25 Pointers for Your Engine Company


Consider this scenario: It is a midday summer afternoon, and a large 21⁄2-story, wood-frame structure is on fire. It is a double-decker style two-family dwelling that has been vacant for a short time. Fire is coming out of all windows and doors on both floors and the attic. The smoke is visible from a mile away. En route, the dispatcher reports that the fire alarm office is receiving multiple phone calls reporting the fire.

As your first-due engine turns into the block, a crowd of people greets you. Many are shouting, “Put out the fire!” The houses on either side of the fire building are also of wood frame, and both are occupied. They are only five feet away from the fully involved building and are starting to burn. As should be expected, their owners are the most vocal in the crowd.

Photos by Steve Nedrich unless otherwise noted.

The engine driver spots the apparatus just past the fire building, as department procedure stipulates, allowing room for the first-due ladder truck to take its position in front of the building. It is a narrow street, and cars line both sides. The officer in charge of the first-due engine radios, “We have a working fire in a large 21⁄2-story frame. Well involved!”

The two firefighters in the company start to stretch the initial attack hose. The older, senior firefighter knows the situation and “has been there” many times before. He starts to lay out the 2½-inch attack line. It is equipped with a solid bore nozzle, needed for its high volume stream and knockdown power. The “junior” or younger firefighter hears the officer call for the 1¾-inch attack line—but with a solid bore nozzle. The officer excitedly repeats that he wants to use the smaller hoseline. The 2½-inch line is left in the street while the smaller handline is put into service.

The attack begins. The fire has increased substantially in volume and intensity since arrival. The exposure to the right (D side) begins to burn furiously as the stream is directed at the flames. The officer wants the stream put on the exposure only. No water is being put on the main body of fire as flames pour out of the fire building. The senior firefighter backing up the hoseline tells the nozzleman he needs to put some water on the fire to slow its growth. However, a sheet of plywood is covering the front door. He runs up to the front porch and pulls the plywood covering off the front door. The interior of the structure is now exposed. Solid flames are visible from top to bottom. Flames from the upstairs porch push out horizontally overhead 10 to 15 feet from the structure and into the street with great intensity. The large oak tree in front of the house begins to burn.

The officer tells the nozzleman to put the stream on the exposure only! The senior firefighter tells the nozzleman to put the stream into the front door. The nozzleman is getting it from both sides. The senior firefighter, positioned behind the nozzleman, yells once more at him to get water on the base of the fire. The nozzleman complies and directs the stream into the front door; the flames coming out of the windows on the side affecting exposure D diminish in volume. From the porch steps, the nozzleman moves the stream around the interior quickly. He then alternates the stream between the inside of the fire building and the exposure and is having much better success at knocking down the flames. He then directs the stream onto the exposure for a good “wet down.” However, the fire has damaged the upper part of the wall on the D side of the fire building, causing the wall to bow outward a little.

The second-due engine is now on-scene. Its pump operator has helped the attack engine’s pump operator to secure a water supply from a nearby hydrant while the officer and his two firefighters have set up and are now using the 2½-inch handline that was left in the street. The crew has positioned it between the fire building and the B exposure, since that building also has received some fire damage.

The fire eventually dies down, and the size of the fire attack begins to win. The initial attack crew begins to move inside through the front door with the hoseline, but it must be cautious because of the bowing wall. Inside, the floor has weakened so much that a foot of one of the firefighters goes through. All that’s left of the interior is char from floor to ceiling. Visibility is poor at best, even though all windows and doors are gone. Part of the second floor has been removed because of a remodeling project underway in the building. This structure has been burned out, and now a dozen or so firefighters are inside prying, pulling, pushing, and smashing the remains during the overhaul process.


1 Remember the primary mission of an engine company: to get water on the fire. This is especially true if your engine is first due at a fire like the one described. Engine company members should function as a team on the fireground and should have predetermined jobs or duties. They should maintain the team or company concept—not freelance or wander. In most working-fire situations, they should stretch an attack line of the proper diameter and length with an effective nozzle to the point of operation and attack the fire from there. At other times, your engine company might arrive second due or even later in the fire. Your primary responsibilities as a second-due engine company generally are to ensure a supply of water to the initial attack engine and then stretch a second handline if necessary. In any event, there must be a plan for each engine on the scene, and everyone must understand and implement it.

