“Big Fire, Big Water”: The 2½-Inch Hoseline

By Mark van der Feyst

In the fire service, we are always looking at ways to improve ourselves, either through technology or by our methods of operation. We have seen this with the introduction of the thermal imaging camera, 1¾-inch and two-inch hose, positive pressure ventilation fire attack, and so on.

As we progress into the future, we sometimes need to bring the past with us. That is not to say that we must rely on tradition to fight fires, but rather remembering the foundational principles of firefighting. We tend to forget the basics of firefighting in the name of progress and technology. The basic concept of putting water on the fire to extinguish it is still the best and most effective way to fight fires. The old saying of “big fire, big water” still holds true to this day.

The 2½-inch hoseline has become a forgotten entity of our firefighting skills. Sure, we have a preconnected 2½-inch hoseline on our trucks; we also pack spare 2½-inch line on the back of our engines for supply lines, ground deluges (see photo 1), or our standpipe/fire department connections, but have we or do we ever use the 2½-inch hoseline to attack a fire? The answer is no.

In my 18 years of service, I can remember only one time when a 2½-inch handline was pulled off as the first attack line for an interior attack at an auto body shop fire. The first-arriving engine pulled this line, and the officer quickly recognized that he had “big” fire that required “big” water. The other instances where a 2½-inch line was used was for defensive operation involving ground deluges.

(1) The rear of an engine with 2½-inch preconnected handlines. (Photos by author.)


(2) A master stream device supplied by a single 2½-inch line. You can deploy this line easily with a single member.


So, why don’t we use the 2½-inch hoseline for offensive interior firefighting? The answers are usually because of staffing shortages, because the line was too heavy to advance, crews don’t want to cause too much water damage, or it wasn’t a consideration at the time. Although these answers are usually true in some respects, we need to remember the past and our “building block” of firefighting, which is “Big fire, big water.”

The 2½-inch handline can deliver the “big” water that we need for a quick, aggressive initial interior attack. We need to deliver a big, quick “knockout” punch when we have a fire, whether it is big or small. Just as a boxer’s objective is to knock out his opponent with a one-punch hit, so too should our objective be to knock out the fire. One quick punch delivered by a 2½-inch nozzle will accomplish that task.


RELATED: Houston FD, High-Rise Hose DeploymentRowett Jr. on Hoseline Selection: 1¾- and 2½-Inch Hoselines ‖ Holmström: Hoseline Deployment the Finnish Way  


Consider the fire service acronym ADULTS, which spells out when we should use a 2½-inch handline. The ADULTS principle is usually applied to high-rise operations and standpipe equipped buildings.

  • Advanced fire conditions on arrival. You can apply this when the first-arriving officer on scene witnesses an advanced fire or predicts that the fire will become advanced during the time it takes to set up operations.
  • Defensive operations. The 2½-inch line is perfect for setting up defensive operations with master stream devices (see photo 2).
  • Unable to determine the location or the extent of the fire. In high-rise and standpipe equipped buildings, if no fire is showing, there could be a serious, fast-moving fire deep within the building.
  • Large, uncompartmentalized areas. These areas lead to rapid fire extension and growth. You must stop these types of fires right away. Using a 2½-inch line will accomplish this.
  • Tons of water. When you need lots of water, a 2½-inch line will be the choice. It will allow you to flow high volume with low pressure required.
  • Standpipe operations. These operations require a 2½-inch line for the same reasons as above: high volume at low pressure.

The ADULTS acronym is very accurate and simple to use; the key is to know when to apply it. This will take practice and training. If we train with 2½-inch handlines consistently, then the surprise of having to pull a 2½-inch line for the first time will be absent.

How much water can a 2½-inch nozzle deliver? You can expect to flow between 100 to 500 gallons per minute depending on manufacturer. You can deliver a great amount of water using a 2½-inch line; this is what makes it a versatile tool. You can use it for defensive AND offensive operations. The larger-sized size hose, such as the three-inch and above cannot be used for anything but defensive and supply operations.

Advancing a 2½-inch line seems impossible when you have limited staffing, but is it really? As previously mentioned, training on advancement will only help in this area. The minimum amount of people advancing a line will be two to three. So, why not train this way? If you have the luxury of having four people advancing the line, then you are ahead of the game.

Large city departments will commit two engine companies to advance one 2½-inch line. This is usually done in high-rise situations. When it comes to our typical residential structure fire, a small company of two to three people can advance a 2½-inch line with ease. That is not to say that it will be easy—it will be hard work. Advancing a dry line as far as you can and then charging it with water will cut down the amount of work needed to advance the line. With the line dry, flake it outside in a pattern that will allow you to advance it with more help from the hose (see photo 3). Flaking the hose perpendicular to the doorway of the structure will allow you to pull the hose in line with the advancing party. When you flake the hose parallel to the doorway of the structure, you now must contend with pulling it around a corner from the very start. This will make your job extremely difficult.

(3) Flaking out the hoseline perpendicular to the doorway will allow you to advance the line with a bit more ease.


Usually, we advance hoselines with water flowing at full pressure. With smaller lines such as the 1½- and 1¾-inch, you can accomplish this with ease, but when it comes to the 2½-inch line, this cannot be done. There is too much back pressure going against the advancing team. The key here is to close your nozzle half way (you must not shut down your nozzle completely); this will allow water flow to continue with enough protection being provided while at the same time allowing the team to advance the line. Less back pressure will allow you to advance the line with two or three people; one to help pull hose around corners and another to help back the nozzleman. Once you have advanced the line as far as you want, reopen the nozzle completely to ensure full flow for fire knockdown. This technique takes practice for it to be made perfect.

You can also use 2½-inch line master streams for offensive operations. Different manufactures produce master stream devices that are fed by a single 2½-inch hose. In photo 2, we see one such device. These master stream devices can deliver large volumes of water with a quick, easy setup. These devices can be setup, flowing water and then left unmanned. They have a safety feature that will turn off water flow when it senses any movement by the master stream device. These devices are great for interior offensive operations, although large structures are the ideal setting for these guns. Any large fire inside a large structure (high-rises, warehouses, mansions, and so on) will be the perfect setting for setting up a master stream device for interior attack to achieve a quick knockdown.

The 2½-inch hoseline has been around since the beginning of the fire service; at one time, it was the only size hose used to fight fires. With the introduction of smaller diameter hoses, we have forgotten about other weapons at our disposal. By bringing the past with us, we can achieve our goal of a quick knockdown and, at the same time, increase our ability to become effective firefighters. This will only be accomplished by going “back to the basics.”


Mark van der Feyst has been in the fire service since 1999 and is a full-time firefighter in Ontario, Canada. He is an international instructor teaching in Canada, the United States, and India, and at FDIC. He is a local level suppression instructor for the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy and an instructor for the Justice Institute of British Columbia. He is also the lead author of Residential Fire Rescue (Pennwell).

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