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Edmonton’s new tall towers mean changes for firefighters

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WATCH ABOVE: In the last few years, Edmonton's skyline has transformed. As some of the tallest buildings in western Canada near completion, firefighters are looking at what they need to protect both the towers and the thousands of people who will live and work inside them. Fletcher Kent has more – Sep 24, 2018

Edmonton’s two newest buildings have transformed the city’s skyline. They’re also changing how firefighters do their jobs.

When complete next year, the Stantec Tower will rise 66 stories. That will make it the tallest Canadian building west of Toronto. Right next to it, the JW Marriott Hotel is 55 stories tall. It is slated to open next March.

READ MORE: Edmonton JW Marriott tower reaches full height, temporarily becomes city’s tallest building

In structures that big, fire poses a big threat. People have farther to go to get out of the building and firefighters have the opposite problem.

“That creates a whole other hazard. The higher you go, the harder it is to get to that event,” said Bradley Hoekstra, Edmonton Fire Rescue’s deputy chief of training and logistics.

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Firefighting tactics won’t see a massive overhaul with new highrises but there will be change.

The city is purchasing new pump trucks. So far, 10 have arrived and another three are coming next year.

READ MORE: Stantec Tower now the tallest building in Edmonton — and it’s still growing

Chris McDonald shows off one of the city’s new pump trucks which can get water more than 80 stories up to firefighters. Wes Rosa/Global Edmonton

When battling a large highrise fire, an aerial truck is of little use. It can spray water from the outside of the building up to about eight stories high.

To get water to higher floors, firefighters use the tower’s standpipes. Water is pumped through these pipes to the higher floors where firefighters hook up their hoses and battle the flames.

“Now because the buildings are a lot higher, we must go to a different kind of pump that can press water up a lot higher,” training officer Chris McDonald said.

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Edmonton Fire Rescue’s older pump trucks can only get water up to about the 30th story of a building. The new trucks have two pumps and can get water to firefighters who are 80 to 90 stories up.

Of course, getting the firefighters up that high has its own challenges.

READ MORE: Photos and video of the deadly London high-rise fire

Firefighters will be prepared to climb 60 plus stories with gear, if necessary. However, fire officials worked with building designers in the early stages to find ways to avoid such long, heavy climbs.

Edmonton’s new buildings will have elevators that can be designated lifts just for firefighters during an emergency and the stairs are set up in a way that works well for crews.

Edmonton’s two tallest skyscrapers tower over other buildings. Wes Rosa/Global News

Given how important a quick response time is at any fire, this type of pre-planning makes responding to an emergency that much faster and easier.

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Other changes to highrise fire protocols could be on the way.

Edmonton Fire Rescue Services has a committee talking to firefighters from other cities with huge towers to find out what they do.

“We look at the hazards we typically respond to and we try to adjust those protocols to meet the needs of the highrises. We’re right in the middle of that,” said Hoekstra.

READ MORE: 27 London high-rise apartments evacuated after failed fire safety tests

As firefighters continue to train for the city’s new towers, they point out keeping Edmontonians safe cannot solely be their responsibility.

It’s important for anyone in any building to know the proper evacuation plan. It’s always necessary to understand all building alarms.

The higher a building gets and the farther one has to go to escape, it becomes that much more important to know proper fire safety plans. For all those planning to move into the new skyscrapers, fire officials suggest they also take some time to prepare.

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