PRECONNECTS: the basics

BY DOUG LEIHBACHER

In the not-too-distant past, the perpetual necessity to save time obliged the fire service to invent the preconnected hoseline. It was inevitable. The preconnect belongs to a long succession of common sense, time-saving innovations that include the brass pole, bunker pants with suspenders attached, SCBA brackets, and traffic signal changers. Compared with the traditional static hose loads, which are not connected to any discharge port until stretched, preconnects are a trade-off in which speed and simplicity are favored, with only slight loss to flexibility.


(Photos by Anthony Savignano unless otherwise noted.)

Where and when the preconnected hoseline was first used is uncertain. However, it seems reasonable to assume that firefighters throughout the country may have independently come up with the same idea as they fumbled to attach a nozzle or coupling while flames were spreading quickly throughout the structure they were attempting to save.

HOW PRECONNECTS CAME ABOUT

Prior to the 1940s, 2½-inch hose was used exclusively for supply lines and handlines. It was not normally differentiated into separate supply or discharge beds on the hose wagon. Moreover, it was felt that there was no way to predict where a fire might occur within a building. In addition, since the buildings themselves varied widely in height, depth, and setback, it was believed that the precise length of the attack hose could not be determined until the engine arrived at the scene. On arrival, the engine company officer would estimate how much 2½-inch line was needed to reach the fire and direct the firefighters to remove the nozzle, fittings, and a sufficient number of folds from the hosebed. The pumper would then stretch down the street in search of the nearest hydrant. In most departments, this process is now known as a reverse lay or reverse stretch.


A popular place to mount a preconnect is on the side fender of the pumper. With the line already attached to a discharge port at the pump panel, it is easy to stretch and repack.

Historically, the benefits of the reverse stretch included keeping the front of the building clear for the ladder company and placing the pumper at the water source where its full capacity could be used. However, only one hoseline could be advanced until the next pumper arrived on the scene and followed the same evolution. With the invention of the water thief, manifold, reducing wye gate, and 1½-inch hose, it became possible for later-arriving engine companies to bring hose to the front of the building and attach it to the appliance to back up the first-arriving engine.

Taking the idea one step further, engine companies began to preattach handlines of various lengths to the appliance and lay them across and on top of the 2½-inch supply hosebed. Two of the most popular hose loads were the “cisco” and the “skid” load. The cisco load used a canvas tarpaulin. Once the 2½-inch supply hose was dried and repacked, front to back in an accordion fold perpendicular to the back step, the tarpaulin was laid on top. An additional length of 2½-inch hose was then connected to the last coupling of supply hose and laid side to side across the canvas parallel to the back step, yielding a finished accordion load at right angles to the supply hose beneath it, with the end coupling approximately in the center of the bed. At the end of this length of 2½-inch hose was connected the intake port of a manifold, water thief, or wye gate appliance. Handlines were then connected to the appliance’s discharge ports. They, too, were packed parallel to the back step. Nozzles were then, attached and secured to the appliance with hose straps. On arrival at the fire, the canvas was pulled from the back of the apparatus, allowing the cisco handlines to slide out of the hosebed and onto the street. Their weight atop the last length of supply line held it in place and allowed the pumper to proceed down the street to the water source.


When long folds are removed from the hosebed, it is advisable to shorten them before proceeding. Place them on the ground behind the pumper, and reach beneath the midpoint to reduce the length by half.

Similarly, the skid load was also packed parallel to the back step on top of the supply bed. However, instead of placing a canvas sheet beneath it, a length of 2½-inch hose was placed so that it formed two parallel loops running perpendicular to the back step approximately two to three feet apart. The loops extended beyond the hosebed at least a foot so that they could be easily grabbed and pulled. The appliance, with handlines attached, was then packed across the two loops in similar fashion to the cisco hose load so that it rested on the loops. On arrival at the fire building, the hose team would grasp and pull the two loops away from the back of the pumper, and it would then proceed to the water source.

These hose loads were the precursor to the preconnect. With improved hydrant pressures, more uniform hydrant spacing, parallel supply hosebeds, and the advent of larger-diameter hose, the need to place the pumper at the water source became less essential. This led to the emergence of the “flying” or forward stretch. Instead of driving to the fire building first and then stretching to the water source as in the reverse stretch, companies that came upon a hydrant en route to the fire building began to stretch in to the fire rather than pass the hydrant. While this practice had the drawback of leaving one firefighter at the hydrant, it had the benefit of placing the pumper closer to the scene where communication between the officer and the pump operator was easier and the equipment and the hose it carried onboard could be readily procured. With the pumper near the building, hoselines of varying lengths could be connected to it. In effect, the pump with its various discharge ports acted as its own manifold appliance.


