The Stairwell Stretch – Part 1

Hello brothers and sisters! In the last article, we reviewed the apartment stretch—a user-friendly way to stretch and advance the very powerful 2½-inch attack hoseline to combat an apartment or compartmentalized fire. In this article, we will present another very user-friendly hose stretch, one that is necessary when the fire is no longer compartmentalized: the “stairwell stretch.”

The stairwell stretch is specifically designed for a fire attack that must be initiated from the safety of the stairwell, due primarily to the fact that the fire is no longer compartmentalized (within a fire apartment or other compartmentalized area).

When to Use It
The stairwell stretch, as the name implies, is specifically designed for a fire attack that must be initiated from the safety of the stairwell, due primarily to the fact that the fire is no longer compartmentalized (within a fire apartment or other compartmentalized area).

Example: an apartment fire in a residential building where the door to the fire apartment was left open, and fire has extended out into the public hallway. Perhaps this fire is now also a wind-driven fire, making matters much worse, and creating an extremely difficult firefight. Or, maybe this is one of those extremely low-frequency, high-risk situations involving a commercial occupancy, where fire exists in a large, open, un-compartmentalized area, and has control over a large portion of the fire floor.

Although the stairwell stretch is not as easy to advance as the apartment stretch, it is just as easy to stretch, and has several built-in features that make it relatively easy to advance once it’s charged with water. However, the stairwell stretch and the circumstances associated with its necessity will definitely require more personnel to safely and successfully advance the hoseline once it is charged with water, and advanced out onto a fire floor.

Safety First
As with the apartment stretch, the hoseline is also stretched dry for the stairwell stretch. The only difference is that the stairwell stretch is stretched within the stairwell and on the floor below the fire floor. As with the apartment stretch (and with everything we do), we must always remember that firefighter safety is of paramount importance.

One of the water appliances that helps us achieve safe and successful standpipe operations is the standpipe inline pressure gauge.

To safely stretch dry, we also must establish and maintain door control. However, in this situation, the door we are talking about is not the fire apartment door, but rather the stairwell door leading to the fire floor. Once again, we must have control of the door to the fire floor. It must be closed, it must remain closed during the dry stairwell stretch, and it must remain closed until the attack hoseline is fully charged and ready for fire attack. And, just like the apartment stretch, the area where the dry stretch will be completed (the stairwell and floor below) must be clear of fire, heat, smoke, etc. In other words, it must be a non-IDLH (Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health) atmosphere.

Put in simplest terms, the stairwell and floor below must be completely tenable, with a certainty that it will remain that way because the fire attack group (usually truck company personnel) has control of the closed stairwell door, one that leads directly out onto the fire floor.

Also, I must reiterate this critically important point from the previous article: One of the basic tenants of safe and effective standpipe operations is the fundamental importance of hooking up to a standpipe hosevalve outlet below the fire floor, usually on the floor directly below the fire floor. There are several critical reasons for this. Most importantly, it establishes an “umbilical cord” to safety. If firefighters must make a hasty retreat out and away from the fire area, following the hoseline will guide them out, down and away from the fire to safety.

In addition, one of the water appliances that helps us achieve safe and successful standpipe operations is the standpipe inline pressure gauge. This pressure gauge is hooked up to the hosevalve outlet on the floor below and allows us to fine tune the pressure and ensure that the attack hoseline is properly pressurized (not over-pressurized or under-pressurized). To properly utilize the standpipe inline pressure gauge, a “control” firefighter must be in a tenable location, free of smoke, in order to read the gauge and make the proper pressure adjustments (“control” the pressure).

Hooking up the attack hoseline below the fire, usually on the floor below, cannot be over emphasized. This is of critical importance!

Setting the Stage
Now, let’s say we have just arrived at a working high-rise fire in a commercial building. Just like the apartment stretch, I recommend that you send a minimum of two companies, preferably three, to be the initial fire investigation/fire attack group. On the Denver Fire Department (DFD), we send two engine companies and one truck company up to a location two floors below the reported fire floor or floor of alarm. The engine companies will stage on the floor below, while the truck company proceeds up to the fire floor (floor of alarm) to investigate and attempt to determine the precise location of the fire.