All firefighters should know the engine company’s four primary points of responsibility:

  • To attack and extinguish a fire.
  • To act as a supply pumper and provide water to other engines engaged in fire attack.
  • To supply water to fire protection systems and standpipes.
  • To supply water to master stream appliances like those found on aerial ladders and platform tower units.

The engine company has eight basic points of work coverage: rescue, exposure protection, initial attack line, heavy streams, water supply, fire protection systems, second line, and overhaul.

2 Know your apparatus, equipment, district, and personnel.Company members (firefighters and officers) should go over their engine apparatus and its equipment daily. Check hosebeds and nozzles to make sure they are ready to deploy at the next incident. Go over compartments to make sure tools and appliances are in their place. Check your SCBA and the spare air bottles to make sure they are full. Discuss any unique buildings, occupancies, and hazards in your first-due area, especially those that have been remodeled or have changed occupant use. Be aware of any street access or water supply problems involving your apparatus. Know who you’re working with. Make sure each firefighter understands his job.

(2) Fire departments should preplan their districts and instruct their firefighters in the importance of apparatus placement for efficient fireground operations and firefighter safety. In this photo, no engines, which might prevent an aerial apparatus from “commanding” the building, are parked near the fire building. A rear-mount ladder tower has been spotted at this building corner for platform use and also for providing quick access to ground ladders. Another ladder company, in the background, has raised its aerial ladder to the roof, providing access for firefighters. In the case where firefighters might need to evacuate a building quickly, it is important to have quick access to ground and aerial ladder devices. Do not let your engines block ladder access to fire buildings.

3 Start your size-up before the alarm. There are three categories of size-up information: preincident, initial on-scene/arrival, and ongoing. Your personal size-up begins before an alarm comes in. It deals with preincident information and any prior knowledge or information that you may have before an alarm. For example, when you are dispatched to an alarm, begin to consider the basic points of size-up along with any prior knowledge you might have about where you are going. You may have been in this structure before for personal business or on an earlier response and may know something about a particular hazard to firefighters. This could be important and might save a life. Pass it on to all members.

4 Respond with caution. This is a deadly time for firefighters. Use all warning devices when responding, and remember that you are liable for your actions. Drive with due regard for the safety of all others. When entering the block or nearing the address of the reported fire location, slow down. Do this to get yourself and your crew calmed and ready to read the arriving conditions and to put together your arriving size-up information. Observe the fire building for any visible fire or smoke; look for access and if there is any obvious life hazard involved. Make an effort to calmly assess the situation to get a clear picture and then determine what needs to be done. As first-due (or acting) officer, you should give a good initial on-scene radio arrival report. Paint a good picture for the other responding units so they have an idea of what you have and what they might have to do to support your actions when they arrive.

5 “Place” fire apparatus. </span>The first-arriving engine should slow down when approaching the fire building and position itself to leave the front of the building open for the truck (unless there is heavy fire involvement and a deck gun is to be used for attack). Generally, the first engine should pull past the fire building. Position engine apparatus with ladder company apparatus placement in mind—even if your department doesn’t have one. One may be coming from a mutual-aid department. A general rule is to give the building to the ladder/truck company.

In some cases, a ladder company will position its apparatus to cover two sides of a fire building with its aerial device, necessitating that the engines stay away from the fire building completely. The reasons are obvious: Aerial and ground ladder placement takes precedence, along with accessing forcible entry tools quickly. Besides, engine personnel can add another length of hose to their stretch if necessary. Engine drivers should know the kind of aerial device responding; many fire departments are using rear-mounted turntable apparatus, which means it can be placed 30 or 35 feet behind their cab. The second-due engine company should position itself so it does not block any apparatus movement on the fireground and is able to hook a supply line to the initial attack engine, if necessary, and run to a water source to supply it.

Third-due engines and later-arriving engines should position (or stage) out of the fire scene, to avoid congestion and to keep mobile, if necessary.

