In Honor of Captain Ralph Stott “Beware of Parapet Walls”

Fifteen years ago today marks the date that Terre Haute (In) Captain Ralph Stott lost his life in a commercial building fire.  

Before we go into reviewing Parapet Walls. I would like to share a special first hand account of the horrific event that night by my good friend and survivor Captain  Russell Feuquay. The following are Captain Feuquary words.

September 30th 2002 Incident

Back then, I was a roaming Lieutenant with about 10 years on the job. We staffed around 42 per shift, running 8 stations of 7 Engines, 1 Truck, 3 Medic units, Tanker, and a SCBA Unit. My assignment for the shift was riding the Captain seat on Engine 3. Our shift had started at 0700 hrs on the 29th and would end at 0700 hrs on the 30th. It was a normal run load for this company throughout the day, nothing remarkable until just past 0200 hrs that next morning. It would change our lives forever.

We were toned out to a garage fire on the north-east side of town, which gets a structural response of 3 Engines, 1 Truck, 1 Medic Unit, Air Unit, and Battalion. Enroute there, I was thinking that we would be called off if it was an actual residential garage since we were 3rd due. Engine 7 on scene reported flames visible from the rear. Engine 11 was next in and couldn’t find a water supply but, I radioed that we would locate a hydrant and bring it in. E-11 advised that this was “Russell’s Garage”, an auto body shop, and not residential.

We located a hydrant just past the scene. My plugman  was hooking up with myself and my engineer driving back to the scene dropping 5” along the way to Engine 7. I went to the rear where E-7 was operating. On the way I noticed E-11 entering the building through the office area in the front. I informed E-7 of the crew entering since E-7 was defensive in the rear. The Captain of E-7 ordered me to get them back out and remain defensive. I walked around to the front where E-11 had entered and the other units had arrived.

I informed Captain Ralph Stott (E-11) of the defensive order with him and his firefighter backing out. His firefighter started pulling his line to the rear by E-7 when Captain Stott asked me to turn off his SCBA bottle. I did so and turned to go tell my crew to prepare for defensive operations.

I turned and walked no more than 5 feet from Captain Stott and I heard something that made me look over my shoulder only to see a 4 ton wall of block hitting me in the back. The force of the wall hitting my SCBA bottle cause me to be thrown forward with the wall finally landing on the back of my legs and bouncing a little before landing again and breaking.

In shock, I looked up from being pushed face down on the ground to see the flashing lights through the dust cloud and an eerie silence, absolutely no sound. To my right, I saw someone (Paramedic Barry Nicoson) stand up, stumble and fall. Then I looked to where Captain Stott was, only to see a pile of blocks and rubble. The driver from E-7 turned the deck gun and began shooting water into the building unsure of what was coming next. My driver on E-3 sent out the “Mayday” “Mayday, mayday, we have firemen down and building collapse!”

Another firefighter came to me and asked if my “neck or back hurt because he needed to get me out away from here”. I said it was only my legs I think and he drug me by my coat collar and arms to a grassy area. While I lay there, the rescue operation for Captain Stott had begun. Firefighters everywhere, were digging through the pile to reach him. Paramedic Nicoson was carried over and placed next to me with his head and right arm covered in blood. Ralph was transported as soon as he was recovered from the rubble, then Nicoson, then me. It wasn’t until I reached the Emergency Room that I found out that Ralph Stott had died.

My understanding and first hand information of what happened is this. The fire was in an aircraft hanger style building with brick and block walls and with façade in the upper front and rear. This Parapet Wall was supported by angle iron attached to the roof, and steel cables inside that ran connecting both front and rear Parapet Walls. What happens to steel when it is heated? It expands. With the fire in the rear, it heated some steel support cables enough to ease the tension and allow the wall to suddenly collapse. This wall prior DID NOT crack, creak, crumble, lean, or give any other indication of its eventual failure. If it had fallen only seconds later, many others may have been in the collapse zone.

I survived with 2 screws in my left ankle and Nicoson with pins and plates in his right arm and hand. Don’t ask how I only have 2 screws from a broken ankle; Ortho said I have strong bones. Nicoson got only grazed by the wall on his right side while pulling hose.

You can read the NIOSH report and armchair quarterback this all day long but, I am telling you that you had to be there. We knew what we were doing, we were setting up for defensive operations and it just happened, and could very well happen to you today. This fire was arson and the arsonist was trying to cover up his embezzling. He and an accomplice were convicted of arson resulting in death and 2 counts of arson resulting in serious bodily injury.”

A special thanks to Russell Feuquay for sharing this with us in honor of Captain Ralph Stott.

The best way we can honor Captain Ralph Stott is by reviewing Parapet Walls, to prevent future LODD from Parapet Walls.

What is a Parapet Wall?

Parapet Wall is a low wall that rises above the roofline, and it provides a decorative appearance, as well as providing some protection from the elements; Parapet walls do not withstand lateral loads very well.

Why do we have Parapet Walls?

Parapet Walls can serve several purposes. With one of them being fire protection. By extending the wall above the roof plane, a Parapet Wall prevents flames that are coming up the exterior of a building from immediately igniting a combustible roofing membrane.

A benefit of a Parapet Wall is  improved wind-uplift resistance. Wind induced catastrophic roofing failures typically start when wind forces lift the roof edge and then peel back the entire parapet wall diagram FTTroof system. A Parapet Wall helps prevent elevated wind pressure from compromising the vulnerable roof edge.

In older masonry buildings, Parapet Walls provided vapor pressure relief for the building. Since water vapor can’t pass through the roofing membrane, it finds its way to the roof edge and exits through the back side of the parapet, which is typically finished with permeable clay bricks.

Parapet wall designs may have several parts:

On frame-construction buildings, the exterior finish of the front of the parapet wall will usually be similar to the rest of the exterior walls. But the sheathing used on the roof side of the parapet wall will be dependent on the surface treatment.

Parapet Walls and Fireground Operations:

Parapet Wall have not always been very firefighter friendly in the past and today is the 15 anniversary of Captain Ralph Stott death due a parapet collapse.

Firefighters & Officers must always beware when operating on a fireground where the building has a Parapet Wall.

You should visualize potential failure by noticing that façade signs, HVAC units, or overhangs are out of shape, or compromised. This may be a signal of worse things to come.

When in the heat of the firefight, you can never be sure that the parapet was engineered to take the weight and forces now being applied by additional dead and live loads, and wind loads, not mention that the structure is being compromised by fire.

Fire Officers should establish a collapse zone for all structures and parapet walls that may be susceptible to collapse.

When  you establish a collapse zone, you should take the height of the building times 1 ½ to account for falling and scattered debris.

beware of Parapet wall ftt pic

NIOSH Report Link:

https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/fire/reports/face200244.html

Additional Links for Captain Stott:

http://www.supportingheroes.org/memorial/hero.php?hero_id=49

http://apps.usfa.fema.gov/firefighter-fatalities/fatalityData/detail?fatalityId=1347

http://fallenbrothers.com/community/showthread.php?2999-Terre-Haute-Indiana-Firefighter-s-Life-Claimed-in-Line-of-Duty

NIOSH Alert: ( Click on image for website)

NIOSH final alert pic

Please honor Captain Stott by reviewing this with your crews and share it with all your brothers and sisters.

Thanks

John Shafer

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