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What you need to know about how firefighters use standpipes

The Boston Fire Department responded to a fire Thursday under an ⁦MBTA⁩ Red Line train at Charles/MGH station.Boston Fire Department

Boston firefighters ran into trouble when they responded to a minor fire under a Red Line train at the MBTA’s Charles/MGH station on Thursday and found that they could not use a standpipe at the station because the pipe had cracked.

Here’s what you need to know about standpipes and their role in fire safety.

What is a standpipe?

Standpipe systems are made up of pipes and hose connections that are installed within structures “to provide reliable water for the manual suppression of a fire by either the fire department or trained personnel,” according to a blog post from the National Fire Protection Association, based in Quincy.


What are the types of standpipes?

These systems can be either “wet,” meaning the pipes are full of water, or “dry,” meaning they are not. Water can be supplied automatically from a city water main or manually by a fire department pumper, according to the association.

The standpipe at Charles/MGH station is a dry system, meaning firefighters were drawing water from a hydrant and trying to feed into the pipe system but could not because of the crack in the pipe, according to Brian Alkins, a Boston fire department spokesman.

What is the purpose of a standpipe?

“Its primary function is to be able to connect a water supply . . . with outlets that the fire department can come and connect their hose lines to, and then they’ll be able to attack the fire more readily, and direct their water streams towards where the fire is,” said Milosh T. Puchovsky, a professor in the department of fire protection engineering at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

“So the fire department does not have to drag an extensive amount of hose from their pumper trucks up through a building, or into a tunnel, or whatever the case might be,” he said.


Where are standpipes used?

Standpipes are often required by local fire codes or building codes for certain types of skyscrapers, other large structures, transit stations, or other transportation hubs, according to Puchovsky.

Who is responsible for inspecting standpipes?

National Fire Protection Association standards call for property owners to have their standpipes inspected annually, taking into account the condition of the hose connections and piping. The standards call for conducting a hydrostatic test of dry standpipes like the ones at Charles/MGH station every five years.

Enforcement of those standards is handled by local authorities, often the fire prevention office of a municipality’s fire department, but policies vary by jurisdiction, Puchovsky said. In some areas, officials will review records of inspections, but other jurisdictions may require that a fire safety official is present to observe the inspector, he said.

What if a standpipe doesn’t work?

While Boston firefighters were to put out the fire Thursday, the absence of a working standpipe can lead to tragedy. In 2007, two New York City firefighters died battling a blaze inside the Deutsche Bank skyscraper in lower Manhattan, a building that was being torn down after parts of the Twin Towers crashed into it during the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at Follow him @jeremycfox. Laura Crimaldi can be reached at Follow her @lauracrimaldi.