Suburban Fire Department, Urban Mentality: The Fast-Attack Engine Company

Part 1

By Steven W. Stein

Engine operations in the Forest Park Fire Department (FPFD) are designed to ensure adequate flow and a rapid deployment of the initial attack line on the fireground. Whether single or multifamily, residential, or commercial, FPFD engine companies are set up to stretch into the various occupancy types encountered in our first-alarm response areas. As the late Lt. Andy Fredricks of the Fire Department of New York always said: “If we put the fire out, everything gets better on the fireground.” The fast-attack engine company must not only be well trained and ready to make various types of stretches, but it must also have an apparatus designed around its needs.

Suburban fire departments across the country are called on to handle and mitigate several types of emergencies. Because of the wide array of services we must provide, we need to implement and maintain a strict division of labor on the various emergency scenes. Short-staffing that is non-compliant with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standard 1710, Standard for the Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression, Emergency Medical Operations and Special Operations to the Public by Career Fire Departments, is no excuse to not have a plan for the various types of emergencies we are called to mitigate.

The FPFD maintains a three-person engine company, composed of an officer in charge (OIC), fire apparatus operator (FAO), and a roughneck assigned to the nozzle seat. If we have the available staffing for a fourth person, he is assigned to the hydrant seat. The FPFD maintains seat or riding assignments based on position in the apparatus. The most dangerous moments for firefighters on the fireground are the first five to seven minutes. It is during these first few minutes that we must be most efficient in our operations, whether they be offensive, defensive, or marginal.   

Efficiency goes hand and hand with effectiveness. It is understood that if a tactic or strategy is ineffective, it cannot possibly be efficient unless the goal of the agency is to expedite the manner in which the occupancy burns down. The purpose of efficiency is to mitigate a dangerous situation before it gets out of the control of the agency. Fires will continue to grow and buildings will continue to weaken as we exhaust time deploying lines and putting strategies in place.

Operating guidelines and initial action plans for riding assignments should be viewed in a manner similar to the military’s contingency plans. The fire department must have the mentality that a fire is an attack on its community; as such it will not be tolerated as an incident the department cannot mitigate. As Ray McCormack of FDNY reminds us: “We must treat fire with hostility, aggression, and violence.”

Our hostility comes from fireground standard operating guidelines that are standard across one’s first-alarm assignment. Hostility comes from well-trained personnel ready to attack a fire in the most efficient manner possible. Hostility is the mindset we have toward fires in occupancies in our alarm area. Aggression is often a misinterpreted word in the fire service. The more aggressive we are on the fireground, the less aggressive we allow the fire to become. 

With respect to fireground tactics, the engine companies in the FPFD equate aggression with gallons per minute (gpm). The fast-attack engine company will strike a balance between the occupancy type, fire load, and the time frame in which it has to attack a fire. Our smallest 1¾-inch attack line will disperse 150 gpm at a pump discharge pressure of 130 pounds per square inch (psi) with all of our other ¾-inch attack lines dispersing at least 180 gpm and up to 220 gpm at pump discharge pressures of 130 psi. We will elaborate on our hose loads and pumping capabilities in a subsequent article.

Aggression must be synonymous with firepower. On the engine company, firepower is determined by the company’s ability to deploy lines and the amount of water it is able to flow.

Time is a commodity that is becoming scarcer on today’s fireground. The longer it takes your department to deploy lines, the more likely you and your companies operating on the fireground will be forced into a defensive position. The fast-attack engine company is a self-functioning unit capable of handling a myriad of fires in different environments and occupancy types.

When specifying an apparatus for your community, you must decide what it will be used for. A multifunction truck is ok at several things but great at none. Stretching attack lines and dispersing large amounts of water quickly is a core competency that no fire department can overlook. department. There is a notion in the fire service that because of the wide array of call types, structure fires fall on the priority list. I would argue to the contrary: because of the decreased frequency of fires, departments must be better prepared now more than ever.

