Firefighter’s Hero Pipe Puts Punch In High-Rise Offense

Michael Wielgat, right, demonstrates his Hero Pipe at the Fire Department Instructors Conference.
Michael Wielgat, right, demonstrates his Hero Pipe at the Fire Department Instructors Conference.

Fighting high-rise fires can be especially frustrating for firefighters unable to mount a direct attack on a fire that’s above the 12th floor. But thanks to the ingenuity of a Chicago Fire Department lieutenant, that job might be a lot easier.

The Hero Pipe (High-rise Emergency Response Offensive Pipe) is the brainchild of Michael Wielgat of Chicago, who designed it to be deployed on the floor below a fire to reach flames that aerial master streams can’t.

“The temperature in most high-rise fires can reach 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, making hallways adjacent to these fires dangerous and inaccessible,” Wielgat said. “Firefighters had no way of safely accessing fires in the upper floors of tall buildings until the Hero Pipe.”

Two Major Fires

Wielgat is a 20-year CFD veteran assigned to a ladder company, but on temporary assignment to Fire Investigation. He began working on the Hero Pipe design after two major high-rise fires in Chicago. It took 4 1/2 years and three prototypes before he developed the current version.

“In 2003 we had the Cook County Building fire with six civilian fatalities,” Wielgat recalled. “The fire was on the 12th floor and we couldn’t get at it from the interior. The heat and fire were so intense, we couldn’t get out of the stairwell.”

He said CFD attacked the fire from the exterior and was able to get enough water through the 12th floor windows to knock it down and allow firefighters to complete an interior attack.

Less than a year later, CFD had the LaSalle Bank fire on the 26th floor, out of reach of ladder company master streams. After an unsuccessful interior attack – turned back because of high heat and flames – firefighters set up master streams on adjacent rooftops, he said, and put enough water through the 26th floor windows to cool the fire so an interior attack could be made. There were no fatalities in that fire.

The Hero Pipe uses a dynamic pipe, stabilization and rigging design that allows firefighters to safely attack fires from the floor below, Wielgat explained. It’s made of anodized aluminum, so it’s light in weight, yet durable.

Once in position, he said two firefighters can set up the Hero Pipe in less than two minutes.

How It Works

Here’s how it works.

After the proper attack point has been determined on the floor below the fire, firefighters secure the aluminum manifold to a window sill and engage a pair of Bessey rapid action lever clamps that each operate at more than 1,400 pounds of pressure. If a sill isn’t available, firefighters can rest the manifold directly on the floor at an outside wall. Once leveled, the manifold is secured between the floor and the ceiling with a hydraulic system that develops 350-pounds end pressure.

The 8-foot telescoping waterway is then extended (up to 14 feet), positioned and locked into place. The waterway’s main pipe is 3 1/2-inches internal diameter (ID), while the extension pipe is 3-inch ID. The intake and discharge pipes are 2 1/2-inch ID. The base of the system has a pressure gauge, flow regulator and a valve to control water flow.

To make it firefighter-portable, the Hero Pipe comes in two carrying bags – one for the 62-pound manifold and the other for the 45-pound waterway and extension.

“The Hero Pipe can safely handle almost 200 psi, double the recommended pressure of typical master streams at 80 psi,” Wielgat said. “It also can handle a fog nozzle as well as a straight tip.”

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