6 Stretch in quickly. An engine company is supposed to function as a team with a mission—to get water on the fire. To do this efficiently, every engine member has to take care of a job or two. Load engine company attack hosebeds with male couplings “out” and nozzles attached so that hose can be played out quickly and easily by the least number of firefighters responding with the engine. For example, an engine company arriving at an obvious working house fire with three or four members should be able to stop and stretch 200 feet of 1¾-inch hose and get water flowing within 90 seconds of arrival. If fire conditions call for a large handline, such as the 2½-inch line, that hose should be loaded so members can get that line in service easily. Company officers, remember: Do not let your members freelance. You will need them to help stretch the line.

If firefighters from the first- and second-due engine companies run into the fire building with hooks and axes in their hands instead of working on getting the initial attack line stretched (or a supply line established or the second attack line laid to back up the first line), then your department has organizational and fireground discipline problems. Officers must guard against this, as it will delay hoselines from being stretched quickly and your initial water supply may not be sufficient for the fire. If a second line is not stretched in a timely manner at a serious fire, there could be other consequences.

7 Remember: 1¾-inch hose cannot extinguish a fully involved house fire. Unfortunately, for many fire departments, the 1¾-inch attack line is the “go-to line” for every fire they fight—from rubbish fires to high-rise fires and every fire in between. Every fire has a critical flow rate. To aggressively attack a fire, you must have the right volume of water for extinguishment and in the right pattern or stream setting. Anything less will not put out the fire. Eventually, a fire will consume the bulk of its fuel and die down to the point where it will look as if the 1¾-inch (or smaller) hoseline is controlling the situation. At that point, the fire is lost. For decades, the fire service has had the adage: “As the first line goes, so goes the fire.” The mnemonic ADULTS can be used as an aid in determining when to use a larger hoseline:

A—Advanced fire conditions.
D—Defensive fire operation.
U—Undetermined location of fire.
L—Large-area structure (big commercial or industrial building, for example).
T—Tons of water are needed for extinguishment.
S—Standpipe operations.

If any of these indicators apply to the fire, you probably need to use a large handline.

(3) When confronted with a large body of fire, use large handlines or master stream appliances equipped with solid bore nozzles for maximum effectiveness to knock down the fire and reduce the radiant heat. If nearby exposures become involved, that will add to the already large volume of fire. Unfortunately, too many fire departments rely on small handlines (1½- or 1¾-inch) for attack of practically all of their fires. When they arrive at a large fire, they usually deploy that line as the first line, with the thought that a little water will extinguish a lot of fire. In many instances, the fire grows bigger and extends to other buildings because of this approach. Remember, 1¾-inch handlines will not extinguish a completely involved structure.

8 Position the hoseline properly. If a life-threatening situation exists in a structure fire, the attack crew should position its nozzle between the fire and any occupants. The crew should make every effort to push the fire, heat, and smoke away from any known victim locations. Improper positioning could cause the fire to be “pushed” toward victims. When operating the nozzle, throw as much water as possible to knock down the fire and stop combustion products from getting to unprotected victims. If you are the nozzleman, put the nozzle out in front of you and open the bail fully during attack.

When life safety is not a concern, position hoselines to protect property or items of value. Also, consider internal and external exposures.

9 Ensure efficient working length and drop point. Fold the first hose length from an attack hosebed in such a way as to give the nozzleman 50 feet of hose to go with the nozzle. The hose can be carried on a shoulder load or on the nozzleman’s forearm. This working length is to prevent a short stretch. It can be carried comfortably by the nozzleman. The folds of the working length should be no more than six or seven feet long, so the nozzleman can carry it up or down stairways, through tight spaces or alleys, or up and back, in the case of traversing stairs, without having long strands of hose that can catch on door sills, fence posts, or other objects.

The drop point is generally the area as close to the fire as safely possible where the hose is readied for attack. After dropping the hose, flake it out or straighten it to minimize any kinking. As that is being done, the call for water is given. The pump operator should acknowledge that water is on the way. Now, with water on the way, the attack team members don their face pieces and go on air together while taking a last look at their immediate surroundings and making sure everyone is ready to go. In far too many instances, firefighters step off their fire apparatus with their face pieces on, some breathing their air supply and some not, lenses fogged over, and regulators not attached. Firefighters should not don their face pieces individually but as a team. If the attack team members’ air supply runs out at different times, team accountability will break down.

