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Fit for Purpose – `hose selection makes or breaks the job`

Fit for Purpose – `hose selection makes or breaks the job`


On-Scene Arrival

Achieving successful outcomes when putting out a `fully involved fire` or `working fire` at a building fire, relies exponentially on sound and timely decisions and actions of the first-arriving vehicles crew.

In the firefighters world (size up, prioritising and tasking), the first five to ten minutes represents everything.

At this all-important beginning the OIC strategically positions the fire truck based of job type, wind direction, terrain etc. – then begins incident size-up, followed by prioritising the most important action to least critical: the OIC then tasks firefighters their duties or actions and sitreps back to base – a huge few minutes.

In this, the first five to ten minutes are possibly the most influential factors to the incidents success or failure.

As a professional firefighter you have an early role to play, that affects the jobs success.


`Improve and Save` or `Worsen and Lose`

Amid other major decisions - One of the most imperative and key considerations is the selection, deployment, and application of the initial hoseline for the internal fire attack, our attackline. An efficient fire crew that is well trained in deploying an attack handline, should ensure its charged, tested, on the right setting and at-work in 2 to 3 minutes.

However, many considerations have to be addressed when selecting the correct handline; the right size and length makes or breaks the job, you can be contributing in an effective manner to success or be part of the problem.  


Be the Professional You Signed Up to Be

After 26 years’ service dedicated to the one fire department; I now travel the world training, schooling and contributing to and working towards better skills and ways. In my 36 years I’ve seen so much more and experienced far more than I would have ever thought possible. And Yet, Im still learning, even though I left as the Senior Instructor in the National Training Centre of Excellence; think about it, I was presumably the fire departments `training top dog`.

Interestingly since leaving I have learnt as much as I’ve taught – by watching, asking and adjusting.


Throughout these travels unfortunately I too often find `hard headed` firefighters refusing to be open to other ways; inappropriately, they have ended their engagement with the attitude `their way or the highway`.

A true shame, considering `you can never know too much or train too much, for a job that can take your life`, - we need to always listen and ask; just in case others may be right, or maybe more right.


We need to be open and willing to try other techniques, we need to build our repertoire by listening, watching and enquiring more.

I was recruited in 1982, the days of eating smoke, the days of following orders without question – it’s now 36 years later and I still don’t know it all…

When you’re done with your recruit course, keep up your fire education, keep learning anew; throughout your career don’t ever let your `curiosity spark` die out. If you already have an excellent foundation, keep going.

The Fire Department world is always a training centre; everyone in it is an instructor. Make sure every day you get up and go to school.Dean S Hawkins

Efficient, Effective and Fit for Purpose

All too often, we bear witness to well-meaning firefighters that attend a fire and deploy an attack `handline of convenience`. So, what is a `handline of convenience`?

Through my travels I find disengaged firefighters have tendency to reach for a hoseline that they always use, it’s their go to. Regardless of the situation, irrespective of the fire size or state, the `handline of convenience` is deployed. Why this Attackline?

Various factors lead to this habit:

  • This is what they have been taught – always learn from the right person or people.
  • Their selection of hose size is interpreted as the easiest - We should never make `life or death` decisions based on what is easiest for us, have the skillset, fitness and mental aptitude to deploy all sized hose.
  • They ignorantly believe their smaller hose (19mm) is quicker to deploy – I have proven, time-and-time again this is only true if you lack the skills or fitness to deploy larger hose.

I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to be involved with numerous Fire Departments worldwide; Uniformed Services, Urban firefighters, Industrial Firefighters and Aviation Services.

I can assure you that an attackline should NOT be selected due to the fact that the firefighter involved lacks the skills-set or fitness to deploy the RIGHT one efficiently and effectively –  if this was the case, to often the selected hoseline will not be `fit for purpose`.

As an example; a hose reel (19mm) chosen as the internal attackline on an interior large fully-involved (working fire) building fire, will lack knock down, length and protection for the Breathing Apparatus crew.

Before selecting hose size, as professionals we need to consider options based on type of fire, size and intensity, personal protection capabilities and of overall length.


