineering and Fire House magazines as well as the FDNY/WNYF training publication. Chief Tracy was the catalyst for live fire research conducted by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and NYU Polytechnic Institute to better understand fire (behavior) dynamics in high-rise buildings. Chief Tracy was a keynote speaker at the Fire Departments Instructors Conference (FDIC) in 2007, hosted by Fire Engineering Magazine, and recipient of the prestigious Tom Brennan Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016.

Jack J. Murphy, MA, is the Chairman of the Fire/Life Safety Directors Association of Greater New York and an Adjunct Professor at John Jay College/Fire Science Institute (NYC). He is a fire marshal (ret.) and former deputy chief, Leonia (NJ) Fire Department and served as a Bergen County Deputy Fire Coordinator.  He serves on the NFPA High-Rise Building Safety Advisory, 1620 Pre-Incident Planning and Fire/Life Safety Director committees and represented the International Association of Fire Chiefs on the ICC Northeast Fire Code Action Committee. He has authored many fire service articles and a field handbook on rapid incident command system and co-authored “Bridging the Gap: Fire Safety and Green Buildings” and the Pre-Incident Planning chapter of Fire Engineering’s “Handbook for Firefighter I and II.”  In 1997, he was appointed a FDNY Honorary Battalion Chief. Jack also serves as a Clarion Fire and Rescue Group/FDIC advisory board member and is a contributing editor with Fire Engineering Magazine.  In 2012, he received the Fire Engineering Tom Brennan Lifetime Achievement Award. He holds a Master of Arts Degree/Industry Technology; Bachelor of Arts/Industry Technology; Bachelor of Science/Fire Science; Associate in Arts/Liberal Arts; and Certification in Security Management.

James J. Murtagh is an FDNY Deputy Chief (Ret.), assistant chief, fire department of the City of New York, Commander Borough of Bronx, Commander Bureau of Training, and 15th Division in Brooklyn. He served as department project manager for computerization of fire apparatus; fire stations; and personnel records. He also served as the deputy chief in the Bronx 7th Division, 8th battalion chief in Midtown Manhattan, commander Engine-48, Bronx, lieutenant Ladder-4 and 35 Midtown Manhattan.  He is a graduate Professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Fire Protection Management, adjunct undergraduate professor, John Jay College and Western Oregon University. He is a course developer for the National Fire Academy – command and control of fire operations; incident command for high-rise operations; and incident command for collapse operations. He is also a New York State Fire Academy developer and instructor for high-rise Operations. He is the author of “How to Prepare for Firefighter Examinations,” Barron’s Education Series.  He holds a master’s degree in Public Administration, a Bachelor of Science in Fire Science, and associate degree in Science: Fire Science.


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