Big Drops of Water

With the new studies on fire attack being done in acquired structures and laboratories, I decided to do some studying on my own and read an interesting article by my late friend Andrew Fredericks of the Fire Department of New York who perished on 9/11. It was called “Little Drops of Water: 50 Years Later” and encompassed two parts. It was a very informative piece and has had riveting effects on today’s fire service with regard to solid stream vs. fog attack and direct attack vs. indirect attack.

One of the most poignant things about the article is that in today’s modern fire environment, 150 to 180 gallons per minute (gpm) are required to extinguish the fire while also protecting advancing firefighters. Andy also wrote numerous other prolific pieces for Fire Engineering, one being “The 2½-Inch Handline,” which I recently passed on to a firefighter studying for promotion. Anyway, here are some thoughts on water application and hoseline operations from a guy who influenced me.

Advanced Fire on Arrival

Too bad so many of us have been caught on YouTube today pulling up with three or four firefighters on an engine to a raging private-dwelling fire with extension across the narrow alley and into the exposure; yet, we pull the 1¾-inch hoseline and stand in the front yard attempting to extinguish the fire and knock down the extension. Most of the time, much of the water turns to steam before it even hits its intended target, and we look like we are watering the lawn, but at least we’re making a great photo opportunity for fire calendars.

If we used a solid stream nozzle and pulled a 2½-inch hoseline (flows of 250 to 325 gpm, with longer reach and higher volume) right off the bat, I’m sure we’d make a bigger dent in the fire compared to standing there and watering the shrubs. I’m probably sparking up the old debate of solid vs. fog nozzle, but the tip pressure on a solid stream only has to be 50 pounds per square inch (psi), which makes the line easier to hold and control. I know reduced staffing can tempt us to pull the old reliable 1¾-inch, but we have to train on using a 2½-inch with one and two members.

Learn how to pin the line or even make a circular loop in the line to hold the back pressure down while you’re operating the line. Once too often, we’ve been caught pulling our standard line on commercial occupancies, stores, auto shops, and factories and even new “McMansions” and “Mega Dwellings.” Big buildings mean big problems; call for a big line!

On another note, why are we equipping our engine apparatus with those large 2,000-gpm pumps and prepiped monitor nozzles? When you pull into the block and see a large, well-involved fire, lay a supply line into the fire (water to fire stretch) and use the blitz attack (initially using the deck gun to knock down the fire quickly). You may not extinguish the fire immediately, but you may make a big dent in it, and now you can reformulate your plan of attack. Some units even place a 2½-inch solid stream nozzle or an inline gate on their monitor nozzle’s stream shaper; this way, the chauffeur can charge it and operate it, especially if he’s protecting someone trapped by flames up on a fire escape.

Also, be prepared to supply the master stream of another piece of apparatus or stretch and use your portable monitor appliance quickly to prevent losing the whole block of framed homes. If you’re not in the habit of stretching your supply line into the fire, you can still pull in and use your tank water and monitor nozzle and give it a good shot. If you are “back stretching” to the hydrant and moving the engine out of the way, remember to drop your larger size handlines and a supply line in the street (hook the fitting on a parked car’s tire or wrap a sign post) for an incoming tower or aerial ladder apparatus.

From Offense to Defense

You may attempt to extinguish a fire with your standard attack line and encounter conditions (interior collapse, compromised building stability) that require you to retreat and, unfortunately, write off the fire building. You may have switched from interior operations to exterior operations, and yet one firefighter is still flowing the smaller-diameter line into the raging inferno. It’s okay to shut this line down and pull it back toward the engine (so it’s not buried in bricks or under a wall if there is a collapse) and stretch a larger-diameter line or set up a portable monitor appliance. It’s also very important to consider where you want to operate this handline from or set up this appliance because of the collapse potential. Remember, you want to set up and operate your appliances on the corners of the building (less likelihood of collapse) and stay out of the collapse zone.

If you’ve been fortunate enough to knock down the main fire building with your large-caliber streams and now need to get into one of the exposures to knock down the fire’s extension, you can downsize your line by removing the tip off the 2½-inch nozzle, attaching the female butt end of the smaller-diameter hose to the nozzle shutoff, and stretching a few lengths of 1¾-inch for speed and mobility while advancing into the exposure. Always remember to fully open this shutoff at the connection point and secure it in the open position with a hose strap, rope, or tubular webbing to prevent it from being inadvertently shut down. The last thing you need is an engine company on the working end of the line having no water and getting jammed up. We don’t need to discharge any more little drops of water 15 years later.

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MICHAEL N. CIAMPO is a 31-year veteran of the fire service and a lieutenant in the Fire Department of New York. Previously, he served with the District of Columbia Fire Department. He has a bachelor’s degree in fire science from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. He is the lead instructor for the FDIC Truck Essentials H.O.T. program. He wrote the Ladder chapter and co-authored the Ventilation chapter for Fire Engineering’s Handbook for Firefighter I and II (Fire Engineering, 2009) and is featured in “Training Minutes” truck company videos on

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