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Thanks to fellow Traditions Training instructor Joe Brown for getting me inspired this morning about a topic that we often talk about, but rarely look at in depth.

Over the past few days, compliments of the Internet, several videos have been posted that show the “lost art” of getting the first attack line in service.  There has been plenty of talk about the first line, from numerous training companies and instructors alike… but the nuts and bolts of are often overlooked. The art form that is the stretching of the primary attack line is not for the weak; not for a weak officer and not for a weak crew.

After attending a recent conference and watching various new burn rate videos and the accompanying lectures, I was pondering how this new information translates to where the rubber meets the road.  Even though I am sure that there are many topics that this new information could be applied.  Many of those topics, would be on a much grander scale than what I am writing about here. The relation it has on what I am going to talk about comes down to a very simple task.

Lets take our most prevalent type fire, the single-family dwelling. The studies show that with newer building materials and highly combustible contents, these fires are going to grow faster and burn hotter than the “good-old” days.

This information demands that if we make the tactical decision to proceed with an interior/offensive fire attack that as a department and company we are prepared to make this attack. This last sentence is very easy to say and I hear it repeated numerous times across the country. But, how prepared are you really as a company and a department to implement this strategy?  This implemented interior attack, with all the information about burn rates and hotter fires, should make all of us rethink how well we do the simplest task.  

That task is pulling the first line, getting it into position and finally...OPERATING the line on the fire. Yes putting water on the fire.

The task of stretching the first attack line, I believe has been taken for granted for to long. It is something that most departments teach in their recruit schools or Firefighter 1 classes.  From there, most departments believe that maybe conducting a drill once a year on pulling the lines is enough.  Not to mention that most of these drills are in a beautiful parking lot or training grounds that has no obstacles or obstructions. Isn’t it nice for the crews and the department when they pat each other on the back and commend each other for a great job!  The bosses take note that everyone did great on pulling lines this year!

Heck, we could even give each crew a trophy for pulling the lines in the vacant parking lot so they feel good about themselves. Okay, sorry I got on my soapbox for a second, I will now deploy my escape device and get off of there.

The pulling, stretching and operating that first attack line is not something that you should happen upon.  Or worse, feel lucky that you got it in place and operating.  It takes a dedication to yourself as an officer, and yourself as a firefighter to get this vitally important task done. What is needed is to make it a well-practiced and developed habit.

We constantly hear at conferences that runs and fires are down.  Statistically this may be correct, but that does not lessen the responsibility or obligation for you as the company officer or the backstep firefighter to complete your tasks with the upmost efficiency or professionalism.  This efficiency and professionalism is regardless if you receive a check for riding that engine or if you are volunteering in your hometown.

Fire does not care, it will take advantage of any crack in your armor, in your operation, regardless of affiliation or size of your town or city.

You have to practice, practice, practice and yeah practice some more. This simple task of the first attack line cannot be mastered by sitting in a recliner at the station, pre-occupied on your X-Box or Wii, or by telling yourself that you are good at it and not practicing it.  Believe me when I tell you that I have had officers and companies tell me that they are proficient at pulling attack lines and when the call or incident occurs, Larry, Moe and Curly would have been a great improvement on the crew. And sadly, probably less entertaining.

When we have incidents regardless of how small or insignificant as they may seem, or whatever time that they are called in, we should be taking advantage of each and every one of them to train.

So let me make this a little clearer, it’s 2:30 AM in the morning and you are dispatched for an odor of smoke in an apartment building.  It has been a long day of medical runs, training, and cleaning the firehouse.  But this is our first structure fire call of the shift or day.  You as the officer and your crew must now take full advantage of the call and deliver your best effort for yourselves, the department, and the citizens you serve.

As you pull into the block you locate your hydrant and lay a supply line to the scene. You have pre-planned this project type building and know by the address that this is a 300’ foot stretch to the apartment with 50 feet of hose left for the apartment. You can smell the odor of burnt food from the cab as you pull up.

The parking lot is jammed with cars and this Saturday night has many of the apartment occupants hanging out in the courtyard waiting to see you and your crews show. You order the crew to make the stretch and all of you proceed to work yourselves and the line to the apartment of origin. The line keeps getting caught on vehicle tires and fence posts, your crew constantly is moving the line away from these obstacles and continues the advance of the line.

