From just reading the title, I know what you’re thinking, “Why don’t I get to decide which line I pull at a fire, that’s crazy talk!” Let me clarify that, we don’t get to decide which line size is appropriate to pull at a fire, the fire dictates that, not us.
Over almost the last three decades in the fire service I have heard many of the same comments about using a 2 ½” attack line that I have heard about many other things such as wearing SCBA which include, “That will never work”, “It’s too hard”, or the infamous “Sure, it works great in training, but it will never work at a real fire”.
With line selection, the argument usually centers around the ease of use and maneuverability of the 1 ¾” line vs the 2 ½” line. I agree 100%, the 1 ¾” line is much easier to use and maneuver than a 2 ½”, however the point is moot if you can’t put the fire out. Look at it this way, if line selection were only about ease of use and maneuverability we’d still be using booster lines, and we don’t.
The bottom line is, all fires will eventually go out whether the fire department shows up or not. Our mission is to bring enough force to the fight, as quickly and effectively as possible in order to put the fire out and save as many endangered people and as much property as possible. For a large majority of our fires, which are single family dwellings, that means the deployment and advancement of a 1 ¾” line to quickly locate, confine and extinguish a room(s) involved on the interior. But, we have to be ready, willing and able to attack the fire we find with a larger weapon, the 2 ½” when it’s appropriate. There is a time and place for both the 1 ¾” and the 2 ½”, but we don’t get to dictate that time or that place, the fire does.
A firefighter’s line selection decision is very similar to that of a law enforcement officer’s decision to use a certain level of force during a violent encounter with a suspect. The decision to use a certain level of force in the use of force continuum is dictated by the suspect, and the level of force/resistance they are using. Although a tazer may work in many situations to resolve the encounter, an officer doesn’t attempt to taze a suspect pointing a gun at them. Firefighter’s, like law enforcement officers must be trained and ready to use whatever level of force is necessary to quickly eliminate the threat to themselves and others.
In order to be ready and able to deploy and use a 2 ½” line in an exterior or interior offensive attack, you first must believe that you can, then you have to prepare yourself and your crew to be able to do it, and that only happens with preparation, training and practice. Some things you can start doing include:
Pump Operations: For effective 2 ½” operations, the pump operator is just as important as the guys on the line. Ensure that he/she understands the hydraulics involved. Pump pressures supplied to a 2 ½” with a 50 psi smoothbore nozzle are typically lower than pressures supplied to a 1 ¾” with a 100psi fog nozzle. Over pressurizing a 2 ½” line, in training or at a fire, will make for a difficult time for your crew on the line, and the bad experience will turn them off to ever pulling a 2 ½” again.
Two engines: Advancing a 2 ½” line into a building during an offensive attack may require you pair the first two arriving engine companies together to get the line into the building and advance it to the seat of the fire quickly and efficiently. Before you say that the second engine’s job is to pull a backup line consider this, what good will a backup line do if the first line is not in place applying water to the fire? If you’re the second engine, make sure that first line, regardless of its size (1 ¾” or 2 ½”) is in service and getting water on the fire before you start thinking about a second line.
What about the medics? If you have a three or four person engine company, and you arrive with a medic unit with two firefighter paramedic/EMTs, consider attaching them to your crew to make a five or six person engine company to get the 2 ½” deployed and moving. Do they have gear and SCBAs available to them on the medic unit? If you think the two people on the medic unit (ambulance) can never ever be used to fight fire, then why do they have the word “firefighter” in front of paramedic/EMT? They’re a resource like any other, just make sure you call for an additional medic unit if you decide to use them.
Training and practice: The only way to master a skill or technique is by doing it, a lot! If you and your crew are not practicing with a 2 ½” by doing multiple “sets and reps”, then you’re exactly right when you say, “It can’t be done”.
The fire dictates the necessary line size at every incident we respond to, we don’t. The only decision we are allowed to make is whether or not we will pull the appropriate line in response to what the fire is doing, it’s potential to grow, where it is going and how quickly it is doing all of the above (minutes or seconds?). You will not be judged by the size of the line you pull, but rather by your ability to put the fire out, quickly. Choose wisely, we often only get one good shot to knock the fire out before it is beyond our ability to control and the strategy goes defensive.
Fire only understands one thing, force. In our business force means an overwhelming, effectively deployed, and well placed attack line. When you get to the field of battle, make sure that you and your crew are prepared to arrive violently!