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Firefighters Prepare for Rescues in Region’s Tallest Buildings

Hopefully, the firefighters of Station 29 will never have to use their familiarity with new high-rise buildings across Tysons. But just in case, the crew has been spending the last few weeks exploring the unfinished interiors of Tysons’ tallest structures.

Captain David Bentley from Station 29 said it’s useful for firefighters to take a look inside the buildings before the drywall and the finishing touches are added to see how the buildings are structured and to understand the layout.

“If there’s an emergency, when it’s finished or during construction, this way it will be easier for us to get to patients,” said Bentley. “We need to know how the floors are made, what the ceiling looks like, and what’s between the drywall.”

At The Boro, for example, Bentley said they’re using aluminum studs in the walls while many smaller construction projects use wood. While wood burns when exposed to direct flame, or can smolder and fail over time, Bentley said aluminum studs fail quicker because they start to warp when exposed to intense heat. Bentley said information like that helps firefighters understand how much time they have to continue working to extinguish a fire safely or rescue people from the building.

One of the most interesting buildings Bentley said they visited was the new 31-story Capital One tower, the tallest building in the greater Washington area.

“It’s an absolutely amazing building,” said Bentley. “The sheer number of people working there, elevators, and security, it’s all absolutely amazing… Some of these bigger [buildings have fire pumps that run up to the top floor, and the size and amount of these pumps are quite large and they have to have a backup in case they fail. They have five massive diesel generators the size of cruise ship engines to keep the place running.”

One of the unique features of the new Capital One building is a fire suppression device that rolls over the escalators like a conveyer belt and seals them off, which both stops the fire from spreading to higher floors but also cuts off a route of ingress or egress for those needing to get to or away from the fire.

“I’ve never seen that before,” said Bentley. “It would definitely cut off a route, whether we need to go up or down, but it’s meant to stop vertical fire spreads. There are plenty of other exits in that building and I’m sure security has pre-plans, but that’s definitely a unique challenge.”

Bentley said the sheer verticality of these buildings presents a challenge as well. While Bentley says firefighters can respond to most emergencies in downtown Tysons in five minutes, getting the right equipment to the right floor can take twice as long. Once inside, maneuvering around the building in an emergency situation can be difficult as well, as evidenced by the dramatic rescue via construction crane last month.

“We practice a lot,” said Bentley. “We have drills once a week on high-rise operations. We assign people on different apparatus to different tasks. Paramedics will grab one length of hose to take to the fire floor. The firefighter on the right side of the engine will grab another section of hose. I’ll grab the officer’s bag, which has tools to hook into pipes. This way we can take any hose down any hallway to get to the fire.”

Bentley says the crew of Station 29 visited the Boro (8301 Greensboro Drive) and the Capital One building (1600 Capital One Blvd) and older buildings like Kaiser Permanente’s Tysons Corner Medical Facility (8008 Westpark Drive) and Rotunda Apartments (8352 Greensboro Drive).

Bentley said the firefighters also travelled to low rise buildings, like Cava and Honeygrow in Pike 7 Plaza, to familiarize crews with the new small developments he says are popping up all over.

Photos via Twitter

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