As you the officer keep checking the line you see that there are no bundles of hose left anywhere, the line is not under any tires and, that at the apartment door, they have 50 feet of line still on the nozzle person’s shoulder.  All the doors have been chocked open and your crew is ready to deploy the line if needed.

This practiced and proficient operation does not happen by accident, this operation is completed by non-complacent, Combat Ready, and dedicated professional firefighters and officers.

We have to become proficient at the task of getting that first line in service and operating first, followed by the second line and maybe the third line. All this should be done without complication, fanfare, and not be overly time consuming but… proficient.  These do not happen by “miracle” they happen by having good officers, crews, department philosophy and dedication.  All must have the understanding the VITAL importance of that first attack line. Getting the line there is just one step in the battle. Now you have to charge it and have the ability to advance it when charged and put water on the fire. This last task is a class in itself and is taught by great hands-on instructors across the nation, better than I could possibly write about it here.

So get out there on your runs and pull that hoseline every time, if nothing else, to be an expert when lives hang in the balance.

As always BE COMBAT READY…

 

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Comment by Erik Eitel on November 30, 2014 at 2:02pm
Great article! Someone reposted it on FB recently and it popped up on my news feed.
I do have to disagree with Bobby Halton on one point though. Three hundred feet of 1 3/4" does not exceed acceptable friction loss.
1 3/4" hose is service tested to 400 psi, we can safely operate at 90% of that giving us a working pressure of at least 360 psi.
Our hose has a friction loss of 20 psi per length when flowing 180 gpm. I can easily flow a 500' line: 10 lengths x 20 psi FL = 200 psi + 50 psi NP = 250 psi Pump Discharge Pressure.
Adding a lead length of a different size hose adds the complication of trying to determine FL in multiple hose diameters, same goes for using a gated wye.
We operate with 3 - 200' preconnects (2 at 1 3/4" and 1 at 2 1/2") and we operate with 2 - 500' dead loads (1 at 1 3/4" and 1 at 2 1/2"). This allows the flexibility of using the preconnect for known, easy to reach stretches as well as the dead load off the rear for unknown or known long stretches.
All good stuff!
-Erik
Comment by Bobby Halton on November 21, 2011 at 12:14pm

Ricky,

Great post as always and I agree with you there are few things as important as being able to stretch the initial attack line correctly effectively and manage it to its best advantage. It saddeneds me that we have altered our priorities on the fire ground via our obsession with command principles to replace locating the seat of the fire with committing to search. The job of the first due engine company should always be with only one exception; the immediate rescue of known victims in extreme danger, otherwise the job of the first due engine is  to locate the scene of the fire, stretch the initial attack line and commence to attacking the fire. That being said I thoroughly agree with you we need to practice our stretches diligently and continuously.

In the example that you listed a 300 foot stretch into an apartment I would hope that companies with these types of responsibilities would have garden department stretches, and high-rise apartment stretches which they drill on continuously in order to meet these challenges of their first due. Personally I think a lead line for a garden apartment stretch of 200 feet minimum of 2 1/2 inch initial line is a requirement. With most companies today relying on the use of pre-connects for their initial stretch there is an inherent problem with garden apartments. A 300 foot stretch exceeds the acceptable friction loss for one and three-quarter inch hose.

 

Also and not to be nitpicky fires are not any hotter today than they were in the past. The issue is really heat release rates. Modern plastics give up their stored energy much more quickly than ordinary combustibles and that is the real issue. Fires are not any hotter the slide below from the national Institute of Science and Technology highlights this very well. As you can see in the slide the temperature from one candle is the same as that from 10 candles. The energy expressed as heat is 10 times as much.

 

The issue is the rate that that energy gets released in ordinary combustibles such as we had predominantly in the fuel loads of our fires up until the 1970s is rather slow compared to the polymer-based combustibles that make up the fuel loads of our fires today. Below is another slide from our friends at The National Institute of Standards and Technologies which shows the fire from the 1970s, the fuel load is composed of ordinary combustibles compared to the fire of similar type materials however constructed from polymer-based chemicals.

Hope this helps to clear up the hotter issue, again I cannot agree with you more how important it is that we practice diligently in being able to complete our stretches professionally and effectively on the fire ground. Practicing in context with cars present real materials going around doors and other obstructions is critical to our success on the fire ground. Practicing a drill field is good in order to have a baseline but practicing in context around real obstacles is the best way to become proficient.

Thanks again it's always great to see traditions training leading the way with insightful posts and relevant material. Your friend Bobby

 

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