Our scenario is that the truck company has established that there’s heavy fire, smoke, heat, etc., directly behind the door from the stairwell to the fire floor. The truck company officer will communicate with the first-due engine company officer (who is staged on the floor below) and confirm the need for a stairwell stretch, recommending which stairwell they should utilize for fire attack. The engine company officer will identify and establish a fire attack stairwell based on reconnaissance information from the truck company coupled with their own size-up information.

At this point, we know where we are going, and we have established which stairwell will provide us with the safest, best, fastest and closest access to the main body of fire on the fire floor. Now we can begin the stairwell stretch.

How Much Hose?
First, the first-due engine company officer must determine the total length of the stretch and thus the appropriate number of hosepacks to utilize. (Note: A DFD engine company will bring a minimum of three 50-foot hosepacks into the building, so there will be a total of six 50-foot hosepacks between the two fire attack group engine companies. Thus, these two engine companies have the ability to stretch up to 300 feet; although that would be an unusually long standpipe stretch.) An accurate estimate is critical to having enough hose to reach and operate in the fire area, but not too much hose, which makes the overall hose management much more difficult and cumbersome.

Estimating how much hose will be needed for the stairwell stretch is much more difficult than it is for the apartment stretch, based on the fact that we can’t usually visualize the fire area, and therefore can’t get an accurate idea of just how far we will need to travel in order to hit all areas of fire involvement with our fire stream. If fire is showing upon arrival, our outside size-up might help us determine approximately how much area is involved with fire, but from several floors below, or at the street level, this is typically just a guess.

Ultimately, we may need a substantial amount of hose to reach all areas of a large fire floor. However, this can be very impractical for the initial attack hoseline, in addition to the question of whether or not we will actually be able to advance out onto the fire floor, based on fire conditions, and our ability or inability to suppress enough fire to safely advance.

Generally speaking, 50 feet of hose, or one hosepack, will be sufficient to reach from one floor level to the next (from the floor below to the fire floor), and at least 100 feet, or two hosepacks, will be necessary to advance a reasonable distance out onto the fire floor. So, generally speaking, a 150-foot stretch is a good starting point to make the hose stretch and hose management in the stairwell and floor below less cumbersome, but at the same time, allow for 100 feet of linear advancement out onto the fire floor.

A Final Word
In my next article, we’ll walk step-by-step through the stairwell stretch. In the meantime, remember these key points

  • Although not used often, a stairwell stretch is a good technique to master so that you can easily stretch 2½” hose for an attack on a non-compartmentalized fire.
  • Door control is essential when performing the stairwell stretch. The door should never be opened before the line is charged and the attack team is ready.
  • A 150-foot stretch might not be enough hose to reach all the areas of fire involvement, especially for large buildings with significant square footage per floor, but it’s a good start.
  • A backup hoseline will be of critical importance, especially to protect the advancement and egress of the first two engine companies, who will make up the initial fire attack team.
  • The backup hoseline may need to be longer than the initial attack hoseline in order to reach areas that the initial attack hoseline might not be able to hit. Extending the initial attack hoseline is also a potential option, but can only be done if the main body of fire has been controlled.

As always, let me know if you have any questions. Stay low!

Authored By: Dave McGrail

Dave McGrail is a 30-year veteran of the fire service and assistant chief with the Denver Fire Department (DFD) assigned to District #2 in the heart of Denver’s busy downtown high-rise district. As a captain, Dave served as the company commander of DFD Engine Co. 3, and then Rescue Co. 1, two of the DFD’s busiest fire companies. He instructs internationally on a wide range of fire service topics, specializing in high-rise firefighting and engine company standpipe operations. Dave holds associate’s degrees in fire science technology/fire suppression and fire prevention and bachelor’s degrees in human resource management and fire service administration.


When facing high-rise fires that aren’t compartmentalized, fire attack teams must employ a stretch that both allows them to easily transport 2½-inch hose to the fire floor, but at the same time protects them from the fire until the hose is charged. This operation is known as the stairwell stretch; in this article, Dave McGrail introduces the stairwell stretch.

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