Stretching the Big Line

Article and photos by David DeStefano 

People are creatures of habit. We develop a routine that is familiar and comfortable and repeat that routine many times. These routines also occur on the fireground and are repeated and reinforced daily because they achieve the desired result. Most of our fires are manageable interior attacks in which the fire is usually knocked down using a 1¾-inch handline. The majority of our fires occur in residential occupancies that are either single-family dwellings or compartmented multidwellings.

The comfort of this routine may be shattered in an instant by your next alarm! Virtually every fire department in the nation protects occupancies that demand a higher fire flow, including situations where greater reach and penetration are essential to a successful firefight. Identifying occupancies and fire conditions that warrant stretching a 2½-inch attack line are among the most important decisions the first-in engine officer will make.

Conditions for Deployment

Many fire departments have clear procedures or guidelines to follow for stretching a 2½-inch attack line, commonly called “the big line.” These scenarios may include fires in commercial buildings, high rises, or cellars, as well as large open areas within structures or defensive fire attacks. Other considerations for stretching the big line may include situations where fire conditions are present but the extent of the fire cannot be determined, as well as any fire where heavy fire conditions are evident on arrival. 


(1) Applying a girth hitch with a loop of tubular webbing around a dry or charged line will aid firefighters in stretching the line into position.

Stretching the Line

Each of the previous scenarios will favor the reach, penetration, and large gallons-per-minute (gpm) delivery of the 2½-handline. However, the major drawbacks in deploying the big line include the difficulty involved in operating and advancing such a heavy and powerful stream. In addition, a dependable, continuous water supply must be established if the line is to operate for any worthwhile length of time.

To address the water supply concerns, guidelines may be adopted where companies are able to stretch their big line to a point that is tenable before a water supply is established and the line is charged. This will be subject to local policy as well as the location of the fire and the type of building involved. With many fire companies short-staffed, deploying and operating a big line may be a real challenge in many departments. Preplanning options for getting a 2½-inch line into operation is a must to conduct an effective fire attack.

Fire departments that operate engine companies with fewer than four firefighters may consider establishing a policy that includes combining the personnel from two engines to advance and operate a big line in a structure. Members of the initial engine company can stretch the line from the rig. Then, supplemented by the members of an additional engine, the big line can be charged, advanced on the fire, and operated to its best advantage.

In days past, a hose strap was in the pocket of every member of the engine company. Nowadays the same may be said for a piece of tubular webbing. This webbing tied into a loop with a water bend can be put to use in many ways when working with a 2½-inch line. A girth hitched loop around the line is useful for securing hose stretched in a window as well as for creating an over-the-shoulder strap for pulling the line or taking pressure off the nozzleman.  

(2) The webbing loop will also make it easier to advance a line down a corridor or up a stairway.

Operating and advancing a big line as part of an interior attack is always an arduous task, but members will benefit from the increased reach, penetration, and knockdown power of the larger hose. The key is identifying proper applications through size-up and matching your resources to the task.     

David DeStefano is a 20-year veteran of the North Providence (RI) Fire Department, where he serves as a lieutenant in Ladder Co. 1. He previously served as a lieutenant in Engine 3 and was a firefighter in Ladder 1. He teaches a variety of topics for the Rhode Island Fire Academy. He can be reached at   

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