The rear hosebed of this apparatus is subdivided into four separate compartments. The left compartment holds a 250-foot handline preconnected to a 2½-inch rear discharge. The two in the center are parallel 3½-inch supply line hosebeds. The right compartment is a nonpreconnect static hosebed containing 10 lengths of 2½-inch hose with a nozzle connected.

Still, the concept of preconnecting handlines for rapid deployment needed one additional development, the subdivided hosebed. Once baffles were placed in the hose compartments of pumpers, it was possible to partition off space to house preconnected handlines.

MODERN PRECONNECTS

Preconnects allow engine companies to mount aggressive interior attacks quickly at fires commonly encountered in their districts. Preconnects are customarily used with 1½-, 1¾-, 2-, or 2½-inch size handlines. Generally, at least two preconnects are needed on the apparatus. There must be a short preconnect, which is usually made up with three lengths of hose that extends for 150 feet. It is deployed at auto fires or structure fires when the pumper is spotted near the fire building or when the fire is on a lower floor or the basement.

There must also be a long preconnect that includes five or six lengths of hose that extends for between 250 and 300 feet. This is used when the fire is on an upper floor in a larger building or when the pumper must allow room for the ladder truck and park away from the building. Occasionally, two different sizes of hose are combined in a long preconnect to reduce friction loss. For example, in a 250-foot preconnect, the first 50 or 100 feet of hose (packed on the bottom) is made up with 2½-inch line. A reducer is added so that the remainder of the preconnect can be made up with 1¾-inch line. The 1¾-inch line is used in the building because of its maneuverability, but the 2½-inch line reduces the friction loss substantially.


This apparatus contains a pair of crosslay or mattydale preconnects mounted transversely across the apparatus and connected to a swivel valve in the center of the hosebed. They can be readily deployed from the left or right side of the apparatus. (Photo by author.)

A discussion of preconnects would not be complete without mentioning what was perhaps the original preconnected line, the booster line. Booster lines first appeared on apparatus in the 1930s. They are manufactured in ¾-inch- and one-inch-diameter hard-rubber jacketed hose and mounted on reels that can hold 250 feet. They can be stretched and repacked quickly with minimal effort. They are easy to handle; have negligible backpressure; and are excellent tools for handling outside rubbish, brush, and dumpster fires. They can also be used for overhauling debris that has been removed to the exterior of the fire building.

Booster lines are not, however, recommended for use in auto fires or in structures because the friction loss created in the narrow waterway limits its effective delivery to a trifling 20- or 30-gpm maximum. As such, they cannot render an expeditious knockdown. To get greater volume from a booster line would require excessive engine rpm and potentially damage the pump. For autos and structures, 1¾-inch lines should be the minimum diameter hose used.

PRECALCULATING PUMP DISCHARGE PRESSURES

In addition to speed, the use of preconnects provides simplicity for the officer and the pump operator during the frenetic initial minutes of a fire situation. The officer does not have to calculate the exact number of lengths needed but decides merely if the long or short preconnect is required. The use of preconnects can also relieve the pump operator of the need to calculate friction loss during the initial stage of operations when there is more than enough to do in securing a water source, spotting the apparatus, and operating the pump properly.

Preconnected lines remain constant. The length of the stretch, the diameter of the hose, and even the handle on the pump panel always remain the same. Thus, the friction loss for the preconnect also remains the same. This makes it possible to precalculate the optimum pump discharge pressure for each preconnected line on the apparatus and eliminates the guesswork on the fireground. Having done so, it is then possible to label the pump panel or gauge with the proper flowing pump discharge pressure. For further information on preselecting pump discharge pressures from charts, see my article “The Engine Company: Preselecting Pump Discharge Pressures for Preconnected Handlines” (Fire Engineering, April 1997). For a discussion about proper minimum interior fire flows, see “Nozzles and Handlines for Interior Operations” by David Wood (Fire Engineering, April 1997).

Having precalculated the pump discharge pressure, it is good practice to color-code or label the discharge valves for each preconnect to make it simple for the pump operator to select the proper pump panel handle.