Flaked for Entry

While most firefighters stretch a handline into place with the branch (nozzle) at the point of entry (an attackline); I strongly suggest you also `flake` or `snake` the branch length. This is where you create a series of w`s each consisting of approx. 5 metres each; laid at right angles to the door (I.e. left to right), when you extend the line, you’re only adding 5 metres at time to the overall length your dragging.

Then charge your line and test the branch, ensure it is on the appropriate settings for a `door entry procedure`. 

Residential vs Commercial – Fully Involved Fire or Smaller?

Differences in the use of the building and its size and the extent of the fire will dictate different considerations for handline selection and deployment. Many fire departments have policies that define a larger handline 64 mm (2.5 inch) for a commercial occupancy fire, some suggest 50mm (1.9 inch).

The purpose behind this is related to the additional potential of larger fire occurring and more heat that can be present in commercial occupancies.

The OIC or Firefighter who determines the correct handline MUST consider the potential fire size and heat released based on the building size.

Also, with consideration for hydrocarbon-based furnishings, the possible large volumes of air transfer within the structure due to area; yet also more than likely the storage and hoarding of goods that could be present.  

We do know that a smaller hose diameter will not have the cooling effect or extinguishing properties, and WILL produce more steam, consequently difficult internal conditions.



At a Involved Residential Fire (uncontrolled, fully-involved, engulfed) always consider the potential for aggressive fire behavior and lots of heat – therefore think larger when selecting the attack line.

Defensive Firefighting also known as "surround and drown" consider larger – after all your trying to cool and safeguard.

Replenishment Lengths (water re-fill) I recommend you use large diameter fire hose i.e. 64 mm (2.5 inch)

In Gas Cooling or 3D Water-Fog: 38 mm hose is usually recommended. This is a branch technique where water spray in correct quantities can result in contraction of the gases without the over production of steam. It may assist as a control measure in small compartment, but it is not an overall extinguishing technique because it is still essential to apply water to the surfaces. 38mm gives us manoeuvrability and ease of handling when doing the branch techniques required.

High Rise Packs – these can and will vary between 64mm (standpipe end of the hoseline) to 38 mm (at the branch length) depending where the hose is in the line. It can also vary on product and supplier.

Backup Line or Safety Line (sometimes referred to as a stop line by old school)- A hose line laid in place to replace the internal attackline, should it be required. Sometimes utilised to knock fires that re-flair behind the BA team rather than pulling the attackline completely back. A Backup Line MUST be the same size or greater in diameter as the attackline – obviously also the same length.


Finally, Know that Size Matters

I strongly suggest practicing tactical patience, where you take a moment and the time to confirm the type of building its size and contents; yet also actual and potential fire size.

Selecting the appropriate attackline early is essential to ensure the best knock down and or supply, and the highest possibilities of success.

This decision should never be one of habit or a `handline of convenience`. Sound and professional deliberation must include potential fire size, potential heat, fuel loading and type of fuels present, along building size and storage.

Take the time to ponder a thorough and sound size up, consider all components of the incident before committing to hose size; by doing so you ensure successful suppression.


Of course and obviously i haven’t addressed Hose Size `friction loss and head of pressure`, these are a whole other discussion.

Ensure your decisions are efficient, effective and fit for purpose.


The 3 main reasons for selecting the wrong attackline:

  • Lack of knowledge
  • Lack of skill
  • Lack of fitness

The 3 ways to ensure you select the right attackline:

  • Underpinning knowledge: Know the purpose of 19mm, 35mm, 64 mm hose on the fire ground
  • Underpinning skill: Learn hose deployment, and maintain that skill i.e. running, flaking, bowling
  • Get fitter

We`re firefighters let’s do our job and to heck with what is convenient and or easy; convenient and easy comes with preparation - `training` not opportuneness or habit.


Until next time, stay focused and stay professional.


Dean S Hawkins

ex-Senior Fire Commander

Fire department veteran

Author / Speaker / workshops

advisor all things training and provision the specialists


If you cease to remain relevant, then you become irrelevantDean S Hawkins


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