BY BILL GUSTIN
If you encounter a fire floor hallway filled with smoke, you will have to initially stretch hose on the floor below the fire and in the stairwell, if it is relatively clear of smoke. Then, charge the line and advance it to the fire apartment. You must be disciplined to first locate the fire, as explained in Part 1, before beginning to stretch hose. If not, you risk stretching short or from the wrong stairway. One of the leading causes for stretching short at fires in multiple dwellings is failing to account for the amount of hose necessary to reach the fire apartment from the attack stairway and the hose necessary for the nozzle to reach any area in the fire apartment. This may be because you are accustomed to stretching hose in a training tower that doesn’t have hallways or in garden apartments where apartments on each floor are within a few feet of the stairway. In training towers and garden apartments, 50-100 feet of hose are usually sufficient to reach from the stairway to the door of the fire apartment and every area in it. That is hardly the case in many multiple dwellings, where apartments can be more than a hundred feet from the closest stairwell, especially in sprinklered buildings, as explained in Part 1.
Additionally, many luxury apartments, condominium units, and hotel suites can be quite large, requiring much more than the 50 feet of hose for the nozzle’s stream to reach a fire anywhere in the units. Another complication when fighting a fire in an extraordinarily large unit in a multiple dwelling is that these buildings are likely to have two doors to the public hallway. One door usually opens to a foyer leading to the living room, and a second door opens to the kitchen. If you are unsure of the size of the fire apartment, how much hose it will take to reach every point within it, and through which door to advance the hoseline, examine a unit on the floor below that is the same size and layout as the fire apartment.
Consider this scenario: Fire companies arrive on the scene of an apartment building fire. They receive information they judge to be reliable that the fire is in apartment 510. They find the fifth floor filled with smoke. Fire companies know from prefire planning that in this building apartment 410 is directly below apartment 510. Firefighters with or without this information will use a thermal imaging camera to confirm the location of the fire and estimate its distance from the closest stairway. Say that they estimate that the fire is approximately 100 feet from the stairwell at the east end of the building. This confirms their information that the fire is in apartment 510 because apartment 410 is also approximately 100 feet from the east stairwell. These firefighters will take advantage of a well opening in the east stairway or a window in or right next to the stairway by performing a well stretch or hoisting a hoseline from the window to the fourth floor (photo 1). Then, they will stretch the hose to apartment 410, the apartment below the fire (photo 2).
|(1) The hoseline is stretched from the window next to the east stairwell (note the exit sign at the stairwell door) on the fourth floor, the floor below the fire. (Photos by Eric Goodman unless otherwise noted.)|
|(2) The hoseline reaches from the window next to the attack stairway to apartment 410, the apartment below the fire.|
Now, answer this question: If you can stretch hose from the attack stairway or a window right next to it to the apartment below the fire, how much more hose will you need for the nozzle to cover all areas of the fire apartment? The answer is 100 feet for average-size apartments—that’s 50 feet to reach from the floor below the fire to the fire floor and another 50 feet to penetrate and reach the fire anywhere in the apartment.
Why take the time to stretch hose to the apartment below the fire? Why not just estimate? First, actually stretching to the apartment below the fire is always more accurate than estimating. Second, the hose has to be laid out on the floor below anyway so that it does not kink when it is charged. Once hose is stretched from the attack stairway or a window right next to it to the apartment below the fire, you have two ways to stretch the additional 100 feet necessary to reach all areas within the average-size apartment. First, you can pull an additional 100 feet of hose in the window or up the well opening, or, second, you can connect and stretch a 100-foot hose bundle. Let’s look at both options.