Think of this comparison: Crime in the United States is lower now than it was in 1963. Have law enforcement agencies scaled back their ability to prevent, respond to, and mitigate criminal activity? The answer is unequivocally no. Fire departments should be no different in their approach to fighting fires. Imagine if a police officer had to reach into a box and take off a tarp and self-fastening strips to access his weapon. An ill-equipped fire company is just like an ill-equipped police officer and equally as ineffective.

Why the Flat Load?

The flat load is the easiest hose load to reload. The FPFD wants to ensure consistency and continuity across the unit days. A flat load is a universal load that is easily understood by personnel and is not confusing for mutual-aid companies to deploy. If an FPFD engine is the only apparatus within reach of the fire building or if a mutual-aid company is ordered to stretch a line off an FPFD engine, those personnel can reasonably be expected to deploy such a line in a timely manner.

Patterns in the Hose Load Setup

Every 200-foot line on FPFD engine companies has two loops. The first loop can be taken by the nozzleman along with the nozzle; it is placed between 50 to 75 feet from the nozzle. This is designed so that once at the front door or the fire door, the nozzleman has at least 50 feet of hose without having too much hose to manage.

Every 150-foot line of FPFD engine companies has one loop. The FPFD firefighter is expected to be able to deploy 150 feet of attack line, be it 1¾-inch or 2½-inch by himself. The 150-foot lines are designed for a portion of our residential dwellings that are situated less than 50 feet away from the streets.

In Hamilton County, we lost three firefighters in the past 10 years on engine companies. Part of our brothers and sisters’ deaths can be attributed to attack lines that were too long for the dwellings they were stretching lines into. Although no engine company ever wants to come up short on a stretch, having too much hose can be just as, if not more catastrophic than, not enough. We must ensure adequate flow prior to making our stretch into the fire room/building.[1]

City of Cincinnati Firefighter Oscar Armstrong III, March 21, 2003

Colerain Township Firefighter Brian Schira, April 4, 2008

Colerain Township Captain Robin Broxterman, April 4, 2008

When standing at the back of the engine company, we can summarize that all of our preconnected attack lines on the left side of the apparatus are 200 feet, whereas all of the preconnected handlines on the right side of the engine are 150 feet. This leaves three hose loads to discuss.

The 2-inch attack line is a hallmark of FPFD engine company operations. The 2-inch line gives our personnel the ability to deploy lines with the agility of managing a 1¾-inch line while reaching fire flows that are in the same realm at 2½-inch attack lines (235 gpm at a pump discharge pressure of 140 psi). One could argue that an FPFD engine company deploying a 2-inch line is disbursing more water than an engine company with a 2½-inch line with a combination nozzle.

The FPFD acquired the 2-inch line to deal with the different types of multifamily dwellings in the city. Whether we are responding to garden apartments or duplexes that are set back off the street, the 2-inch line is a great option for lengthy stretches and marginal operations.[2] Versatility is a characteristic that is paramount to the success of the fast-attack engine company. We need to have an engine company that can assess and respond to fires using the BAG method.[3]


Steven Stein is an Ohio-certified fire instructor and a faculty member of the fire science department at The University of Cincinnati. He earned an MBA from The University of Cincinnati Carl H. Lindner College of Business. Stein works at the Forest Park Fire Department, where he also serves as a regional training committee board member. He is also the founder of Firefighter Hired.


1. Handlines shall be charged prior to entering the immediately dangerous to life and heath (IDLH)environments—i.e., lines will be charged at the front door of an 800 sq. ft. slab single family, but we will wait to charge lines if we have a top floor fire in a three-story apartment complex.

2. Marginal operations are defined as offensive operations that could immediately transition to defensive once the life hazard has been removed or determined to be all clear from the IDLH.

3. The BAG Method is a pneumonic for Where has the fire BEEN, Where is the fire AT, Where is the fire GOING?

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