10 Eliminate all kinks and bleed the nozzle. When the attack team is at the drop point and water is coming from the pump, listen, if you can, for the sound of the engine revving up to pressurize the hoseline. Give the nozzle a long bleed before entering the fire area, to make sure that you have a good fire stream and the approximate correct volume of water for attack. The long bleed will also help you to know if there are any kinks in the hoseline that have gone unnoticed. A short bleed will only give off air compressed at the nozzle; it won’t let you know about that kink 110 feet back in the line that will rob you of water. Don’t walk by hoselines that have kinks in them. Remove the kinks. One kink can take away more than 40 gallons of water per minute in a 1¾-inch hoseline. That may be the water you need to stay safe during the attack.

11 When entering a fire area, stay low, look up, and look around. When encountering poor or zero visibility and a growing heat condition, stay low to the floor and look upward and listen, since that is where the fire is likely to show itself first, like in a rollover. Hold on to your hoseline under these conditions, because it is now also your life line. Maintain voice contact with fellow team members. It is times like these that the value, quality, and quantity of ventilation make themselves evident.

(4) Don’t wait for the room to roll over completely before attacking. When making an interior attack in high heat and heavy smoke conditions, stay low and look up because that is where rollover will show itself. Rollover precedes flashover. Keep your nozzle out in front of you, and be ready to go to work. If your line has a fog nozzle, be sure it is on a straight-stream pattern, because a wide-angle-fog pattern will draw this environment down on top of you. (Photo by Greg Gettens.)

12 Pump at the required discharge pressures. It’s the pump operator’s job to know the length of the hose layout, the diameter of hoses, and the type/kind of nozzle being used so he can calculate the approximate pressure to get the correct gallons per minute (gpm) to the firefighters. Remember, fog nozzles generally require higher nozzle pressure, and solid bore handline nozzles are low-pressure, high-volume tools. A simple street formula for determining pump discharge pressure is EP = nozzle pressure + friction loss +/- elevation. (Note: Fire departments should consider outfitting engines with master gauges and flowmeters or combination flowmeter/pressure gauges for all outlets. Another item to consider is screw-type outlet control valves for all discharge outlets, for smoother valve operations.)

13 When rollover starts to show, attack it. Often, firefighters advancing an attack line into a hot, smoky area stay close to the floor and have a tendency to keep focused on the floor in front of them. Don’t look down. Look up. That is where rollover will show itself. Remember, rollover is a preceding sign to flashover. If you encounter rollover, don’t wait to attack it (or use the ridiculous excuse that you want to get a better angle or see it more fully developed); this is a dangerous gamble, because if flashover occurs, its volume might be more than your attack line can handle.

14 When you start attacking a well advanced fire, open the nozzle completely. Use good nozzle mechanics. If you are the nozzle operator, position the nozzle approximately 18 inches (an arm’s length) in front of you. That will allow you to move the nozzle around and get the best coverage from the stream. Open the nozzle bail fully, and use the full force of the stream to knock the fire down. Start by aiming for the ceiling and the room’s upper parts. Use the ceiling as a big deflector to break apart your stream; cover as much area around you as possible. This is a protective measure for you and your crew. Then work the upper parts of the walls, rotating the nozzle around in clockwise circles and occasionally sweeping the floor to maximize cooling, reach, and effectiveness. By the way, do not believe that “penciling” will enable you to control a large amount of fire with a little amount of water. This is a dangerous belief, and it is not true. Do not do it!

15 Engine company officer, take charge. You are responsible for your attack crew, what the hoseline does, and what your company accomplishes. Do not allow your people to freelance, self-assign, or run off with tools, because you are responsible for their accountability and safety. During attack, position yourself so you can monitor your crews and conditions and progress and still maintain radio communications with other companies/units and the incident commander (IC). If anything goes wrong with your hoseline, you are the primary troubleshooter and communicator to the “outside world.”

