|A perimeter hydrant is connected to the engine and the hydrant wrenches are in the ready position for a quick water supply.|
|An engine is pre-staged along the docks by Husky Stadium, and a 250-foot, 4-inch supply line is laid to the main entrance of the boat docks.|
Whether it’s a small town street fair, a parade or a football game, every community has major events that attract large crowds and gridlocked traffic. This can complicate response routes for emergency apparatus and challenge fire departments in providing quick and efficient fire and EMS services.
Husky Stadium is an outdoor athletic stadium on the University of Washington (UW) campus in Seattle, the home of the Washington Huskies of the Pacific Ten Conference. The university hosts football and track and field competitions as well as the annual commencement ceremonies at Husky Stadium, which was constructed in 1920 and overhauled in 1987. The open end of the U-shaped design overlooks scenic Lake Washington and the majestic Cascade Mountains. With a seating capacity of 72,500, it is the largest stadium in the Pacific Northwest.
Husky Stadium is unusual in that fans can motor to football games by boat. There can be upward of 12,000 people out on Lake Washington next to the stadium on game day. Boats of every size, including large tour ships filled to capacity with football fans, moor up to numerous wooden docks. Once those spaces are full, boats tie up alongside each other, creating floating booms of expensive yachts. This creates a significant life hazard and puts millions and millions of dollars of floating property at risk because there is no fire protection on the docks.
Tailgate parties are a tradition for thousands of fans in the parking lot, and fantail parties are just as much a tradition for Husky fans who arrive by boat. But when you mix large fiberglass boats with large capacity fuel tanks, propane-fueled barbeque units, gallons of beer and alcohol, and a few knuckleheads, it can be a recipe for disaster. Unless you have the ability to rapidly deploy fire extinguishers or hand lines, you’ll not only lose the boat on fire, but you’re likely to lose the boats tied off to port and starboard.
Fortunately, the Seattle Fire Department and UW officials recognized this fire and life hazard early and have jointly provided pre-staged fire equipment and personnel along the docks on game days for 40 years. While that equipment has been used for boat and marina fires at other times and in other locations, luckily it has never been needed at UW on a game day. Nevertheless, over the years logistics and strategic planning evolved to keep up with the increased floating fire loads and the growing popularity of the fantail tradition.
Thanks to the organizational efforts and supervision of Deputy Chief Robert Lomax, the SFD now provides UW with Engine 1, a 50-foot fast attack fireboat, staffed with four firefighters to protect the massive Husky armada on Lake Washington. The fireboat can pump water and foam at 5,500 gpm. On the deck, foam hand lines and eductors are at the ready. The fireboat can also establish a large water supply for shore-side fire units. Any water rescues would be handled by Engine 1.
A fully equipped, reserve 1,500-gpm engine is placed in service and staged along the shore with another crew of four firefighters. SFD paramedics provide emergency treatment for EMS incidents exclusively within the stadium during football games. Fire and EMS activities inside and outside of the stadium are coordinated by an SFD lieutenant with the radio designator, Husky 44.
With any event, good communication is essential. Four agency radios are monitored, UW Police, Seattle Police Harbor Patrol, SFD, and U.S. Coast Guard Channel 16. Agency radios are distributed and exchanged with crew supervisors as well as cell phone numbers of key contact people. Husky 44 is stationed in the stadium control tower with UW security, and all activities are coordinated with UW security.
If there is a fire on the docks, the engine crew will notify Husky 44, who in turn contacts the SFD Fire Alarm Center to dispatch additional units. UW security should be ready to escort responding units to the location of the incident.
Protection For The Docks
Three hours before kick off, the shore-side fire crew consisting of one fire engine, an officer, a driver and two firefighters arrive and set up fire protection for the docks. The engine is positioned on a small service road close to the docks. The nearest hydrants are on the perimeter of the stadium and a 50-foot section of large diameter suction hose is connected from the nearest hydrant directly into the engine, but is left uncharged. The wrenches are left in place on the fire hydrant for a quick supply.
Then 250 feet of 4-inch supply hose is laid to the main entrance to the docks. From there, a series of gated wyes connected by four 100-foot sections of 2 ½-inch hose are laid out along the main dock and finger piers, creating a horizontal standpipe 650 feet long. A 2 ½-inch gated wye is the last appliance in the lay. The hose is left disconnected at the intersection of the docks to prevent a tripping hazard for fans. Additional rolls of 2 ½-inch hose are stacked off to the side in case more lengths are needed. The entire hose lay is left dry.
One could argue that for true readiness, the entire system should be charged, but the docks are narrow. Charging the hose lines would cause them to snake and curve throughout the docks, posing a tripping hazard. Having the hose uncharged allows us to keep it lying flat against the edge of the dock. Fans hardly even notice it’s there.
The equipment cache is set up off to the side of the main entrance to the docks. It includes two bundles of 1 ¾-inch attack lines with nozzles. Each bundle has 200 feet of hose. There are two SCBA units, spare bottles, a small stock of 5-gallon cans of AFFF foam, a foam eductor and a foam applicator nozzle. A rope and a pike pole can be used for pushing or pulling vessels away from a burning boat. A roof ladder and a baby ladder can be used to assist victims or firefighters who may be in the water. There are five life vests, a life ring and a throw bag with rope for water rescues. Several fire extinguishers are spaced evenly throughout the dock system.
As the fans arrive and the boats start tying up, the fantail parties begin. Crew members take turns patrolling the docks making sure hose lays and the tri-gates are kept in position and fire extinguishers aren’t kicked over. The fans are friendly and appreciative that you’re watching out for their safety. Once the game starts, everyone moves into the stadium and the activity on the docks decreases.
After the game, fans make their way back to the boats, and everyone is pretty intent on getting underway. Within an hour, the majority of the boats and yachts are gone. All the equipment is picked up and stored until the next game day.
Whether you’re the fire chief in a small town or a large metropolitan city, virtually every major event requires some sort of permit outlining conditions and requirements for public safety. The costs for providing extra apparatus and personnel can be worked out with the promoters of the event. Our mission is to pre-stage equipment and personnel for fire prevention, fire suppression, emergency medical services and public relations.
Editor’s Note: Raul A. Angulo, a veteran of the Seattle Fire Department and captain of Ladder Company 6, has more than 30 years in the fire service. He is on the Board of Directors for the Fellowship of Christian Firefighters. He lectures on fire service leadership, company officer development and fireground strategy and accountability throughout the U.S., Canada and Mexico.