Standpipe systems are common to many types of buildings including high-rise multiple dwellings, office buildings, hotels, and certain retail establishments. Stretching an attack line from a standpipe system is a basic engine company tactic. But it is also important to know when to bypass a building`s standpipe system in favor of hand stretching an attack line. In fact, if your SOPs mandate use of standpipe systems whenever they are encountered and regardless of where the fire is located, you could be placing your firefighters at unnecessary risk.

Although firefighting operations involving standpipes are common in some areas, they are infrequent for most firefighters. Both groups of firefighters, however, can develop a “standpipe stretch” mindset wherein it is assumed that if you respond to a fire in a building that has a standpipe system, you`ll be stretching your initial attack line from it. In high-rise areas, use of standpipes occurs frequently due to repeated calls to structures that have standpipes. In areas where hand stretches are common, stretching from a standpipe results from the mistaken belief that you must always switch from a hand stretch to a standpipe stretch in buildings equipped with standpipe systems.

Firefighters must be aware of the hazards and pitfalls of operating under the standpipe stretch mindset. Engine company officers must remain flexible in their decision making and know under what conditions hand stretches from the apparatus are preferable to standpipe stretches.


In the scenarios listed below, assume you are the first-in engine company at a structure fire in a nonsprinklered building equip ped with a standpipe system, a hy drant is a short distance away, and you have easy access to the standpipe siamese.

Case 1

You respond to a high-rise multiple dwelling with a reported fire on the first floor. On entering the lobby, you`re met by a resident who tells you the fire is in an apartment toward the rear of the first floor.

Question: Which stretch would you choose:

(a) stretch the attack line from the building`s standpipe system or

(b) hand stretch the attack line from the hosebed of your pumper?


If you picked (a): The biggest problem with using the building`s standpipe system for a first-floor fire is that you`ll be hooking up on the fire floor. In addition, the standpipe outlet may be located close to the fire (or worse, your firefighters may have to pass the fire area to hook up a hoseline). At this point, you will have to decide whether to hook up to another standpipe outlet, if available; hastily convert your standpipe stretch into a modified hand stretch; or stretch a new line entirely.

As a rule, you should avoid hooking up your attack line to a standpipe outlet located on the fire floor. Unless you`re hooking up in a protected area, such as an enclosed stairway, and all other options have been eliminated, this practice can be extremely dangerous. You should never stretch from an unprotected standpipe outlet on the fire floor (often located in long hallways or corridors).

Although an additional standpipe outlet may be located at the other end of the hallway remote from the fire, the distance from that outlet to the fire may be beyond the reach of your initial standpipe attack line. If you decide to hook up to this remote outlet, adding hose and making the necessary connections will delay water application on the fire and could prove more difficult and time consuming as heat and smoke conditions increase.

Had conditions in this example been different, such as if the fire were in the lobby entrance, you automatically would employ a hand stretch from your pumper because the fire`s location denied you direct access to the building`s standpipe outlets.

For first-floor fires, the most direct and safest approach is to hand stretch your attack line. By adopting a flexible policy regarding hand stretches for lower-floor fires in standpipe-equipped buildings, you can minimize the confusion and delays that occur when faced with this type of response.

Case 2

You respond to a reported cellar fire in a hotel. Dispatch further informs you that smoke now is reported in the hotel lobby.

Question: Which stretch would you choose:

(a) stretch the attack line from the building`s standpipe system or

(b) hand stretch the attack line from the hosebed of your pumper?


If you picked (a): Anytime you are going to fight a fire located belowgrade level, the safest approach is to hand stretch your attack line from the hosebed of the pumper. The extremely dangerous environment of a cellar fire is not the place to be without a charged line. Always avoid hooking up your attack line on the fire floor, especially at belowgrade fires. Members attempting to exit the cellar for relief or under orders to withdraw due to deteriorating conditions and using the handline as a guide will now end up at the standpipe outlet and still be in the cellar. This alone should be reason enough to avoid standpipe outlets located belowgrade.

Cellar fires in large buildings may require long hose stretches not normally required in standpipe operations. However, cellar layouts often are maze-like, and trying to locate a standpipe outlet and flake out the line in a smoke condition could cause members to become separated and lost.

Some standpipe outlets may be located at the base of an enclosed cellar stairway, giving a protected hookup site. However, hose will have to be stretched up the stairway before being charged if the stairway door is to remain closed. This may seem a viable option, but in reality this type of stretch is time consuming; difficult to manage; and if space is short and the line is not flaked out properly, extremely unsafe–kinks in the line will reduce flow.

