You may have to stretch handlines up the exterior of a building for a number of reasons. Reasons include the need to stretch multiple handlines into one building, to avoid overcrowding the interior stairs, to operate in buildings without standpipes, and to operate in buildings that are vacant or in a state of disrepair with unsafe stairs.

When the decision is made to stretch a single handline, the following procedure may be used. The stretch is made using a plastic container such as a bleach bottle to carry 50 to 60 feet of 38-inch-diameter utility rope.

First, the nozzle team carries sufficient folds of hose to a point below the window through which the line will be stretched. When estimating how much hose is needed, the officer should consider that one length is needed for every four stories of elevation plus two lengths inside the building (i.e., one length to reach the fire floor plus one working length). The backup firefighter remains outside with the hose folds and keeps the area clear.

The officer and member assigned to the nozzle proceed into the building with the utility rope and climb the floor to the stair landing or floor below the fire floor. This location should provide a relatively smoke-free environment in which to operate. First, the members remove the window. Newer windows simply fold in and lift out. Should it be necessary to break the window, be sure to remove all the glass so it does not puncture the hoseline. Next, they attach one end of the rope to a substantial object inside the building such as the stair railing or newel post. Then, they toss the rope out the window to the member waiting below, who fastens it to the hoseline. Once the hoseline is fastened, the member inside hoists it up the side of the building while the member outside guides it. A rubber band or short piece of rope fastened around the nozzle and hose holds them together and keeps the nozzle from dangling during hoisting.

Once the hoseline is in the window, the inside members can disconnect the rope (or it can stay attached and be used as a tether by members searching away from the charged line) and stretch the hoseline to the point of operation. When they bring in enough hose, they flake it as necessary. Before charging the hose, they should fasten it to a substantial object with a hose strap. The use of a hose strap is essential because the weight of a charged line can be enough to pull the line right out of the nozzle team`s hands.

The member operating on the street flakes out any kinks in the remaining hose outside and proceeds inside to assist with the interior hose stretch. Since it was stretched on the outside of the building, it can be drained outside the building to reduce water damage when operations are complete.

On occasion, a hoseline is initially used as an exterior exposure line and then brought into the structure later on in the job. If it is stretched up the exterior to avoid clogging the stairwell, first it must be drained and stretched dry. The weight of a charged hoseline makes it difficult to stretch, even on the interior of the building where much of the weight and backpressure rest on floors and stair treads. Without such resting places on the outside of the building, the weight makes the charged line nearly impossible to raise.

The utility rope can be used for a fire escape stretch as well. Two members proceed to the fire escape balcony on the floor below the fire. They drop the utility rope down to the member on the street, who attaches the hoseline to the rope and guides it as it is hoisted. After feeding the hoseline up, this member proceeds up the fire escape to join the crew members, who in most cases will enter the floor below the fire and stretch the line up the remaining flight of stairs inside. Once again, the use of hose straps on alternate fire escape balconies is a necessity. When using a fire escape, take care to coordinate operations with the initial line stretched to avoid approaching the fire from the opposite direction and driving it back on the initial hose team. n

(Top left) After selecting the most advantageous location at which the line is to be raised, one of the members of the inside team deploys the utility rope after securing one end to a substantial object at the lifting point. The entire container is thrown out the window, with the utility rope playing out as the jug falls. (Bottom left) After securing the rope around both the nozzle and the hoseline, the line is ready to be raised. Members on the ground must guide the line as it is raised to prevent it from becoming caught on any ledges or sills. (Bottom right) The inside team raises the handline, making sure sufficient line is raised to reach the objective. (Photos by Thomas K. Wanstall.)


If fire conditions dictate that you will need more than one handline, you can use an evolution called a portable standpipe.

The tools and equipment needed to set up the portable standpipe are generic to the fire service and can be adapted to any pumper in the United States. The tasks are performed by two teams of two firefighters each–the attack team and the supply team.

The attack team consists of the officer and one additional firefighter. This team gathers the needed tools and equipment, listed below:

full protective gear;


axe or forcible entry tool;

rope bag or rope bottle (bleach bottle with rope in it);

coil of rope;

hose roller; and

100 feet of hose, bundlefolded.

The attack team takes these tools and equipment to the fire location–the exterior balcony of a three-story apartment building or the level of a parking deck on which a car is burning, for example.

The supply team consists of the driver and an additional firefighter. If only three firefighters constitute a company, the driver must perform all the functions.

The following tools and equipment are needed:

a gated wye (212-inch to two 134-inch);

a double male adapter, if needed;

a sufficient quantity of 212-inch hose to reach the attack team;

a supply line, if necessary (your own line or call for help).

With a four-man crew, the officer and one crew member serve as the attack team. They wear full protective gear, take the equipment listed above, and proceed to the floor below the fire. They then drop their rope bottle or coil of rope out a window down to the ground, letting the supply team below know where to bring the hose and equipment. The hose roller can be tied off and used if needed. A crew member above can disconnect the bundlefold and get ready to use it while the other team member drops the rope bottle.

While the attack team is proceeding to the fire floor, the supply team is gathering the necessary equipment (mentioned above). Team members will attach the gated wye to a 212-inch hose and stretch it to where the attack team dropped its rope (location and amount of hose needed can be communicated by radio). The gated wye with hose attached is tied to the rope with the same knots used in hoisting an uncharged line. The supply team provides as much hose as the officer requests. The hose is hoisted uncharged and advanced to the site at which it is needed. The bundlefold is attached to the gated wye, and water is called for when needed. For safety, the 212-inch hose must be tied off prior to charging.

The supply team is responsible for laying a supply line to the pumper if none was laid coming in. The line can be stretched to a hydrant, or the team may call for another pumper to lay a supply line if necessary. Additional hose and equipment can be hoisted as necessary to supply a second handline off the gated wye. The pump operator starts pumping at 150 pounds and adjusts as necessary–allowing for friction loss, elevation, and the necessary adapters.


You can use a portable standpipe for fire in an alley in which your rig cannot fit. The supply team places a gated wye on a 212-inch hose and stretches up the alley. The attack team carries the bundlefold or other hose to the fire and attaches it to the gated wye, providing one attack line with one backup line to attack the fire. If necessary, two portable standpipes can be set up at the same time. In this situation, no rope or hose roller will be necessary since you are functioning at ground level. n

The attack team equipment needed to put the first line in operation. Note: The gated wye can be attached to the hose and hoisted up. (Photos by author.)

A gated wye attached to hose tied using a clove hitch and two half hitches.

DOUG LEIHBACHER, a 16-year veteran of the fire service, is a captain of Engine 303 and 306 of the Yonkers (NY) Fire Department. He is a New York state-certified instructor and municipal training officer level 2.

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