By Ray McCormack
If only hose couplings would disappear! They seem to catch on every available step edge, corner, newel post, and door casting, causing delays during stretching. Although that wish is one that comes and goes during a moment of frustration, firefighters know no matter how aggravating they may become, they serve a life-saving function.
The lowly hose coupling is a path identifier and lifeline for firefighters, providing direct escape information for those who can read with their hands. To read a coupling is not difficult, but it is a skill that leaves little room for error. Your fire gloves are difficult to read with, but those are the parameters of this learned skill. You must be able to read the direction of travel with your gloves on and you had better get it right. Where is the nozzle? Where is the apparatus? They are at opposite ends of the hoseline and the couplings tell you how to distinguish between these two paths of travel.
How much hose do you stretch? The amount of hose used versus amount of hose stretched for some is a wide divide, resulting in hundreds of feet of extra hose laid in a jumble in yards and driveways because the extra was never trimmed away. Trimming the fat off your stretch starts with uncoupling hose you don't need. Separating the useable hose from the waste is a good habit that reduces the opportunity for kinks, and it starts by uncoupling hose. Remember that the couplings are not wielded together. Having too much hose in a stretch by itself is not automatically problematic, but that extra hose needs a large area to lay out and someone has to do that while--just maybe--they could have done some other task that actually amounted to something.
Hose sections that come in hundred-foot lengths only provide direction of travel hints every one hundred feet. The use of these longer sections are often incorporated into high-rise packs and used as the attack length of hose. Although a virtual coupling free hose stretch might sound good, how will it affect your urgent exit? If you have to traverse a hundred feet of hoseline only to find out that you're headed in the wrong direction, that frustration factor will beat any snagged coupling delay hands down.
We live with the challenge of hose couplings every day, but we should take comfort in knowing that they are a silent sentinel leading the way. Find out how to correctly read your hose couplings and you will learn a tale of tactical safety.
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RAY McCORMACK is a 30-year veteran and a lieutenant with FDNY. He is the publisher and editor of Urban Firefighter Magazine. He delivered the keynote address at FDIC in 2009 and he is on the Editorial Board of Fire Engineering Magazine.