By hand stretching your attack line, you can charge the line before entering the fire area, increasing firefighter safety and achieving a faster knockdown of the fire.

Using a standpipe outlet located inside the fire building and above the fire (the first floor above the cellar or the cellar of a subcellar, for example) may also be impractical. If you decide to use a standpipe outlet located on the floor above the fire, heat and smoke con-tamination may come into play, increasing the time involved in placing the line in position. Remember as well, your standpipe attack line is limited in length. Using a standpipe outlet located on the floor above the fire will bring exiting firefighters to the floor above the fire (where they may encounter escaping hot gases or smoke) and not to the relative safety of the street. Venting for most cellar fires often must be performed by using the same stairway used for attack and egress, causing a heavy smoke condition on the floor above. In the cellar, if fire moves across the cellar ceiling and extends up the attack stairs toward the (elevated) standpipe outlet you`re using, your water supply may be jeopardized. For example, if on arrival the fire were extending from the cellar to the first floor via the stairway where the standpipe outlet was located, you automatically would call for a hand stretch.

Conditions can change rapidly at a cellar fire, and having firefighters hook up their attack line and wait for water in a limited access/egress area could spell disaster. Engine company members should never enter the fire area without water.

Additional Discussion

In both examples, if a standpipe stretch were used, all members of the engine company would be inside the fire building making the necessary hose connections. This would negate the company`s ability to stretch two lines simultaneously. Your ability to quickly drop two hoselines (attack and backup) close to the fire area (assuming you have enough personnel to accomplish this) is enhanced by choosing a hosebed stretch.

The crucial factor in deciding on the use of a hand stretch as opposed to using the standpipe system is the location of the fire within the building.


When hand stretching an attack line from a pumper, the size of the attack line should be the same size as the hose normally used for a standpipe operation–i.e., if the standpipe hose is 212 inches, the hose hand stretched should also be 212 inches. Using a smaller-diameter lead length violates this principle. Choosing a smaller line will increase extinguishment time and allow the fire to extend. The size of additional handlines stretched may vary according to conditions and orders from the incident commander.

Pump operators should stretch and charge standpipe system supply lines even when hand stretched attack lines are initially used. Subsequent attack lines may be stretched from the building`s standpipe system, and having them immediately supplied with water provides the IC with additional fire attack options.


When operating on an upper floor, you can`t avoid depending on a standpipe system. When the fire is located belowgrade, on a lower floor, or in a building where a dry standpipe system is present, however, having a defined water source from your pumper without depending on an additional mechanical delivery system for assistance is the most direct approach. There are several other reasons for not using the standpipe. In some standpipe-equipped buildings, hose outlets are located on alternate floors due to a “scissor-stair” configuration or are not present below the second floor. Hand stretching from the pumper also can help prevent delaying and extending operations due to other conditions that may be encountered such as vandalized standpipes, pressure-reducing valves that cannot be removed or bypassed, and systems that are multizoned or that have been shut down.

Another advantage of hand stretching over a standpipe stretch is that the length of the attack line is virtually unlimited. In departments where preconnected stretches are commonly used, it may be advisable to have at least one hosebed set up for a longer hose stretch. If you stretch your standpipe hose from a remote outlet, the stretch could end up being short of its objective. When additional hose lengths are required for a standpipe stretch, this information must be relayed to other responding engine companies as well as companies operating on the fire floor and above. Engine companies stretching the second and third lines must take into account the need for additional lengths of hose. The pairing of engine companies may be necessary when additional lines are stretched from remote standpipe outlets.

Sometimes you may not realize a standpipe stretch isn`t long enough until the line is charged. If this occurs, the standpipe outlet valve will have to be closed and the nozzle opened to relieve the line of pressure and additional hose inserted into the line. The hose should be inserted at the standpipe outlet, keeping the firefighters involved remote from the fire, thereby allowing a safer and faster operation. Remember, changing fire conditions can make this task extremely difficult and may place the firefighters operating on the fire floor and the floor above at extreme risk. Communication is essential.

Always avoid stretching any line until the fire`s location has been confirmed. This is critical for all engine company operations, as it reduces the chances of stretching to the wrong location or stretching an insufficient amount of hose. When the fire is reported to be on a lower floor, in a belowgrade area, or in a structure where a dry standpipe is pres ent, consider using a hand stretch. n

RAY McCORMACK is a lieutenant and 14-year veteran of the City of New York (NY) Fire Department, assigned to the 16th Battalion. He has a bachelor`s degree in communications from the New York Institute of Technology and is a New York state-certified fire instructor and P.A.D.I. certified in advanced scuba diving.

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