Firefighting Basics: Getting Water to and on the Fire, Part 1

Double tapping of a fire hydrant

All photos by author

This month we are going to look at the topic of getting water to and on the fire when it comes to structure fires in one- or two-story residential building. This is the essential skill that every firefighter and fire department must know and perform with proficiency and mastery.  

As basic as this skill is, many fire departments struggle to be proficient with securing a water source, advancing the hoseline, getting water from the truck to the hoseline, and then advancing the hoseline inside to suppress or control the fire. It seems that when it comes time to train, many look upon these as boring skills and not overly exciting. The opposite mentality needs to be reinforced to all the membership.

What dangers do we face when we cannot get water to and on the fire in a timely manner? Civilian lives may be lost. A fire will be growing in size and in intensity every minute. A firefighter’s life may be put in jeopardy during a search or interior operations due to a lack of water protection or inadequate water protection. Structural stability may be compromised, leading to collapse. Exposures and other buildings may catch fire. Furthermore, any insurance company and lawyer hired by such will closely watch the time it took to get water to and on the fire. Any delays in doing so will result in lawsuits, liability, and finger-pointing between the fire department, the municipality, and the insurance company.

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So how can we train this skill to proficiency and mastery? Process evaluation can help in this regard. We must ask: how well does our current process work in getting water to and on the fire? By examining each step in our operational process, we can determine if we are setting ourselves up for failure or on the path to success. This can be done during a training drill, more specifically a scenario-based training drill.

I like to use “roll in” drills as a way to evaluate a crew’s competence and proficiency for any such situation as a way to examine the steps taken by the crew or individuals to complete the task. In this case or topic, we can look at three key areas in respect to conducting a forward lay:

  1. Securing the hydrant or water source
  2. Advancing the pre-connect hoseline
  3. Getting water from the truck to the nozzle

Securing the hydrant is the first step in our process—securing the water source. As the truck pulls up to the hydrant, one firefighter needs to get off, grab the needed equipment, pull off a section of large diameter hose (LDH), walk to the hydrant, wrap the hose around the base of the hydrant, and then tell the driver to proceed down the road when they are ready. The equipment needed to bring with them will vary depending upon the department’s operational practice. This may include a hydrant kit containing items such as:

  • Hydrant wrenches
  • 2 ½-inch gate valve
  • Storz to thread adaptor
  • Spanner wrenches
  • Flashlight
  • LDH gate valve

The hydrant kit should not be too heavy or packed with too many items, keeping things lighter for a firefighter who must grab not only the kit and LDH while with a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) on his or her back and trying to work.

Fire hydrant
(1)

The hydrant kit may be outfitted with different equipment as well depending on the types of hydrants that are available to use. In photo 1 you can see a hydrant that only has two 2 ½-inch ports. This may require two 2 ½-inch gate valves and a 2 ½-inch x LDH (4- or 5-inch) adaptor so that a large diameter hose can be connected.

Fire hydrant with two hoses connected
(2)

In photo 2, we can see a different type of hydrant where we have two 2 ½-inch ports as well as a steamer port. The larger port allows for a higher flow rate of water without increasing the friction loss. This is where a LDH Storz thread adaptor can be used to make the hose connection or a gate valve. Some of the newer hydrants will have a Storz connection already built in, allowing for a direct hose-to-hydrant connection similar to a Storz coupling on two hoses.

A hydrant dressed with the main supply line coming off the steamer port
(3)

Another reason for the arrangement of a hydrant equipment kit may be due to the availability of intake size inlets on the fire truck pump panel. Some fire apparatus that only have the standard 2 ½-inch inlets and no large diameter intake valve. There may be a port with a threaded connection, but there may be no way of making the connection from an LDH to the fire truck pump.  As in photo 3, the only option available is to use the 2 ½-inch ports with two hoselines as opposed to only one supply line.   

Double tapping of a fire hydrant
(4)

Bear in mind that hydrants are designed to flow their maximum capacity with water flowing from all its outlets. If your operational process will allow for all ports to be “tapped”, then why not take advantage of it? Below is an example of how this can be done; Miami-Dade (FL) Fire Captain Bill Gustin shared this with me one day when discussing this topic, so I am going to pass it on to you.  

“Double tap” a hydrant by connecting a large diameter supply or suction hose to the 4 ½-inch outlet and a gate valve to one of the 2 ½-inch outlets.  If the demand for water increases, subsequently connect a 2 ½-inch female x LDH “increaser” to the gate valve to supply a second LDH line to the engine’s other steamer pump intake. This is especially important when the hydrant’s steamer connection is supplying an engine’s front suction; which can restrict water flow to the pump because of the length, diameter, and bends in the piping from the front suction to the intake side of the pump. In this case, the gate valve on a 2 ½-inch outlet with use of an “increaser” will facilitate connecting a second LDH suction/supply hose directly to the pump’s side steamer intake.

Most four-way valves have a shut off position.  We seldom send an engine back to a hydrant to pressurize the supply line by taking suction and pumping into the four-way valve; so in most cases it serves simply as a big 4 ½-inch female to 5-inch Storz adapter.  Every so often, we will snap a hydrant’s operating stem when shutting it down. The solution? Shut off the flow at the four-way valve and notify the water department.

Once the hydrant has been secured, the firefighter must communicate with the pump operator as to when water can be sent from the hydrant to the truck. After this has been done, that firefighter can then make their way to the structure to be reassigned or to help with the initial attack. Next time we will look at the second part of our process evaluation of getting water to and on the fire with advancing the pre-connect hoseline and getting water from the truck to the nozzle.

Mark van der Feyst

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. Van der Feyst is a local level suppression instructor for the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy. He is also the lead author of Residential Fire Rescue (Fire Engineering Books & Video).

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