In photo 3, firefighters stretch the hoseline 100 feet past apartment 410, the apartment below the fire. What they do next depends on conditions in the stairway. If smoke is banking down the stairs from the fire floor, they will advance a charged hoseline up the stairs. They prepare themselves by laying all their hose out on the floor below the fire and arranging it in an “S” so that it will not kink when it is charged and will advance smoothly. Now, let’s say that the stairway is enclosed and clear of smoke. Under these conditions, as much as 100 feet of hose can be laid in a stairway by stretching to the fire floor, up to the floor above the fire, and then back down to the fire floor landing. This allows the force of gravity to assist in advancing the first 50 feet on the fire floor. In this case, the nozzleman will gather 100 feet of hose by holding the nozzle, walking back on the hoseline and picking up a fold of hose at every third step, and placing the fold on his forearm (photo 4). This arranges the hose in a reverse horseshoe that will play out hose as it is stretched in the stairway (photos 5-6). If you choose to connect the hose bundles (photo 7), you will also deploy them according to the smoke condition in the stairway.
|(3) The nozzleman stretches the hoseline 100 feet past apartment 410.|
|(4) The nozzleman gathers 100 feet of hose into a reverse horseshoe.|
|(5-6) One hundred feet of hose, gathered in a reverse horseshoe, is stretched in an enclosed stairway that is relatively clear of smoke. The hose is stretched to the stair landing above the fire and back down to the fire floor. (Photos 5-6 by Chris Martinez.)|
|(7) Once the hoseline hoisted in the window next to the east stairwell reaches the apartment below the fire, it is walked back to the attack stairwell. Here, the nozzle is disconnected from the hose, and a 100-foot hose bundle is connected.|
If the stairs are filled with smoke, stretch out the hose bundles on the floor below the fire, and charge the line. If the stairs are relatively clear of smoke, you may choose to split the 100-foot bundle (photos 8-9) and stretch the entire bundle to the fire floor, up to the floor above the fire (photos 10-11), and back down to the fire floor stair landing (photo 12). A word of caution here: If you stretch hose above the fire floor in an enclosed stairway, you are in a very dangerous position if the stairwell door on the fire floor is opened. You could be subjected to a blast of heat and smoke rising up the stairway.
|(8-12) A 100-foot hose bundle is split into two 50-foot stacks that will play hose from the top as firefighters stretch up stairs to the floor above the fire and then back down to the fire floor. (Photos by Chris Martinez.)|
ADVANCING HOSE IN A SMOKE-FILLED HALLWAY
Do not enter a hallway filled with smoke with an uncharged hoseline. Why is the hallway filled with smoke? The answer is that the fire may have burned through the apartment door, or it’s more likely that the residents left the door to their apartment open when they fled the fire. Apartment doors with self-closers can be held open by an unconscious person or a welcome mat folded underneath the door. Remember that opening the stairwell door to the fire floor will turn the stairwell into a chimney. It is, therefore, critical to ensure that no one, civilian or firefighter, is on the stairs above the level of the fire. Before you open the stairwell door to the fire floor, make sure you are ready to fight fire: Carefully check every foot of hoseline before and after it is charged to ensure that there are no kinks and the hoseline is not jammed in a stair railing. Next, flow the nozzle in the stairwell to ensure that it has adequate flow (photo 13). Everyone must don their self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) masks, hoods, and gloves. Firefighters advancing the hoseline must know what they are expected to do based on the configuration of the hallway and the distance between the attack stairway and the fire apartment. Let’s say that firefighters who familiarize themselves with the floor below the fire see that the hallway takes a right turn 100 feet from the attack stairway. Accordingly, the officer in charge of the hose advance will order the third firefighter on the hoseline to advance 100 feet from the stairwell and to remain at the corner to pull hose around it.