16 Nozzleman, don’t abandon your nozzle. After the fire has been knocked down, don’t drop the nozzle on the floor and do some other task. Some nozzles have been left on a floor and were buried under fallen ceilings and debris. If you must leave the fire area, notify your officer or the person in charge and give the nozzle to another crew or company member (that’s accountability!). Never leave a nozzle unattended—just in case the fire you knocked down a minute or two earlier starts to light up around you and it needs attention quickly.

17 It is a second line—not a backup line. Always stretch a second hoseline whenever there is any appreciable volume of fire or there is reason to think there is fire extension. The second engine company or a second “attack crew” should always have this job in mind. The primary responsibility of the second line is to back up—protect or reinforce—the position of the first attack hoseline. If this is not a concern, then the second line should be used to check for fire extension.

The second hoseline should be at least equal in size and attack volume to the first hoseline. It should be stretched and positioned behind the first line to perform its primary duties. However, it should not hinder advancement of the first line as long as the first line is making progress. Each hoseline, regardless of how many there are, should have a company officer or someone in charge to maintain accountability of personnel and to coordinate efforts with other officers during attack.

18 Large buildings can make large fires. If you arrive at a commercial building (for example, a “big box store”) and have a smoke condition but no flame is visible, prepare for something big—the potential is there. Don’t stretch a small (1¾-inch) handline for a structure that has a large internal area or a large fire load. If you end up with a controllable incident, that’s good, because at least you will be ready. But if conditions deteriorate quickly, as can happen with these buildings, you will at least have a substantial water volume ready to protect you and your people. If you must stretch a large handline and need to move it about the fireground, the IC should consider “marrying” two engine crews together for hoseline advancement, management, and relief.

19 Big fires require big water: Deliver it in a big way! When you are confronted with a heavy volume of fire in a bread-and-butter fire, but especially in commercial and industrial buildings, use big lines, or go to heavy stream appliances for knockdown. One 2½-inch handline equipped with a solid bore nozzle is more effective than two 1¾-inch handlines. If the fire is growing and moving, you had better think about a deck gun or master stream operation right now. Don’t wait to see what the fire is going to do! Use solid bore tips for fire stream efficiency. Why? Because of the sheer volume of water and the stream character—it’s solid with weight and momentum. It has greater heat-absorption capacity. It also has momentum for greater stream reach, which helps firefighters to deliver water from a safer distance under heavy fire conditions.

20 Pump operators, read your gauges. Do this especially when you take several handlines from your engine. Know what size hoselines are being stretched from your engine, how long they are, what kind of nozzles are being used, and the approximate gallons per minute (gpm) they can discharge. As the fire goes on, water demands on your water supply system can vary even if you are hooked into a municipal water system, are in a tanker shuttle, or are operating from draft. Watch your residual pressure. If you have a limited water supply and someone is calling for more pressure, turning up the throttle to satisfy the person may put you in cavitation and shut down your engine.

21 When advancing (“feeding”) the attack line, don’t push it toward the nozzle team. If you are in the backup position (or helping to support the hoseline), move the line forward only, or “lighten up” on the line when the nozzle team calls for more line. Pushing or forcing the line forward may cause the nozzle operator to lose his grip and control of the nozzle, setting the tone for a disaster. When calling for more line, the person on the nozzle should call for what is needed—only a couple or a few feet at a time, maybe five or six feet, for example. Pass this “command” down the line to all members, so everyone understands how much hose to “feed” the nozzle team.

(5) This position on the hoseline is not exciting at all, but it is very important to the attack team’s successfully advancing the line into the fire. Notice that the hose is straight, making it easier for the attack crew to manage. When the attack crew calls for more line, this firefighter will “feed” more, keeping the hose as straight as possible. This will help make the hose manageable and the nozzle easier to control. Pushing more hose at the nozzle team than it needs may cause the team to lose control of the nozzle. Engine operations require teamwork and communications among members on the fireground. (Photo by Greg Grettens.)

