Stretching a hand-line is one of the most fundamental tasks we perform within our fire service. Without being proficient at stretching/advancing a line, it’s safe to say we can expect nothing short of an inadequate outcome when operating on the fire ground. Stretching is one of the first things we learn as new firefighters. In academy’s across the country, evolutions are repeated over and over at nauseam with instructors ordering “I want that line to the front door”, “Stretch down to the basement”, “Get that line up to the second floor landing”. At times, it may seem monotonous to a new firefighter but in the end, all discover there is a method to the madness. Being accomplished in stretching will make or break a fire as going smooth or to hell in a handbag. I’m not certain who coined the phase but the saying “So Goes the First Line, So Goes the Fire” couldn’t be more correct.
Many times within our service, member’s get to the point in their careers where they feel drilling on stretching isn’t necessary. You hear things to the tune of “If we don’t’ know how to stretch by now than we have some serious issues” or “Pulling lines is for rookies, I think we all know how to stretch”. With maybe a few exceptions of some extremely busy departments, put simply, we don’t go to fires like we used to. In fact, many of us can go quite awhile without “catching a job”. A few years back, a newer firefighter asked me “Why do we drill so much on stretching lines, it’s not like we do it every day.” I’m fairly certain he answered his own question once hearing it out loud. With a decrease in fires being a harsh reality, it proves now more than ever we must get out with our crews and stretch repeatedly.
When out with our companies we so often practice stretching lines in a wide-open parking lot. This has always baffled me. There are no stairs to ascend, no corners to manipulate, and no doors to reach as our final objective… just a wide-open parking lot. With the exception of teaching a brand new firefighter the proper form of grabbing the load/nozzle, flipping it over your shoulder (if applicable to your department) or working with a fire fighter preparing to become a pump operator (multiple lines flowing, master streams, etc.); I feel there isn’t any real benefit to stretching lines in a parking lot. Besides running car fires up on the interstate, I can’t ever recall a fire where we didn’t have to work as a team to overcome the corners of a structure. Stretching in a parking lot is simply unrealistic and does not prepare us for our job.
So how do we overcome this? It’s awesome when we are able to acquire a structure, get in there and stretch our lines through hallways and up the stairs… but in reality, how often do we really get these buildings? And when we do get them, we have only a few short days before it is leveled by a bulldozer. In my opinion, I feel the best way to accomplish this is to practice how we play. “Stretch The Station” is the prime example of how training can be made realistic.
Firehouses are the perfect places to stretch/advance lines. Depending upon the configuration, there may be stairs ascending to a second floor, descending down to a basement, and multiple doorways/walls presenting us with corners we must manipulate. Anyone can stretch a line in a parking lot without any impediments. Once you start introducing several corners or bends, the stretch becomes more realistic. They increase your workload exponentially. Corners will force your crew to work as a team. They will have to decide when it’s necessary to leave a firefighter at a corner, or when to leave and move up to the next corner or move with up the rest of the crew (depending upon the size of your company). Another great asset to utilizing your fire station is the availability. As opposed to being forced to coordinate with outside facilities or property owners, your fire station is always there and at your disposal. Many fire stations are built with hallways, day rooms, and kitchens made from generic standard tile, the apparatus floor slab concrete, and many times metal doorways. Fire stations built like this make for a perfect venue to stretch. Making your final objective flowing water through an exterior doorway, after completion of the evolution makes for an easy clean up with minimal if any damage at all. Simply bleed off your line, walk the hose outside, and squeegee up any excess water that may have leaked through the couplings or from the nozzle.
Who really cares if you chip off a small piece of paint from a doorframe or put a tiny scuff in a wall, it’s a fire station. In my opinion, fire stations are not only meant to be lived-in but also used to better our mission. What good is having a pristine firehouse with the cleanest walls/door-frames in the city if the firefighters who live there aren’t competent at stretching a line. Now obviously, if your departments Rules & Regulations strictly prohibit this, have a chief who would “throw a clot” if they found out, or have beautiful hardwood floors with Venetian rugs, maybe this isn’t the best idea. However, in the long run, as long as you are out there training with your crew and attempting to create the most skilled firefighters possible, most chief officers would be extremely pleased to find your company training hard and being creative.
So the next time you and your crew are planning on stretching/advancing lines, ditch the idea of the same old open parking lot and utilize your station. I’m sure in the end your house won’t be destroyed and your crew will have benefited greatly.
Adam J. Hansen