Engine Company Ops: Checking the Pattern

Back-to-basics advice for firefighters on checking the nozzle before entering a structure fire

All photos by author

A few years ago, I was conducting a structural burn session class for a local fire department where we had access to a school building to use for live fire training. The training day was beneficial for all firefighters involved because they could refine their skills under realistic conditions.

During the day’s rotations of the class, I was assigned as the attack line instructor for the evolution and was readying my crew to make entry into the structure to make an interior fire attack. Before we went in, I instructed the nozzleman to check his nozzle before going in. He did so by quickly opening the nozzle only about a ¼ of the way so that a little trickle of water came out and then shut the nozzle down. As the day proceeded, I noticed this happening with some of the other teams checking their nozzle the exact same way before making entry. We quickly stopped the evolution so that we could address the entire group about the right way and the importance of checking the nozzle.

So why do we check the nozzle before we make entry into a burning structure? To answer this question, we need to look at this from two perspectives: from outside the building and from inside the building.

Outside the Building

When firefighters pull the hoseline off the fire truck, we will flake it out and get it ready for water to be delivered to the nozzle. We will remove all the kinks and ensure that we have both the nozzle and a coupling of the hoseline at the door (a minimum 50 feet) with us for entry, ensuring us enough hose to go in with. When the water finally comes from the pump, the hose starts to fill with both air and water. Once the hose has been filled, we want to bleed off the excess air in the handline by opening up the nozzle.

This can be accomplished by simply opening up the nozzle and letting the air to exhaust as well as a little bit of water, but it does not ensure that the hoseline is ready to make entry. We want to make sure that we have adequate water and proper pressure at the nozzle before we go in. This is accomplished by flowing the nozzle for about 10-15 seconds outside before making entry.

By flowing water for this timeframe outside the structure, we are giving time to the pump operator to ensure that they have the pump pressure set properly, the pump is working properly, and no apparent problems are evident at that time. We want to have the proper/adequate flow and pressure so that we can combat the heat release rates (HRR) that are waiting for us inside. If you don’t have the right/adequate flow and pressure, then you will not be armed with the right weaponry to combat the HRR.

Smooth bore nozzle


Firefighter in Euro helmet flowing water

We also want to flow water outside the structure so that we have the right type of stream selection with our nozzle. When using a smooth bore nozzle like in the photos above, we have no concern about this because we only have one type of stream–solid. However, when using a combination type of nozzle, we have options for stream selection. It is here that we want to ensure that we have a straight stream selected ready to go in.

A straight stream is the type of stream that you want to have whenever you are entering a burning structure; you never want to have a fog pattern for any interior attack operations. A pattern of this type will only add detriment to the interior operations by mass steam conversion, air entrainment, and a lack of water to penetrate the thermal column for cooling.

An experienced firefighter will be able to tell by the sound of the water coming out of the nozzle and hitting the ground whether it is adequate or not. This comes with practice of flowing water on a regular basis both in the training and fireground environments.

Whenever using an adjustable gallonage nozzle, flowing the water outside will allow the nozzleman to check and ensure they have the right selection for the amount of gpms on the dial.

Inside the Structure  

So how does checking the nozzle have an impact on the interior operations of a structure fire?  It has an impact when we start to flow water on the fire after dragging the hoseline in. When we are using a smooth bore nozzle, there is no concern about the pattern type changing due to movement of the nozzle along the floor. It will always flow a solid type of stream.

When we are using a combination type of nozzle, we will have the issue of the pattern changing due to the nozzle rubbing against the floor, bumping into objects, brushing against firefighters, etc. When the nozzle comes in contact with other objects, the nozzle pattern may change. The head of the nozzle may move from the straight stream selection to a fog selection so that when the firefighter comes to suppress the fire, they open up the nozzle and it is flowing as a fog pattern instead, as shown in the photo below.

Firefighter with a pistol grip nozzle flowing water

The nozzleman must quickly check their pattern before applying water on the fire in one of two ways: flow a bit of water on the floor first right by them or use their hand to feel the nozzle and turn the head of the nozzle to the right for reach. By doing this the, nozzleman knows that they will have a straight stream flowing when they start to suppress the fire.

Mark van der Feyst has been in the fire service since 1999 and is a firefighter with the Fort Gratiot (MI) Fire Department. He is an international instructor teaching in Canada, the United States, and India, and at FDIC. He is also the lead author of Residential Fire Rescue (Fire Engineering Books & Video). He can be contacted at Mark@FireStarTraining.com.


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