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A few years ago while working in Fairfax County we ran a website that was based on the two county fire departments and the one city department that ran together on calls everyday. It was and that site contained information about fires, apparatus, operating procedures, equipment and most important tactical advice and commentary. We were able to get one of the most respected and disciplined fire officers from Arlington County, VA. to write some articles for the site. As I was digging around for material for tonight's show on Fire Engineering Blog Talk Radio, I found an article that Captain Gibbs had written about the attack line. I am sure that we will be discussing the initial attack line tonight and wanted to share this informative and insightful article from this seasoned fire veteran.


Charles A. Gibbs, Captain Training Division

Last month we discussed the priority of actions to take on any structure fire: Civilian life safety, locate the fire, confine the fire and put the fire out.

This month we will discuss some specific considerations for deploying and advancing handlines.

In order to get the initial handline and additional handlines in the best position for fire control, you must know the limitations of handlines carried, resources available on your unit to overcome these limitations and be able to identify rooms and parts of buildings from the exterior.

The only way to know the limitations of handlines carried on your unit is to be familiar with the building construction in your box alarm response area. Your must be familiar with the communities in your response area. Single family dwellings (SFD) in neighborhood communities are usually similar in design and floor layout. Garden apartments are similar in design and floor layout across the country. Since most fires occur in the home we will discuss handline specifics for single family dwellings. You must go out to all types of buildings in your response area and practice deploying handlines to determine what can and cannot be done and what you must do to overcome these obstacles with your company.

In SFD’ the functional areas are usually on the first floor. You usually enter through the front door into a foyer. The living room and library are usually directly off the foyer near the front door. The dining room is usually located beyond the living room; the kitchen is usually located opposite the front door towards the rear of the dwelling. If there is a family room it may be located near the kitchen or in the basement. The stairway to the second floor is almost always located at the front door in the foyer. The basement door may be located between the foyer and kitchen or directly off the kitchen. Bedrooms and bathrooms are on the second floor, left and right of the stairway. Access to the attic is from the top floor, either by a stairway, pull down steps or an access panel. You are probably asking what does this have to do with specifics or handline deployment. Read on.

By being able to identify where rooms are in a SFD from the exterior you should be able to determine what length handline you are going to deploy. You should be able to identify most rooms from the exterior by their respective window locations. Windows tell you the floor layout. This will tell you how much hose you need inside the dwelling, what rooms to search first, what rooms to ventilate first and where the fire may extend. You must have enough hose at the front door to advance to all areas of the dwelling without having to call for more hose. Plan on it, don’t be caught short, it is poor planning and embarrassing to come up short.

It is the basics of handline deployment that are the most critical. You must chock the screen door open. You must chock the front door open. Even though the front door swings in you should still chock it. The door may close on the line before the line is charged. You must never allow an uncharged line to advance under a door. When the line is charged the door becomes a hose clamp. For the most part chock open any door you enter. There are many ways to chock open doors. You should carry something in your running coat to chock open doors without relying on another firefighter. There may be times you do not want to chock open the door if you are making a room search in conjunction with handline advancement. This is when a search team is branching out to search rooms on either side as the handline moves in for attack. You must position a firefighter at every turn you make. This firefighter is responsible to make sure enough hose gets around the corner so the handline can move in on the fire. This firefighter may be the most critical to interior handline operations. Once you’re at the fire area you must have enough hose to move through the room for complete extinguishment and hydraulic ventilation. A firefighter should be positioned at the front door to push the hoseline in as it is advanced.

It is essential to have enough hose available at the front door to move in. The hose should be flaked out near the door you are entering. It must be flaked out in a manor so it will not get knotted up within itself. Take the time to flake it out in accordion fashion or in a circle. When the line is charged it should not knot. It is the company officers responsibility to ensure there is enough hose at the entrance to advance through the dwelling to extinguish the fire, serve as the backup line to the first line, go to the floor above the fire or the top floor. You usually do not want to have any of the shoulder load on your shoulder when entering the dwelling. The time you take to properly flake out the hoseline outside will be made up on the interior. It does result in more fluid operation.

It is essential that the engine crew keep the handline in their hand when advancing. If a member of the company drops the hose or doesn’t pull their share of advancing the handline other members must pick up the slack. When one member doesn’t carry their share of the advancing handline the entire company is using up unnecessary energy, breathing air and time. This will result in the company being more exhausted than was necessary, the company having unnecessary difficulties getting the handline in proper position in a reasonable time and a delay in applying water to contain and put the fire out. In the worst case scenario the handline will not get to the fire. Remember putting the fire out is the single biggest life saving tactic to be done on the fireground.

The Engine Company must take their time to ensure everything is in place and ready to go before entering the dwelling. They must ensure the handline is at the door, the handline is flaked out not just thrown on the ground, the nozzle is closed and the line charged if necessary. Charging a handline before entering is at the discretion of the company officer but it must be communicated to the crew before an alarm is transmitted. This part of the action plan.

The key to handline deployment no matter what type of occupancy or what type of construction is training. Companies must go out and practice pulling and advancing handlines regularly at all types of structures. You must practice in structures like it was an actual incident. You must practice the “what ifs”. What if the line is too short, how are you going to overcome it? What if you have to extend a charged handline to operate in a different area, what if the front door is six hundred feet away and there is no other access, what if Side C access is from an adjacent street, what if you have to advance through an adjacent building.

When you are dispatched to a fire it is because the citizen truly believes there is a fire. You should respond and act like it is going to be a real fire. We assume an awful lot just from dispatch information, previous incidents and experience. Relying totally on this results in failure and you are “catching up” to the situation that you were dispatched for the first place. Remember failure results in firefighter and civilian injury and unnecessary property loss.

The United States Marine Corps and The United States Army would never send a foot patrol on a mission in the enemy’s arena without the weapons and power to defend themselves. Why would an engine company ever approach a reported structure fire without taking their weapons and power with them to overcome the enemy? You must not rely on “smoke or fire showing” to indicate a working fire. Always assume there is a fire.

Communication is paramount for a company to be effective. Communication from the company officer to the crew must begin long before the alarm is transmitted. The action plan must be established and practiced before the alarm is transmitted. There must never be any question on the incident scene of who is responsible for what. It is the basics of fire suppression that are the most critical; engine company operations, hoseline deployment and self-contained breathing apparatus operations. The communication must begin in the station and in the training arena. The basic functions and responsibilities of the company and its members must be pre determined for all hoseline operations.

You must practice and train. You must practice an train on the basics of handline deployment. You must practice the unexpected. You must practice and practice more. You have never practiced and practiced more. You have never practiced enough.

Fail to plan, plan to fail. Don’t get caught in this trap. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.

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