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The What, Where and Why of the First Line

Nothing does more to improve safety on the fireground than correctly stretching, positioning and using the first attack line (sorry Truckies). The question is, do we take our most effective life and property saving skill for granted? Do you know the WHAT, WHERE & WHY before and/or during the initial attack line stretch? This post asks these questions and offers some discussion to the most fundamental fireground tactic.

1. Does the first line always have to go through the front door? Why or why not?

Always, no… preferably, yes! The most basic reason to (almost) always take the first line through the front door is our number one priority, life safety. We are taught in rookie school to “think like a civilian” when searching and that civilians will try to exit through primary means of entry. If that’s true, and we truly are there to protect lives, then the first line should be positioned through the front door by default; if not to search for victims than to protect their means of egress.

2. Does the first line always have to go to the fire? Why or why not?

Often times we, especially new firefighters, forget that there is more to fighting a fire than putting out the flames. There are considerations for ventilation (hopefully coordinated), victim search and additional lines. Sometimes the first line may better serve as a protection line for a search crew, they may have to hold the stairs in a basement fire (or protect the interior of a home for an attached garage fire) or may need to allow some of the conditions to be controlled prior to making an advance (i.e. flashover or backdraft conditions or unique hazards).

3. What information is needed when sizing up the stretch for the initial attack line?

Since preconnected attack lines are the norm these days, sometimes the mentality (truthfully) is “IN CASE OF FIRE, PULL HERE” with little or no thought to the adequacy of the size, length and/or nozzle of the preconnect. We risk becoming desensitized to adequately sizing up not only the first line but all attack lines.

Poorly sizing up the first line could result in not enough line to reach and/or extinguish the fire, too much line that is cumbersome to move and constantly kinks or maybe stretching the wrong size line. All of these scenarios will require the second engine, usually assigned to the second/backup line, to assist the first engine with making their line effective. All three scenarios expose all crews involved to unnecessary risk.

Let us know what your thoughts and experiences are. Thanks and be SAFE!

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Comment by Michael Bricault (ret) on December 7, 2010 at 9:46pm
-Matt, you bring up an interesting point with regard to search operations and lines being stretched. What really is the objective of the nozzle team and what, if anything, are they saving inside the fire occupancy itself?
-Far too many firefighters today have lost sight of the fact that the mission of the engine co/nozzle team is NOT to knock down the fire immediately but rather, to keep the fire in check and preventing it from spreading, while other firefighters perform the primary search for victims.
-The number one job of the nozzleman is to facilitate the search of the fire occupancy by locating and confining the fire. Once the search is completed then the nozzleman can completely extinguishment of the fire. Anything sooner and the engine co risks creating a thermal inversion and an untenable environment that nearly insures any trapped victims will not survive.
-This is something Tom Brennen preached about for many years. His articles from more than ten years ago repeat over and over this very topic and the need for firefighters to understand the interrelationship of tasks on the fireground. And in 2010 it seems like the lesson is still falling on deaf ears.
-Though many agree that, "Nothing does more to improve safety on the fireground than correctly stretching, positioning and using the first attack line", the reckless application of water can be one of the most destructive and detrimental endeavors carried out on the fire ground by firefighters that think their only job is to “slay the dragon”.
-Firefighters must understand this interrelationship and that all tasks are intended to facilitate search and rescue operations. The completion of each task leads to the next. Once the search is complete suppression can take priority.
-To further illustrate this point, how many times have we seen firefighters performing vertical ventilation operations AFTER the fire is under control? What’s the point of cutting the roof if the fire is out? Interrelationship. Knowing your job and what it is intended to accomplish.
-What’s more, in a situation with a known or highly suspected life hazard, the time needed to establish a water supply, stretch a line, force entry; advance in and locate the fire is time that would be better spent addressing search and rescue operations.

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