The use of helicopters to fight high-rise fires, defined as being over seven stories, can cause more harm than good if operators are not properly trained, according to Glenn Daley of the New York Police Department. Daley was one of several speakers at the “High-Rise Aerial Firefighting and Rescue” conference held during the fifth biennial Dubai Helishow on November 6. For example, he noted, the spraying with a water impulse cannon into a building bellowing heavy smoke could, in fact, accelerate a fire that had just be smoldering, rather than extinguishing it. Fighting fires at that level is not something that should be done on an “ad hoc” basis, but rather requires significant advance training.
Speakers at the day-long session covered areas including training and procedures, special equipment needed to fight fires, the need for better cooperation between jurisdictions and requirements for the construction and design of high-rise buildings.
The conference was developed by Tangent Link, which sought to “bring together users, operators and suppliers … everybody within the chain,” according to Rear Admiral and Tangent Link Chairman, Terry Loughran, UK Royal Navy (Ret.), who hosted the meeting. The site of the conference was particularly significant being in Dubai, home of the 163-floor, 2,722-foot Burj Khalifa office building, he pointed out. But while Dubai houses the world’s tallest building, it only ranks 41st in world in total number of high-rise buildings, with 568. The record goes to Hong Kong, with over 7,000 high-risers.
“Given that fires above the seventh floor can not be tackled by ground ladders, you can see the scale of the problem,” he said. With many millions of people now living in dense areas of High Rise buildings, the issues cannot be left to chance. It is hoped that authorities would respond to the opportunities presented to minimize the very real dangers to their communities, he added.
Loughran cited two major high-rise fires—the 32-floor Windsor Building in Madrid, Spain in 2005 that took almost 24 hours to extinguish, and the 2009 fire in the 520-foot tall Hotel Mandarin Oriental in Beijing that was engulfed with 20 minutes and burned for three hours. Fortunately, he said, the Windsor Building fire started at night when there were few people inside, while the Hotel Mandarin Oriental was still in the completion process and not yet occupied. Representatives from several Dubai hotels, as well as security representatives from the Burj Khalifa, were in attendance at the conference.
One of the critical needs for effective fighting of high-rise fires is cooperation, and carefully coordination between the helicopter operators and firefighters on the ground, he explained. Without the two forces working in conjunction, there is serious danger of the helicopter operators doing the wrong thing and making the situation worse.
Effective high-rise firefighting “doesn’t happen without careful planning and training,” Loughran said. “There is also the need for increased research going into high-rise firefighting, particularly in the development of better equipment and fire suppression mediums.”
As far as preventing potential disasters, it starts with the construction of buildings, such as building stairwells around the interior edges of the building rather than down the center, so people have a better chance to get out. Also roofs need to be kept clear of obstructions such as towers or air conditioning units to prevent helicopters from landing to rescue people. There should also be teams trained to access building rooftops to clear obstacles, he said.
Moscow-based Russian Helicopters, the conglomerate established in 2007 to combine five helicopter production facilities and two design bureaus as well as assorted support organizations, sponsored the conference. Speakers included Lebedev Aleksander, chief engineer for the Ministry of Russian Federation for civil defense, emergencies and elimination of natural disasters, who presented as a case study a Moscow high-rise fire; and Dmitry Zuykov, marketing director for medium class helicopters at the marketing department for JSC Russian Helicopters, who discussed the product range of helicopters for firefighting and rescue operations.
Other speakers included Frieder Kircher, high-rise firefighting expert from the Berlin Fire Brigade, discussing the problem of older high-rise buildings, and Bruce Gullingsrud, vice president of sales for Rotorcraft Services Group, discussing the Medevac Foundation International program.
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