Over the past few days, compliments of the Internet, several videos have been posted that show the “lost art” of getting the first attack line in service. There has been plenty of talk about the first line, from numerous training companies and instructors alike... but the nuts and bolts of are often overlooked. The art form that is the stretching of the primary attack line is not for the weak; not for a weak officer and not for a weak crew.
After attending a recent conference and watching various new burn rate videos and the accompanying lectures, I was pondering how this new information translates to where the rubber meets the road. Even though I am sure that there are many topics that this new information could be applied. Many of those topics, would be on a much grander scale than what I am writing about here. The relation it has on what I am going to talk about comes down to a very simple task.
Lets take our most prevalent type fire, the single-family dwelling. The studies show that with newer building materials and highly combustible contents, these fires are going to grow faster and burn hotter than the “good-old” days.
This information demands that if we make the tactical decision to proceed with an interior/offensive fire attack that as a department and company we are prepared to make this attack. This last sentence is very easy to say and I hear it repeated numerous times across the country. But, how prepared are you really as a company and a department to implement this strategy? This implemented interior attack, with all the information about burn rates and hotter fires, should make all of us rethink how well we do the simplest task.
That task is pulling the first line, getting it into position and finally...OPERATING the line on the fire. Yes putting water on the fire.
The task of stretching the first attack line, I believe has been taken for granted for to long. It is something that most departments teach in their recruit schools or Firefighter 1 classes. From there, most departments believe that maybe conducting a drill once a year on pulling the lines is enough. Not to mention that most of these drills are in a beautiful parking lot or training grounds that has no obstacles or obstructions. Isn’t it nice for the crews and the department when they pat each other on the back and commend each other for a great job! The bosses take note that everyone did great on pulling lines this year!
Heck, we could even give each crew a trophy for pulling the lines in the vacant parking lot so they feel good about themselves. Okay, sorry I got on my soapbox for a second, I will now deploy my escape device and get off of there.
The pulling, stretching and operating that first attack line is not something that you should happen upon. Or worse, feel lucky that you got it in place and operating. It takes a dedication to yourself as an officer, and yourself as a firefighter to get this vitally important task done. What is needed is to make it a well-practiced and developed habit.
We constantly hear at conferences that runs and fires are down. Statistically this may be correct, but that does not lessen the responsibility or obligation for you as the company officer or the backstep firefighter to complete your tasks with the upmost efficiency or professionalism. This efficiency and professionalism is regardless if you receive a check for riding that engine or if you are volunteering in your hometown.
Fire does not care, it will take advantage of any crack in your armor, in your operation, regardless of affiliation or size of your town or city.
You have to practice, practice, practice and yeah practice some more. This simple task of the first attack line cannot be mastered by sitting in a recliner at the station, preoccupied on your X-Box or Wii, or by telling yourself that you are good at it and not practicing it. Believe me when I tell you that I have had officers and companies tell me that they are proficient at pulling attack lines and when the call or incident occurs, Larry, Moe and Curly would have been a great improvement on the crew. And sadly, probably less entertaining.
When we have incidents regardless of how small or insignificant as they may seem, or whatever time that they are called in, we should be taking advantage of each and every one of them to train.
So let me make this a little clearer, it’s 2:30 AM in the morning and you are dispatched for an odor of smoke in an apartment building. It has been a long day of medical runs, training, and cleaning the firehouse. But this is our first structure fire call of the shift or day. You as the officer and your crew must now take full advantage of the call and deliver your best effort for yourselves, the department, and the citizens you serve.
As you pull into the block you locate your hydrant and lay a supply line to the scene. You have pre-planned this project type building and know by the address that this is a 300’ foot stretch to the apartment with 50 feet of hose left for the apartment. You can smell the odor of burnt food from the cab as you pull up.
The parking lot is jammed with cars and this Saturday night has many of the apartment occupants hanging out in the courtyard waiting to see you and your crews show. You order the crew to make the stretch and all of you proceed to work yourselves and the line to the apartment of origin. The line keeps getting caught on vehicle tires and fence posts, your crew constantly is moving the line away from these obstacles and continues the advance of the line.
As you the officer keep checking the line you see that there are no bundles of hose left anywhere, the line is not under any tires and, that at the apartment door, they have 50 feet of line still on the nozzle person’s shoulder. All the doors have been chocked open and your crew is ready to deploy the line if needed.
This practiced and proficient operation does not happen by accident, this operation is completed by non-complacent, Combat Ready, and dedicated professional firefighters and officers.
We have to become proficient at the task of getting that first line in service and operating first, followed by the second line and maybe the third line. All this should be done without complication, fanfare, and not be overly time consuming but... proficient. These do not happen by “miracle” they happen by having good officers, crews, department philosophy and dedication. All must have the understanding the VITAL importance of that first attack line. Getting the line there is just one step in the battle. Now you have to charge it and have the ability to advance it when charged and put water on the fire. This last task is a class in itself and is taught by great hands-on instructors across the nation, better than I could possibly write about it here.
So get out there on your runs and pull that hoseline every time, if nothing else, to be an expert when lives hang in the balance.
As always BE COMBAT READY...