Firefighters demonstrate strategy for battling high-rise fires

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Firefighters in Providence don’t often have to worry about battling a fire so high their ladders and hoses can’t reach, but they have to be trained and ready for when those instances occur.

Thick, black smoke filled the Providence skyline Sunday after flames broke out on top of the Textron building downtown. Despite how it looked, officials said the fire never actually entered the building due to quick work by city firefighters.

“The biggest challenge is getting manpower and resources back to the fire floor,” Providence Batallion Chief Jeffrey Varone said Monday.

textron fire Collage
Photos: Smoky fire at Textron building »

In the above video, firefighters from Engine 3 show Eyewitness News how they tackle a fire in a high-rise building.

By law, certain buildings including those taller than the reach of a fire truck have what are called “standpipes” built into the infrastructure. The system allows fire crews to carry hoses up stairs and hook them up to the water supply.

“It’s much slower,” said Varone. “There are trains of thought that say it takes about a minute per floor to get your operation going, so in a 20-story building, you’re talking an additional 20 minutes.”

Providence firefighters cut that time in half Sunday, taking about ten minutes from their arrival at the Textron building to get water to the rooftop fire, 24 stories up.

“It takes practice and time,” Varone said. Firefighters practice their high-rise strategy frequently, and the department does a full-scale drill annually in a high-rise building.

Varone said crews were aided by the fact that the Textron building was empty, leaving elevators and stairs free for firefighters.

When all was said and done, the HVAC unit on the roof was destroyed, but the rest of the Textron building was completely intact. Dave Sylvester, spokesperson for Textron, said it was business as usual at the downtown building Monday.

Five firefighters were injured while battling the flames. One went to the hospital with an eye injury, while the rest were treated for muscle and back pain.

The Fire Department is still investigating exactly what caused the HVAC unit to catch fire.

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