The merits of having a permanently-installed air replenishment system in high-rise and mid-rise buildings have been well-documented. But FARS are also applicable in other complex structures where providing air to first responders presents extreme logistical challenges, including tunnel systems, large horizontal structures and even large marine craft.
Without a FARS system, fire crews handle air replenishment in complex structures by manually transporting air cylinders up numerous flights of stairs or deep into a structure or ship to the crews engaged in fire attack and search and rescue, then shuttling the empty cylinders out of the structure to a mobile air unit for refilling. It is a labor-intensive process. In a complex structure fire, as many as half of the firefighters on the scene are dedicated to this task, a misuse of highly trained professionals who could be deployed for operations like fire attack, search and rescue and evacuation.
It’s a process that can compromise the health and safety of firefighters and occupants alike. Research by the University of Waterloo, Ontario found that half of the firefighters’ low air alarms activated within 11 to 12 minutes of fighting a high-rise fire, with some activating in as little as 8 minutes. This gives firefighters very little time to enter a structure to actually fight a fire and perform search and rescue with an adequate air supply.
FARS works like a standpipe for air. It allows the fire department mobile air truck to pump a continuous supply of air into the system from ground level through an exterior mobile air connection. Many FARS applications incorporate an on-site built-in air storage system providing firefighting crews with immediate air refilling capability. Firefighters can refill their cylinders inside the structure at multiple designated built-in filling stations. In a structure, these are usually located in or adjacent to the stairwell, within the protected elevator lobby on every second or third floor. In a tunnel or large horizontal structure, the air filling stations are typically located within close proximity of the standpipe. It is a much faster, more reliable and safer operating procedure.
There are numerous examples of firefighter safety issues created by the lack of a readily available supply of air during fires in complex structures. The Meridian Plaza fire on February 23, 1991 in Philadelphia claimed the lives of three firefighters when they became disoriented and ran out of air. They were found on the 28th floor of the building close to the stairwell several floors above the fire. In 2001, a Phoenix firefighter died in a fire at Southwest Supermarket during a 5-alarm blaze after his air cylinder ran out of air and he became disoriented and unable to find his way out of the building. It was the first fatality for the Phoenix Fire Department in 20 years. The Phoenix fire department became an advocate for FARS shortly after his death.