Social media is full of debates, discussions, and general arguments resulting in name-calling on where water should be applied from. One camp is firm in its belief that fast water from whatever location or position is the best. The other camp belittles anyone who does not immediately initiate an aggressive interior attack. This debate has been going on for decades, really, it is now just being rehashed in a different format, that being the internet.
What often gets lost, I think, is the fact that regardless of where you initiate the attack from too many departments and personnel are failing before they even get to that attack position. It really makes no difference as to the attack starting point if we are failing to get the hose line to that position in a quick, efficient manner to begin with. Location is irrelevant if by the time the hose gets there it is either too late or poorly laid.
If you are going interior, pull the line off the apparatus with purpose. When an order is given to knock down visible fire from the exterior get the line into position quickly. It would seem that this is obvious, but based on the abundant video and photographic evidence to the contrary, I would say we are failing before we even begin.
I’m not interested in which particular hose lay you or your department swears by. We all have our preference. Mine is a simple pre-connect flat load of either 150’ or 200’. That is not the solution for every fire, but it is what has worked for me too many times to count. I can appreciate the fact that many places only advocate static beds and thus estimate the lengths needed for each particular fire. I’m ok with that, I’ve seen that system used with success.
Whatever your preferred load, know how much it is and how it is to be deployed. Learn what obstacles there may be in the hose bed box such as plumbing joints and know the workaround for such obstructions. Always be aware of any specific terminology or phrases that your department uses with regards to its loads such as “pull number 1”, “use the trash line”, or “take it off the rear.” Each one of these may mean something different from department to department. Additionally, know the differences between your normal apparatus and any reserve units you may switch into. The key is to get the correct line out of the right bed quickly.
Spaghetti is a wonderful thing, especially in the presence of thick sauce and extra meatballs laced with Italian sausage. It has no place on the fire ground in the form of a messed up hose line. To be fair, there are times when in spite of your best efforts the line gets twisted and jumbled up. Exception yes, rule no. Take the working length along with the nozzle, get the load on your shoulder; pausing for 3 extra seconds to grab the next coupling will go a long way to reducing spaghetti. Start getting on the members who simply grab the hose and throw it straight down to the ground as it comes off the bed! That does nothing for the deployment process other than slow it down. Grab a few folds down and stretch it in an advantageous direction. It will help the entire line come out smoother, neater, faster.
As the line is being deployed from the apparatus know what the travel path to your intended location should be. Knowing where the officer wants it to end up is the first thing to determine; make sure communication is clear and decisive. I’ve watched firefighters run all over the front and side yards trying to figure out what all the finger-pointing and shouts (usually drowned out by engine noise) from the officer is supposed to mean. If you don’t know the ending point for your line it’s hard to be efficient at the starting point. Do you have to maneuver around things like parked cars, trees, fences? Sometimes it’s advantageous to go parallel with the street while other times it’s better to stretch down a long drive and come back. Each situation should be rehearsed before it is needed for real.
I get the fact that many people are against running on the fire scene, believing that it only makes you miss things, step in holes, or get out of breath too quickly. But when did we start advocating strolling? Seriously, many times it looks as if the nozzle firefighter is out for a mid-day walk after taking in an art show. Not that there’s anything wrong with walking or art shows, but the fire scene is not the time or place for that type of laissez-faire attitude. Get your line in position now! If you don’t want to run or jog, fine, I can live with that. But please at least move with purpose. Move like there’s a house on fire and it’s your job to extinguish it. There just might be!
Once you’ve reached the attack point call for water and mask up (if your department does not advocate truck masking). Why wait to call for water until you are breathing air? Getting water earlier helps identify any hose or pump issues that much sooner before entry. Don’t necessarily wait to open the nozzle until everyone is masked up; start flowing water at the soonest appropriate time. I continue to see videos and photos of a guy hurriedly masking up with fire rolling over his head while the nozzleman, dressed and ready, waits for him to finish. Protect your crews! A sidebar to that is--don’t take the nozzle if you’re the slowest one to dress!
We know from going to fires that the first few minutes after arrival are some of the most critical ones. Everything needs to be done now, there is no margin for error. There are many strategies and tactics that must be quickly thought through, decided upon, communicated, and engaged in. Stretching the initial attack line must be an autopilot activity. We can not control all fire ground factors such as the amount of fire, building construction, or life safety concerns; we can, however, control how well the first line gets placed into service. Performing stretches in training take little time, little space, and little effort. It does, however, pay rich dividends in the first few minutes of a fire.
This article really boils down to 3 things: know what your departmental procedures are, be proficient at performing those procedures, go do it!
As usual, if you wish to have further conversations on stretching lines I’d love to hear from you via email here