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The Initial Attack Line: Uncompromised & Uninterrupted

In reviewing information recently I found a great series of definitions regarding "line" in the American fire service. The source is the general definitions section of the 2015 NFPA 1410 Standard on Training for Emergency Scene Operations. Of all the various terms and definitions we maintain, NFPA, at least in this case has distilled it down to attack, backup, initial attack,  leader, preconnected and supply line. 

What stands out to me in this section is that there is clear intent to separate attack line from the initial attack line. At first glance we might conclude that this is purely to clarify that there may be more than just one "attack" line on the fire ground. If you look a little deeper and truly compare the definitions of attack, and initial attack line, two differentiating factors stand out. The first is mission,  Attack Line - "A hose line used primarily to apply water directly onto a fire..." compared to, Initial Attack Line = "The first hose stream placed into service by a company at the scene of a fire in order to protect lives or to prevent further extension of fire..." Seems like a general "attack line" is the wet stuff on red stuff guy and the "initial attack line" is the tip of the spear. The second is the clarification that the initial attack line stands alone. "to protect lives or to prevent further extension of fire while additional lines are laid and placed into position" The "additional lines" term is non specific and could apply to any of the other "line" but there is only one "Initial attack line"

I knew I had seen similar language before in an NFPA standard so I went to my notebook. NFPA 13E is the Recommended Practice for Fire Department Operations in Properties Protected by Sprinkler and Standpipe Systems.  In a section regarding the use of a gated wye on a standpipe outlet it advises that this is not recommended practice and that "Initial actions should be to connect a single large diameter hose line to each standpipe hose connection. Additional hose lines can be connected to standpipe connections on lower floors."

So what direction are we heading? If you are saying or hearing "the fire goes as the first line goes" or "if you put the fire out everything else gets better" or if you are reading UL fire stream studies and NFPA standards you are seeing that the highest priority should be placed on the conduct of the initial attack line. If you are seeing this, then it should also be clear that In the context of an initial attack line being deployed for an interior firefight, once it is placed into service and operation it should be uncompromised and uninterrupted.

If your head is nodding in agreement with the definitions, statements and conclusions to this point you now need to ask yourself if one of your initial attack line deployment tactics is a "leader line" to a gated wye. Unless both lines on a gated wye are put into service at the same time, and operated simultaneously, at some point there will be resultant compromise and interruption. The degree of which can vary depending on the volume and pressure of operating nozzles, and the presence of a governor or a very attentive pump operator. Quite simply put ,the hydraulic challenges of managing two lines off of a single discharge is tough with a pencil and paper, let alone in the context of a working fire and most likely an extended distance from the apparatus. While many of us may have assumed it has "worked for years" I personally feel that this more than likely falls into the good luck reinforces bad habits basket. If you are starting to shake your head over these last few statements I'll make one simple request before you stop reading and submit an ALL CAPS COMMENT, watch this video from the Elkhart Bass Tacks and Hard Facts series on the hydraulic implications of the gated wye. 

The empirical information is in, to flow two lines from a single source is a plan that has complexity, variables and communication problems. Sure it has "worked for years", it can be done, but having just watched that video how much faith do you have in that system if you are making a second floor, or heading down a hallway and the next arriving crew decides to charge and bleed the back up or second attack line on your wye?

This set up has plenty of applications still, exposure lines, exterior or defensive fires, additional attack lines or separate back up line. However, in order for us to give the initial attack line the best chance at initial and continued success in operation it should have a single source outlet, be uninterrupted and uncompromised. Please note I stated a single source outlet. I am a realist, I do not believe all lines should have separate pumps or supplies, the greatest fireground hydraulic problems are not pumps or supplies, they are misinterpreted gauges and partially opened valves, two factors that are increased 200% with a leader line to a gated wye.  

The unfortunate part of discovering the extent of the complications with such a deeply entrenched operation is that many people in our industry may not even be aware of how many other options exist to support these extended reach situations where our smaller diameter lines are fed by that larger diameter leader line. If you are starting to shake your head over these last few statements I'll make one more simple request before you stop reading and submit an ALL CAPS COMMENT, watch this video from the Elkhart Bass Tacks and Hard Facts series on options for extending a hose line. 

Evaluate best practices, evaluate educational resources and evaluate your attack packages, response area and organization against that information. The formal and informal message is that we may never have the same opportunity to have a positive impact on lives and property as we do with the deployment and operation of the initial attack line. We should never knowingly or willingly compromise the mission of that initial attack line or firefighters operating by cutting their flow or making them work harder for the simple purpose of making the placement of additional lines in service easier. 

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