GETTING WATER TO THE FIRE
BY BOB PRESSLER
Of all the fireground operations, the tasks assigned to the engine company are arguably the most important. Without water being supplied to the fire, buildings eventually would burn themselves to the ground. Engine company duties might consist of stretching a single line to extinguish a garbage can fire or supplying multiple hand-
lines or master streams. To perform these duties, the officer and all personnel assigned to the engine company must be able to determine what size handline to use, how to get it to the proper position, and how to put it into operation. Often, this is not as easy as it sounds.
The type and size of hose carried on your apparatus should be based on the kinds of fires you expect to encounter in your district and the water available to fight these fires. Supply lines generally are three-inch and larger. Handlines for fire attack range from 112-inch to 134-inch, two-inch, and up to 212-inch.
The amount of supply line carried depends on how far the water is from the fire. If you are in a residential setting with hydrants every 800 feet, you know that the engine needs at least 800 feet to be able to stretch from the hydrant to the fire. Realistically, the engine should have more than this because of the possibility of bad hydrants or the occasional need to drop more than one line. Many departments still use split beds of 1,000 feet of three-inch line coupled together. This way, they can either drop a single line up to 2,000 feet or dual lines of 1,000 feet. Departments that have switched to large-diameter hose usually use only one large bed because, with the increased flows available, the need for a second line is almost nonexistent.
Departments that do not have the luxury of a hydrant system must rely on either engine relays or tanker shuttles. The amount of hose required depends on the distance each unit may be expected to cover in a basic relay. One upstate New York village`s SOP always sends one engine company to a drafting position at the river for any working fire in the business district. This company knows that it carries enough hose on the apparatus to reach from the drafting site to different points in the business district. If the fire is reported in a building past the limits of this one pumper, the department knows that the line can either be extended using hose from a second unit for short distances or that a pumper relay may be needed to go longer distances from the river.
The size of the supply line is based on how much water must be moved to the scene of the operation. Small fires require small amounts of water, while large fires (or buildings that have the potential to develop into large fires) require large amounts of water.
This may sound overly simplistic, but many companies routinely find themselves without the needed water when the situation turns against them. Prefire plans for both individual structures as well as specific areas should include the anticipated fire flows that will be required. For fires in one- and two-family dwellings, a fire flow of between 400 and 600 gpm is required, unless there are extenuating circumstances. Total involvement, unusually large homes, and exposure problems are some of the factors that might necessitate a larger gpm flow. For commercial properties, stores, and industrial facilities, fire flows must be based on the hazards of each individual property and the degree of involvement. Fire flows of at least 500 to 800 gpm are not uncommon; large facilities may require flows well into the thousands.
After water is supplied to the engine at the scene of the fire, it must be moved to the fire building itself. The first decision the officer in charge must make is what size attack line is required. As mentioned earlier, for a fire in a single-family dwelling, a flow of 400 to 600 gpm should be more than enough to suppress the “average” house fire. Because of the layout of most homes, this water is better delivered through two or three smaller handlines (either 112-inch or 134-inch) than one large handline or a master stream. The smaller lines give you the maneuverability you need to make the turns as you advance into the house, and the flow of approximately 150 to 200 gpm from a 134-inch line gives you sufficient water to knock down one or two rooms of fire.
An exception to this general rule is when arriving companies are met with a large body of fire involving several rooms or an entire floor of a dwelling. This falls under the category of a large fire and requires either a 212-inch handline or a quick hit from a master stream to try to stop the fire`s advance. This can be done with booster tank water or by implementing a hydrant-to-fire stretch. The officer in charge must take into account how much water the pumper is carrying and how much fire is visible before choosing an option. Before deciding to rely strictly on booster water, the IC must know what he will do for his additional water supply. This requires either a hand stretch or the arrival of an additional engine company.
These tactics require that the following two rules be adhered to: First, the water should only be flowed until the visible fire is darkened down. Continued use of these large streams into an area where there is no fire will only introduce large volumes of air into the structure, pushing and fanning any unseen fire. Second, as soon as the large stream is shut down, regular, smaller handlines must be ready to advance into the building to complete extinguishment.
Any time a line is stretched and put into operation, a second line should be stretched as a backup line. This second line also should have enough extra line to be able to reach to the floor above. An excellent practice for departments to implement is to always have an additional line stretched to the front of the fire building whenever the backup line is put into operation, This ensures that, in an emergency, a handline will always be available at the front of the building or will already be in the process of being stretched to that position.
Many departments today are using mattydales or crosslays for their attack lines. By employing 200 feet of hose preconnected right to the apparatus, the line can be rapidly stretched and the water started. Although this setup usually results in water being put on the fire faster, it does have its drawbacks. The biggest drawback is that you are restricted to the 200 feet (or whatever length in the pack) that is preconnected. Stretches of more than 200 feet require that the line be disconnected at some point, that the hose be added, and then that the line be reconnected before water can be started. Unless every house in your district is the exact same in layout and distance to the curb, multiple length preconnects will be needed. Because every possible layout cannot be covered with a preconnect, many departments use a “static” bed of 134-inch for the unusual stretches. This static bed is made up of upward of 500 feet of hose not preconnected. The hose is stretched in the normal manner until sufficient line is in position. Then the line is broken and connected to the pump, and water is started. Some companies also will use four or five lengths of 134-inch directly connected to a regular bed of 212- or three-inch line. This enables the company to stretch a greater distance without worrying about the increased friction loss associated with long stretches of smaller hose. By using a gated wye where the lines connect, a second line can be put into service.
Regardless of the means employed to stretch the first line, the nozzleman is responsible for bringing enough line to the point of operation. Too many times, the nozzleman will just grab the nozzle and run toward the fire. The firefighter should have at least one length (50 feet) of hose at the point where he starts his operation. If the fire is on the first floor of a dwelling, flake out the hose on the lawn in the vicinity of the front door. If the fire is on the second floor, flake out the line inside the house in the vicinity of the stairs.
The other firefighter(s) must estimate how much more hose will be needed to reach the fire area from the pumper. For private dwellings, the estimate is easy: 50 feet for the nozzleman, plus the amount needed to reach from the engine to the front door (unless the house is a mansion, in which case the stretch will be much more complicated and probably out of the reach of your preconnects).
When stretching into multiple dwellings, estimating becomes a little more difficult. The firefighter at the nozzle still needs at least 50 feet. The type of stairs will affect the amount of hose needed. If a well hole (the space between stairways as they turn) is present, the hose can be run vertically up this void. One length is good to cover approximately five floors. If no well hole is present and the hose must wrap around on each floor (the same way you walk), approximately one length is needed per floor. Preplanning also should identify buildings in your district that require more than 50 feet of line to reach all areas of any apartment or living area so that the nozzleman knows to bring extra hose.
When more than two lines are required on the upper level of a dwelling, the third line may have to be stretched into position by means other than the interior stairs. Two lines with their respective crews will make the stairway impassable, and trying to decide which line to “lighten up” on becomes next to impossible. The use of portable ladders in conjunction with available porches makes the front windows the logical choice for the third line. In multiple dwellings, aerial ladders or fire escapes also may be used to help stretch additional lines. n
BOB PRESSLER, a 21-year veteran of the fire service, is a firefighter with Rescue Company No. 3 of the City of New York (NY) Fire Department. He has an associate`s degree in fire protection engineering from Oklahoma State University, is a frequent instructor on a wide range of fire service topics, and is a member of a volunteer department.