LOCATION ON THE APPARATUS

Preconnected hoselines are found in various places on the apparatus. Some are located at the rear of the apparatus on either side of the supply hosebed and are stretched off the back of the apparatus. This allows easy deployment, especially when the engine pulls past the fire building to keep the front clear for the ladder. However, there is a drawback to this location. The back step is also where the large-diameter supply lines come off. When an engine company stretches in, the rear of the apparatus can become rather disorderly as the pump operator attempts to break the supply lines at the same time the nozzle team is pulling its folds from the preconnect bed. In this instance, the preconnect becomes the priority, and the pump operator will have time to work with the supply line after the preconnect has been stretched.

Probably the most popular location for preconnects is amidships in a transverse, or cross-bed arrangement. This method of packing a preconnect is sometimes referred to as a “mattydale.” Packing hose across the apparatus was first conceived in the community of Mattydale, New York, in the 1940s. At that time, the firefighters were seeking a location on their pumper in which to mount their new 1½-inch hose. They came up with the idea of mounting a hose box across the apparatus amidships, above the pump, and preconnecting it into the pump panel.

To assist in this type of load, many pumpers are now outfitted with a pivoting discharge port in the center of the hosebed called a chicksan swivel. Packing preconnects across the apparatus provides the option to stretch from whichever side of the apparatus the fire is on. Additionally, it ensures short, easy-to-carry folds that are no longer than the width of the apparatus. Moreover, because of their close proximity to the pump panel, it is obvious to the pump operator which line was stretched. There can be a minor problem, however, if they are packed with extended loops for easy grabbing. The loops tend to hang down over the pump panel gauges if they are left too long.

Another popular position for a preconnect is along the running board of the apparatus. Here, a 150- or 200-foot preconnect can be mounted on either side of the apparatus. It is easy to stretch and pack and is held in place by three or four seatbelts or straps.

Additionally, some companies attach a short, 50- or 100-foot “junk” line and preconnect it to a front or side discharge port. It is packed on the front bumper or side step for use on dumpsters, outside rubbish fires or washdowns. It deploys quickly and is easy to repack.

Although the overwhelming majority of preconnected hoselines are discharge lines, it should be noted that companies that customarily perform reverse stretches or frequently relay water often preconnect a 20-foot length of large-diameter supply hose to their front suction and mount it on the front bumper. This provides a swift means of connecting to a hydrant and supplying water. Take care not to spot the apparatus too close to the hydrant. If the apparatus is too close, a large kink can form in the supply line, which will restrict intake flow and cause cavitation in the pump.

CHOOSING THE RIGHT LENGTH PRECONNECTS FOR THE APPARATUS

The number of preconnects and their specific lengths will depend on the size of the common, nonstandpiped structures in your first-due district. This is where preplanning and preconnecting come together. To make a good decision, it is important to take a look at the most common structures in your first-due district. In what type of buildings do you commonly fight fires? Are they primarily three- and four-story tenements that are fronted close to the street? What are their dimensions, 25 2 70 feet? Are they private dwellings set back behind front lawns? How many 50-foot lengths does it take to reach the front door on average? Does the company primarily serve an industrial warehouse area where the buildings are principally one story with 30,000 square feet or more area? In many cases, your district will include all of the above, in which case it may be a good idea to set aside one preconnect for each major type of occupancy you encounter. In most districts, a selection of preconnects ranging from 100 to 300 feet will serve the purpose. Preconnects shorter than 100 feet place the apparatus too close to the fire. Preconnects longer than 300 feet require two companies to stretch and can have kinking and friction-loss difficulties.

Generally, preconnects are the lines of choice in tenements, garden apartments, and private dwellings. In high-rise buildings, donuts and apartment packs are used. However, if the pumper is located close to the high-rise and the fire is in the basement, first, second, or third floor, it may be faster to deploy a preconnect than to initiate a standpipe operation.

SELECTING THE RIGHT PRECONNECT FOR THE JOB

Once the preconnected lines have been established, it then becomes a matter of the officer’s observing the type and size of the building and calling for the preconnect he feels will serve best at the fire scene. In making the call, the officer does not want to underestimate the distance and stretch short. By the same token, playing it too safe by calling for the long preconnect when the shorter one is needed will cause excessive kinking and reduced water flow. This can create a problem that is tougher to solve.