22 Back out of a tough position safely. If you must back out because the fire has overpowered your attack, stay low and keep the nozzle flowing—completely open, moving around, and overhead. It’s your only protection right now. The firefighter in the backup position behind the nozzleman should keep the hoseline lower than the nozzle; otherwise, it will kink the line and make it hard for the nozzleman to control—something you don’t need at this time. If you have a fog nozzle on your attack line, make sure it is on the straight-stream position, because a fog pattern will create a low pressure point at the nozzle tip and draw the superheated environment down on you, possibly causing severe injury to you and those with you.

Conditions like this require that the company officer keep full control of crew members; make sure that the steps or hallway is not jammed with firefighters and the nozzle team’s path to safety is not blocked. The person on the nozzle should never roll over on his back to hit anything overhead; it may cause the ceiling or another object to fall on the operator’s face. Also, there would be no way this person could move about; he would be stranded in a dangerous position because of lost mobility. Once everyone has backed out to a safer position, take a head count, if necessary, to see that everyone is accounted for and not injured.

23 Shut down and pick up hoselines only after the IC gives orders to do so. After the fire is out and overhaul is completed, do not shut down hoselines or back them out of the structure unless the company officer or crew officer has received orders from the IC to do so. Pick up and put away the hoselines after the IC gives the order. In the case of multiple hoselines, the IC should have a plan that indicates the order in which the lines should be picked up. If firefighters or company officers decide on their own when to shut down their lines and put them away, something important may get overlooked, and there may be a rekindle or some other type of reignition. The IC is responsible for knowing the positioning of hoselines, shutting them down, and determining when they should be picked up.

24 Prepare to return to service. After the fire has been extinguished, overhaul has been completed, and the order has been given to pick up, firefighters should make every effort to get their apparatus and equipment back in service as close as possible to the condition it was in before the incident. For example, if any booster tank water was used in the initial attack, was the tank refilled? Were used air bottles exchanged or filled? Was the hose rinsed with a hose stream and packed on the apparatus properly so it plays out freely the next time it’s used? If you have fog nozzles, were they left on the proper stream setting? If you have select flow nozzles, what gpm setting were they left on? (Solid bore nozzles don’t have that problem.) Were any sections of hose damaged from the fire or by mechanical or chemical means? If so, did you roll them up and set them aside so they weren’t packed with the regular hose? If the ground ladders or any hand tools or hose appliances were used, were they rinsed or washed down before they were put back in their proper place or compartment?

25 Perform a company critique. Before a fireground critique, it wouldn’t hurt to make sure everyone is healthy. Usually, it is best for a company officer to hold an informal critique at the scene after everything has been picked up and before you’re ready to return to quarters. Things are fresh in your mind, and the scene is still there to jog your memory about things that might have happened in the course of events. Remember, the critique is to be used in a positive manner—to reinforce the good things your company does and to enable you to learn from the negative things that affected your operations in an adverse way, so the next time you can adapt and overcome the problem.


Fire extinguishment should be the responsibility of the engine company. At most structural fires, all other functions depend on the engine’s ability to attack the fire and bring it under control. If this cannot be accomplished, in most cases the fire building will be lost. Any persons trapped by fire, heat, or smoke will have diminished chances of survival. On the other hand, the fire attack team needs the support of the ladder company crews or other firefighting crews to “open up” the structure by performing ventilation and forcible entry.

These pointers are to provide a baseline for engine company operations from prealarm to postincident. Thousands of fire departments across the country have different ways of operating and certain things for their engine companies to consider because of their local conditions. However, regardless of the jurisdiction in which you operate, an engine company’s goal is to get water on the fire. Keep in mind the principles of engine company teamwork and the mission. When everyone understands and follows the basics, the team is stronger and more capable of accomplishing its goal.

JEFF SHUPE, who has more than 33 years of service as a career firefighter, is a member of the Cleveland (OH) Fire Department and a former volunteer firefighter. He is an Ohio-certified fire instructor and has been a training coordinator for volunteer and career fire departments. He is the lead instructor for the Cleveland Fire Department “Back to Basics” program and an instructor in the Outreach programs for the Ohio Fire Academy. He has an associate’s degree in fire technology from a community college and also attended the University of Cincinnati Fire Protection Engineering program. He is an FDIC H.O.T. team member for Engine Company Operations and an FDIC classroom presenter.

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