By: Shane Klug
When talking to fellow firefighters, it seems like everyone is well aware of hose rollers, but very few, if any, utilize them as part of a rope stretch.
The hose roller is often viewed as a relic from the past. In actuality, it is a critical component of an efficient rope stretch. Most firefighters I know, whether urban, suburban or rural have been to a fire in a three-story apartment – or commercial – where a rope stretch was either considered or used.
So why do so many departments leave their hose roller on the apparatus when it comes time to perform a rope stretch? Even if your response to fires in multi-floor apartment buildings is somewhat common, the hose roller will often be overlooked.
In urban areas, a building’s construction style often lends itself to the use of the hose roller and rope stretch. Typical pre-World War II (WWII) corridor-style apartment buildings often have a front and rear return-style staircase joined by a common hall with the “half landing” window facing the street. This street-facing window can be found in various types of courtyard apartment buildings, such as H-type building and large rectangle apartment building facing on several streets.
Fires on the upper floors of these types of buildings are tailormade for hose roller rope stretches: The “half landing” stairway platform usually puts you just below the smoke conditions of the fire floor. For instance: a fire on the fourth floor, you are on the third and a half-floor landing. With the first line pulled up the staircase to the fire floor, egress is protected for those leaving the fire floor and above. These staircases are often within a few feet of the front door, so no special considerations are needed when stretching (line placement is the same, leading to the front door). The hose required for the stretch can be laid-out below the target window for a rapid ascent via the hose roller and rope.
This type of stretch not only requires less line – as one length of hose can cover the vertical height of four floors – it requires less manpower to deploy than advancing the line up the staircase. How many corners are avoided on a third, fourth or fifth-floor stretch when not stretching the staircase?
If the front windows on the staircase line up with the hallway, a “straight-shot” corridor is created down the hallway – so all members pulling line are pulling in a straight line and not fighting corners. The hose roller makes pulling the hose line over the windowsill edge a breeze; multiple lines can also be deployed via the same hose roller.
There are other ways to use a hose roller and rope stretch, as well: If conditions allow: the door to the fire apartment is controlled – and you are a long distance from the stairs – you can enter an adjoining apartment and rope stretch using one of its windows out into the hall and into the fire apartment. Top floor stretches into adjoining spaces must be on the lookout for common void-spaces which can allow fire to travel above you without your knowledge. This is why it is vital that command be informed of this type of stretch. You can use the floor below the apartment closest to the staircase – that also faces your apparatus – and stretch through that unit, to the staircase and up to the fire floor, avoiding several flights of stairs and turns.
Considerations have to be made based on the building construction in your specific area: Response areas with post-WWII and newer apartment buildings may have to utilize an apartment unit that faces a parking lot – and is close to the stairwell – to facilitate a hose roller and rope stretch, but can still benefit from the straighter shot of advancing the hose up one flight of stairs, as opposed to 3 or more flights.
When stretching with a with a three or four-person engine company, one member must physically pull the required line(s) off the pumper and place them in front of the building – all while the other member(s) enter the building with their hose roller and rope, going to the half landing just below the fire floor, or appropriate apartment unit. Opening or breaking the window; putting the hose roller on the windowsill; securing the hose roller with its attached rope so it cannot fall out of the window and then dropping the rope are other options as well.
In older buildings, there will often be a radiator below the window to secure the hose roller to; nearby furniture can be used if you’re stretching via an occupied apartment unit. Handrails in staircases can be used. Note that: securing the hose roller does not require any advanced knots, since the knot is simply to keep the hose roller from getting bumped off the windowsill.
If you lose the hose roller, pulling line over that windowsill edge will prove very difficult. The friction of the line against the corner of a windowsill is extremely difficult to pull against – and each hose coupling will prove even more challenging to get over that corner.
Naturally, pulling up an uncharged line is much less labor-intensive, but it’s still easier to pull a charged line up the side of a building with a hose roller than without.
Unless you have ample manpower to manage all the corners and your firefighters are disciplined enough to stay at those corners, the hose roller and rope stretch should prove to be easier and potentially faster. Pulling a charged-line up the side of a building can prove to be physically challenging. Two firefighters can successfully pull that line up and stage as much as necessary on the fire floor, where the same two firefighters may struggle to manage all the corners while performing a standard staircase stretch to the third, fourth or fifth floors.
Once these firefighters leave the position(s) of pulling line (either hose roller or stairwell) and additional line is again needed later, two firefighters walking to the end of the hallway and pulling more line up via the hose roller is faster and less intensive than trying to get an additional handline around all the corners of the staircase. After the line is pulled through the window, remove the rope and drop it back out the window so you’re not dragging the line and the rope down the hallway. This way, additional lines can be brought up if necessary.
There are some things to keep in mind when using this stretch: Be aware of fire traveling overhead in common cockloft or attic spaces, especially when operating on the top floor. Naturally, pulling and staging dry-line on the fire floor is much easier than pulling a charged hose line up, but be aware of the fire’s intensity, growth and direction it’s traveling.
The amount of line to pull goes back to estimating hose line stretches. There are no steadfast rules to this, but your basic size-up should help you gauge the amount of line needed. If you have an approximately one-hundred foot long apartment building, then you would probably want to pull two lengths up to make the hallway, as well as a third length for the fire apartment. Additional line is always better than not enough!
If conditions change and you have to follow the line out of the building, remember where the line will bring you: either to the staircase, which will help your retreat, or the apartment unit you stretched from, which may not help your retreat. Do not follow the line out the window; make a mental note of where this line will take you, and whether it will help or hinder your escape attempt.
When we stretch from the side of the building the apparatus is on, placing a ladder to the window that the hose line was taken in through would give firefighters a safe retreat. When deploying your rope, make sure you have the other end secured and controlled so you don’t end up dropping your entire rope out of the window. Sometimes, in the heat of excitement, someone offers to help you, and you can end up losing your entire rope out the window. I know first-hand!
Our rope is stored in a “ball” of sorts and I tie one end of my rope to my rope bag, so I can stand on the empty rope bag, and then just throw the ball of rope out the window. The ball of rope plays out nicely; I have never had an issue with the rope not playing all the way to the ground. Having the one end of the rope tied to the rope bag also saves time trying to find an end of the rope.
Overall, the hose roller rope stretch can facilitate getting the hose line in operation much quicker and getting to the fire faster. We all know that putting the fire out fixes all the problems associated with a building fire (trapped victims, trapped firefighters, building conditions, etc.). Getting that first line to the fourth-floor immediately – as opposed to struggling up a staircase with limited manpower – can be the difference between a simple one-unit apartment fire – Or being on the evening news with a through-the-roof.
Utilizing a hose roller rope stretch also saves lengths of line. Many departments use pre-connected hose lines with two-hundred feet of line. A stretched line from the street in front of a building may not make an upper floor of a deep apartment or commercial when using a typical stairway stretch. Size the situation up and bring the roller on your next rope stretch. You’ll be glad you did!