To help in your decision making, perform a distance size-up. The officer begins by estimating the distance from the pumper to the front door. Is it 50 feet (one length) or 100 feet (two lengths), and so on? (Note: Judging horizontal distance can take practice and is a good subject for a company drill.) Next, it is necessary to judge the size of the building. What are the width, depth, and height? From the front door, how many lengths will it take to reach the fire? On which floor is the fire? Can the fire floor be reached with one length, as in an open-wellhole stretch, or will it take one length per floor as in a closed wellhole? You can find out this information during building inspection or preplanning activities. Will one length be sufficient on the fire floor? On the basis of this size-up, the officer can decide which preconnect is best suited for the job.

In most fires, either the long or the short preconnect will do the job. However, there will always be fires that don’t fall into the routine category and will require extra long stretches (i.e., a factory building where the standpipe is out of service or an exposure line that must be stretched through rear yards). For these occasions, there are several options:

  1. Pack a few lengths of nonpreconnected hose under the preconnect. If an extra length is needed, the pump operator can add it at the pumper. To reduce friction loss, 2½-inch line with a reducer can be used for this purpose.

    STRETCHING A PRECONNECT

    As with any hose stretch, the first requirement is to convey one working length of hose to the fire floor. If done skillfully, a limited amount of exertion will be required. The firefighter assigned to the nozzle approaches the preconnect hosebed and begins the stretch by inserting his arm through the top row of loops. He then takes hold of the nozzle and pulls the loops out of the hosebed. These loops will provide the working length that must be brought to the fire floor. With the other free hand, the nozzleman can grab a second set of loops before starting for the building. This set of loops should be carried as far as possible and ideally to the base of the staircase through which the line is being stretched.

    A second firefighter is needed to remove the remainder of the hose from the preconnect hosebed and pull it taut from the hose compartment all the way to the front of the building or foot of the stairs. This practice ensures that the full length of the preconnect is used to reach the fire floor and none of it is left lying in the street, wasted. When a second firefighter is unavailable, a member of another company may have to assist in this capacity. When more than three lengths of hose are stretched, a minimum of two firefighters is needed to stretch it properly.

    Ultimately, it is the pump operator’s responsibility to make sure that all the hose has been pulled from the preconnect compartment before charging the line. During the prodigious early moments of a fire, it is all too easy to stretch a preconnect into a building without fully removing all the lengths of hose from the bed. If the line is charged while a length of hose is still in the bed, it will kink there, and very little water will get through to the nozzle.

    In a static hosebed, the pump operator must walk around, disconnect the last length of hose, and connect it to a discharge port before charging the line. With a preconnect, this is not required. The pump operator merely needs to pull the lever when the nozzle team calls for water. Before doing so, however, it is imperative that the pump operator walk around to see that all the hose has been removed from the hosebed. Additionally, he should see that it is not lying in a pile beneath the backstep. If it is, it should be brought to the front of the building and flaked out there before the line is charged. This is especially true in the case of a 2½-inch line that becomes very difficult to move after being charged.

    Preconnects stretch quickly, and it is not uncommon for two engine companies to approach the building at nearly the same time. When this occurs, teamwork must take precedence. The second-due unit should assist the first-due unit to get its hoseline in position before it begins stretching its own line. Members should position themselves in the stairwell or at corners of the hallway and lighten up the line for the first-due unit as it is being stretched into the building. Once in place, the second unit can tend to its line and engage the help of later-arriving units.

    HOSE COMPARTMENT DIMENSIONS

    The depth and height of the hose compartment have an important impact on how preconnects are stretched. Years ago, the apparatus’ onboard water tanks were located in front of the hose compartment and above the pump. This allowed for a low-profile hosebed that was easy to reach from the street as well as a short hosebed about six feet deep. Both of these features are user-friendly and ergonomic for firefighters.

    Newer engines are outfitted with water tanks located beneath the hose compartment. This lowers the apparatus’ center of gravity and makes it safer to drive. However, it raises the hosebed overhead so that it is necessary to climb up to reach the preconnect. In addition, the length of the hosebed is increased to 10 or 11 feet to hold the necessary hose. Thus, after reaching over your head to grasp the hose loops, the folds you pull off will be 10 feet long.

    Hose folds this long are difficult to stretch because they drag behind and catch on a myriad of objects such as curbs, the tires of parked cars, storm doors, and newel posts. Moreover, the friction created by the dragging hose can cause firefighters to expend a great deal of energy before the line even reaches the fire floor.

