Missoula Fire hones high rise response as buildings go up

Posted at 4:01 PM, Jun 08, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-08 18:01:08-04

MISSOULA – With Missoula in a vertical building boom right now, Missoula firefighters are also going up, literally, as they train for a worst case scenario where the fire is a long ways up in the air. 

Until recently, a high-rise fire in Missoula would have been a rarity. But with more commercial and residential buildings becoming multi-story in the last few years, there’s an increasing chance Missoula firefighters could find themselves dealing with "vertical fire."

But it’s a scenario they’ve always been training for. With the cooperation of the University of Montana, firefighters train regularly at Aber Hall, which at 11-stories has been the highest in Missoula along with its twin, Jesse Hall. It’s critical training. 

"It is absolutely because of the way we treat a residential structure fire versus what we treat a high rise fire is completely different," said Missoula Fire/EMS Coordinator Ron Brunell.

Those differences center around two major issues. How to get water and equipment up multiple stories, and get people out safely. Ventilation is critical, and the use of ladder trucks for outside access allows fire crews to attack a blaze on multiple fronts.

"We also not only have to pump water up all the way to the top wherever the fire is, we’re going to have to bring our own lines up the stairs. So it’s not like we can just do most of our fighting the fire right from the engine. Everything we need to fight that fire has to go up to that floor."

"On those kinds of incidents we take and we designate an evac stairwell and an attack stairwell. So we can put the people down one side and run us up the other side. Yeah, we treat it just like we do any fire. Our first priority is life safety."

Brunell recommends if you live, or work, in a multi-story building, take steps now to help keep yourself and firefighters, safe. 

"Make sure your smoke detectors are good and up to date. Make sure that if you are renting that your sprinklers are good, if you do have sprinklers in the building. If not, contact your landlord on those kinds of things. Also, know where your exits are."

And if you own a big building, the Fire Prevention Specialists stand ready to help you to take safety steps ahead of time.

"Absolutely. We do a lot of pre-planning of these buildings, where we go out and look at these buildings, our Fire Prevention Bureau is fantastic with what they do. If you have any questions you can call our main number and and ask to talk to one of our fire prevention specialists."