If “more tools in the toolbox” is a good metaphor for new tactics, then our favorite attack hoseline setups might serve as a more specific comparison to our standard fire suppression approaches. With multiple available combinations of nozzle types and hose diameters, lengths, and folds for structural firefighting, each fire department typically carries one or more arrangements that best suit its needs. Selecting the ideal configuration requires consideration of staffing and hazard profiles, especially building sizes and setbacks, occupancy, and fire loads. When you think about it, our choice of strategy is based on pretty much those same factors. Furthermore, while most departments have a variety of hose diameters and lengths of preconnects* on each apparatus, there is usually one that is used at the majority of fires. So it also is with strategies, though, until recently, the choices were limited to just two: interior or exterior.
For structure fire attack, firefighters in my department most frequently pull our 150-foot long, 1 3/4-inch diameter hoseline stored in a well in the extended front bumper. It can easily reach deep into the second floor of the residential buildings in our district, and extinguishes a lot of fire. Other jurisdictions use Mattydales, Minutemen, Triples, and loads with a variety of other monikers with similar regularity and success. If they are like mine, they periodically test and trial different hose and nozzle types, storage locations, and deployment methods; choose (or keep) those they feel are the best; and drill repeatedly, all in an effort to ensure maximum efficiency.
Whatever the styles and effectiveness of our favorite preconnects, they can sometimes come up short. Stretching our “bumper line” for fully involved structures, commercial occupancies, attic fires in victorian houses, or garden apartments set back from the roadway might might leave firefighters scrambling to augment length and/or volume. Fortunately, with the addition of other sizes and lengths of preconnects and non-pre-connected hose on a typical fire apparatus, different attack lines can be substituted and combined to achieve the reach and flow required for the situation at hand.
On the tactical side, the primary structure fire suppression strategy for most fire departments in the United States has been for firefighters to, as quickly as possible, enter via a door, stretch the hoseline to the seat of the fire, and effect extinguishment. The so-called “Aggressive Interior Attack” (AIA), like our favorite preconnect, is typically effective, and has become for many their default approach for controlling structure fires. But, as with pulling the wrong hoseline, following the AIA mindset and sending crews into a well-involved structure, passing a window spewing fire without first flowing water within, or ignoring flow paths already in place or created by firefighters’ actions, can result in delays in controlling fire growth, allow for continued deterioration of the building, and even lead to firefighters being driven out before accomplishing their mission
The potential inefficiencies caused by choosing the wrong hoseline or tactics can only be avoided by taking the time to perform a standard size-up at every fire and then determining the best attack hose, and approach, for the incident at hand. Unfortunately, in many departments, the equivalent of their “bumper line” has often been stretched, or the usual attack initiated, before this step is completed. Also, while we have long had choices of, and could make adjustments to, the sizes and lengths of our attack lines, we were only recently allowed such flexibility regarding tactics. The discovery of the value of exterior hose streams and ventilation-limiting maneuvers has provided new versatility to our approach for structure fire control, giving us options to address a wider spectrum of conditions at a greater number of incidents. Where formerly we might have had to resort to a purely defensive position, whether by choice or by force, now we have additional options for allowing the continuation of an interior attack.
The popularity of favored hose loads and the AIA are due to the fact they are almost always successful. When used appropriately (i.e., the right size and length of hose, or the correct strategy), they speed deployment and the initiation of corrective actions. Unfortunately, repeated success can lull us into complacency, and draw us into situations where we find ourselves using the wrong tool for the job at hand.
Or, from another perspective: “When your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”
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*In this case, I use that term to refer to the attack lines we have set up for rapid deployment, regardless of whether they are already connected to a pump discharge outlet.