    To alleviate this, there are two options: The first method is to center the hose load over your arm before approaching the building. After pulling off the working length of hose, put it down neatly, and reach your arm beneath the pile at the midpoint. This cuts the length of the hose folds in half (to about five feet) and makes carrying them much more manageable.

    A second alternative is to place the hose folds on your shoulder as they are removed. After stepping off the back step, turn 180 degrees to face the opposite direction from the hosebed, and switch the hose to the other shoulder as you do so. The hose should be balanced with an equal length of hose in front and in back. Placing the hose on your shoulder raises it higher off the ground and greatly limits dragging. Once balanced evenly on your shoulder, with half the load in front and half behind, shorten the folds to a manageable length. This procedure is sometimes referred to as a “minuteman” stretch. A true minuteman hose load would include packing the nozzle on the bottom of the pile so that the loops of hose on the nozzleman’s shoulder will pay off as he approaches the building. This method is difficult to execute and should be practiced thoroughly before it is attempted on the fireground.

    PACKING PRECONNECTS

    Preconnects are usually packed in one of two ways. When mounted on the running board of the apparatus, they are usually packed in an accordion-type load. When loaded in the rear of the apparatus or in a crossbed, they are usually packed in a flat load, one, two, or three folds across. When packing hose, pack some loops flush with the end of the compartment, and extend some about 12 to 18 inches for easy grabbing.

    It is important to get the extended loops in the proper place. The placement of extended loops will vary with the length of the preconnect and each company’s preferences and practices. Generally, the first length returned to the bed (on the bottom of the pile) should have extended loops so that it is easily pulled from the hosebed and is not left there to kink. Similarly, the top length of hose should receive a row of extended loops so that the nozzleman, on sliding his arm through these loops, will have the working length of hose to be brought to the fire floor along with the nozzle. An intermittent set of extended loops may be needed in the middle of the load if five or more lengths are used in a short hosebed.

    Consider the position of the preconnect discharge port when making the first fold at the bottom of the hoseload. If it is at the rear of the apparatus near the back step, it is all right to give it an extended loop. However, if it is at the front of the hosebed, the first loop must be packed short, in a dutchman fold so that it is not pulled.

    After using the preconnect, separate and completely drain each length. Reattach preattach couplings one at a time at the apparatus to avoid getting air or residual water in the repacked hoseline. Here again, the booster line can come in handy for rinsing oil, dirt, or other contaminants from the woven jacket of the hose before it is rolled up or repacked.

    At times when an apparatus is stripped to go out of service for repairs, the preconnect is repacked by a relief crew, or if a burst length has occurred, the wrong number of preconnected lengths may be returned to the apparatus. A hose compartment containing four lengths of hose looks pretty much the same as one carrying five lengths, but the difference will lead to stretching short. To help avoid this, after packing the proper number of lengths of preconnect into the hose compartment, count the number of loops in one of the rows, and mark the total on the side of the compartment. Each time the preconnect is repacked on the apparatus, check the number of loops to ensure that the proper amount of hose has been returned to the apparatus. What’s more, the pump operator should count the number of preconnect loops as part of the daily apparatus check.

    Preconnected handlines are the most frequently used hose on the apparatus. They are often subjected to falling glass and burning debris. Consequently, lengths of preconnected hose are commonly damaged during operations, and their service life is much shorter than that of supply hose. A full complement of spare hose is warranted and should be readily available on the hose rack for quick replacement of damaged hose.

    Repairs made to the hose jacket of damaged hose usually involves cutting away the damaged part and reattaching the coupling. This inevitably results in a shortened length of hose. Repaired hose that is shortened more than 10 feet should not be utilized for preconnects. Shortened lengths can lead to stretching short.

    The use of preconnected hoselines has proven to be an effective, timesaving tool for firefighters. While not a universal prescription for every fire situation, the preconnect has proven to be operative in the majority of cases when the engine is located in close proximity to the fire. As with any tool, to obtain the best results, it is necessary to practice using it. In the case of the preconnect, it is advisable to practice stretching it properly. A skilled nozzleman can get a preconnected line to the fire floor in seconds, faster than an unencumbered person could walk and usually before forcible entry team members.

  2. DOUG LEIHBACHER, a 19-year veteran of the fire service, is captain of Engine 303 in the Yonkers (NY) Fire Department. He has a bachelor’s degree in education and is a New York state-certified fire instructor and municipal training officer.

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