Bill Adkins: Fireground Operations While Using Nurse Tankers


Nineteen years ago, I joined a rural volunteer fire department where water shuttles are essential to fireground operations. I remember we had to stop fireground operations almost every time we had a fire either because we were running out of water or because an inexperienced engineer was not familiar with drafting while handlines were in use. For whatever reason, it was unacceptable to have to pull out our crews when they were making a good knockdown on the fire.

About eight years ago, the chief came to me with the idea of using our 3,000-gallon tank, 1,500 gallons-per-minute (gpm) pump tanker as a nurse tanker. He wanted me to come up with a plan for our initial attack while using nurse tankers. The first thing I did was to establish standardized assignments for the first-due engine. Then, I put the nurse tanker into play. We made sure that each member along with our mutual-aid officers were trained on this process before it went into service. It has worked so well that after our chief retired this past year, our new chief wanted us to keep things running the way they are. He supports the process 100 percent.

Another problem we were having was that everyone on our first-due engine would jump off the truck and go straight to the fire with multiple lines. Everyone would be freelancing. As we all now know, this is dangerous and unacceptable. To remedy the problem, we developed seating assignments for each individual on the apparatus.


Each member of the first-due engine has an assignment, and it’s the officer’s job to make sure each member knows his job while responding to the incident.

Driver: Drives the engine without interruptions, operates the pump, and takes accountability (until command staff is on scene).

Officer: Operates the siren and lights, gives the driver directions to the scene, makes sure each person knows his assignment, performs scene size-up (including 360° report), determines if it is an offensive or a defensive attack, establishes command, meets up with the attack line at the point of entry for fire attack, and takes the thermal imaging camera and halligan bar.

Behind the officer: Pulls the attack line, meets up with the officer at the point of entry with the attack line ready, brings the flathead ax, and operates the nozzle.

Behind the driver: Pull the supply line, connect to the pump intake of the engine, connect to the discharge of the nurse tanker, help the operator of the nurse tanker to set up the fold-a-tank and the hard suction for drafting operations; then meet up with the initial attack crew with a six-foot hook.


Notice that I put nurse tanker or second pumper. It does not need to be a tanker with a pump. If your next piece of apparatus with a pump is an engine, use it; however, usually in a rural setting, the next piece of apparatus is a tanker/tender. The following is the responsibility of the operator of the nurse tanker/second pumper:

Driver: Immediately give the first-due engine water when the first-due engine supply line is attached to its discharge. Help the firefighter from the first-due engine to set his apparatus for drafting operations. This will include the fold-a-tank, hard suction, and strainer. Once the next tender is on scene, have it fill your fold-a-tank and begin drafting operations.


The first-due engine arrives on scene, conducts a size-up, and develops a plan of attack. Each individual deploys from the engine and performs the task at hand depending on his seating assignment. The engineer of the first-due engine uses his tank water until the nurse tanker arrives on scene. Once the nurse tanker is on scene, the operator of the nurse tanker uses his tank water until drafting operations are ready. Depending on the tank sizes of the first-due engine and nurse tanker, there should be around 3,000 to 4,000 gallons of water for the attack crew to work with.

Once the fold-a-tank is full of water and drafting operations are ready, the operator of the nurse tanker needs to establish a draft. When the draft is established, the operator is to shut the tank-to pump valve and start refilling his tank slowly. The water from the fold-a-tank should be going to the nurse tanker tank and to the first-due engine. When the nurse tanker tank is full, shut the “Tank Fill.”  Now the water is coming from the fold-a-tank and will ultimately end at the nozzle onto the fire.

The engineer of the first-due engine will shut its “Tank to Pump” once the engine starts to receive water from the nurse tanker. Then he will open the “Fill/Recirculate” valve slowly to fill the tank. Once both the nurse tanker and the first-due engine have refilled their tanks, they, again, will have 3,000 to 4,000 gallons of “safety water” in case the supporting tankers/tenders are running behind.


As stated before, we now have around 3,000 to 4,000 gallons of water on the fireground. This does not include any additional apparatus besides the first-due engine and the nurse tanker.  Let’s take my department, for example. Our first-due engine has 1,000 gallons, and our nurse tanker has 3,000 gallons. With a nozzle that flows 200 gpm (average 1¾ nozzle gpm), it would take around 20 minutes of constantly flowing water to run out of water. I like to estimate to 17 minutes because we are not able to use every drop of our water.

As with any fireground operations, there will be controversy. There will be firefighters out there who say this can’t work in their department, and they would be right. This operation is not for everyone. It takes hours of training, not only with your department but also with your mutual-aid departments. As for our department, we have had 100- × 100-foot barns full of hay and have not had problems waiting for water. That’s because we have spent many hours training, and everyone, from the chief down to our newest firefighter, is onboard. I tell our officers and firefighters: “If you can’t put the fire out with 4,000 gallons of water, you shouldn’t have been interior anyway!” and “It’s important to put the water where it needs to go. I don’t want to arrive on scene and see fire streams in the air.”


BILL ADKINS, a member of the fire service for 19 years, is a career lieutenant for Loveland-Symmes (OH) Fire Department, a volunteer captain for Fayetteville (OH) Fire Department, and a part-time firefighter for Goshen (OH) Township Fire Department. He served four years as a firefighter onboard the USS George Washington.