|(13) The nozzle is flowed before opening the stairwell door to the fire floor.|
“MULES” KEEP THE HOSELINE MOVING
Firefighters have to be positioned in the stairway to keep the hose moving to the fire. I affectionately and respectfully refer to these firefighters as “mules.” They are firefighters who would rather be with the nozzle advancing toward the fire but who have the discipline and maturity to stay in the stairway and do their job. They are well-trained and experienced and know that the hoseline won’t get more than a few feet down a hallway if everyone is bunched near the nozzle. Advancing hose on a return stairway with no well opening can necessitate as many as three mules: One pulls hose laid out on the floor below the fire and pushes it up the stairway to a second mule at the half-landing between the fire floor and the floor below (photo 14). This mule pulls hose up from the floor below the fire and pushes it up to a mule at the fire floor landing, who keeps the hose moving to the crew advancing down the hallway (photo 15).
|(14) The “mule” on the floor below the fire pulls hose laid out on the floor below and pushes it up the stairs to a second “mule” at the mid-landing.|
|(15) The “mule” at the fire floor landing at first gets help from gravity because the first 50 feet of hose was laid up the stairs to the floor above. Once that section is off the stairs, he will have to work hard to pull hose up the stairs and push it down the hallway to the firefighters advancing to the fire apartment.|
Note: The stairwell in photos 14 and 15 has a well opening; however, the firefighters in the photos are training as if it is not there. Advancing hose in a stairway that has a well opening may require only two mules—one to pull hose laid out on the floor below the fire and push it up the well opening to a second firefighter on the fire floor landing, who pulls the hose up the well and into the hallway (photo 16). When the nozzle team leaves the stairway, they should position the hoseline between themselves and the wall that is on the same side of the hallway as the fire apartment. Advancing down an extremely long hallway or around a corner will necessitate that one or more firefighters take a position somewhere between the attack stairwell and the fire apartment. Their job is to “lighten up” on the hoseline or move it around corners.
|(16) The “mule” on floor below the fire pulls hose laid out on the floor below and pushes it up the well opening to the “mule” at the fire floor landing. (Photo by Chris Martinez.)|
Again, these firefighters will know their assignments before they leave the sanctuary of the stairway because they will have familiarized themselves with the floor below the fire. Once the nozzle reaches the door to the fire apartment, they will pull at least 50 feet of hose up to the nozzle so that it can reach every point in the fire apartment (photo 17). At this point, one firefighter must move up the hoseline and take a position at the doorway to the fire apartment to pull hose from the hallway and push it to the firefighters advancing the nozzle.
|(17) Once the nozzle reaches the door to the fire apartment, at least 50 feet more of hose must be pulled up to the doorway so that the nozzle can reach any point in the fire apartment. (Photo by Chris Martinez.)|
A second firefighter, probably the engine company officer, may have to take a position at a doorway or corner inside the fire apartment to keep hose moving to the nozzleman. Advancing a charged hoseline in a multiple dwelling requires strong leadership, discipline, teamwork, and skill. Proficiency can be achieved only by extensively practicing hose stretches under realistic conditions. Everyone should be able to perform their function so well that the operation becomes nonverbal. Experienced firefighters listening to fireground radio transmissions know when a hose stretch is not going well because there will be a lot of yelling on the radio for “more hose.”
In Part 1 of this article, we examined why the configuration of a stairway has a significant influence on how a hoseline is stretched to an upper floor of a multiple dwelling. When a building does not have stairways with a well opening so a well stretch can be performed or windows conducive for hoisting hose with a rope, you may have to resort to performing a conventional stairway hose stretch, which is a last resort for many fire departments because they do not have the staffing or hose loads to rapidly perform it. A stairwell stretch may require as much as one section of hose for each floor above the ground (photo 18).
|(18) A conventional stairway stretch can require as much as one 50-foot section to lay hose on stairs from one floor to another.|
The Fire Department of New York (FDNY) arguably is the department that is the most proficient in performing stairwell hose stretches. In large part, this is because of its staffing and also the design of its engines and the configuration of its hose loads. FDNY engines have “L”-shaped booster tanks that allow the hosebed to be much lower than a pumper with a conventional booster tank. Additionally, the hose is loaded flat with each tier or layer beginning at the same side of the hosebed. This configuration allows firefighters to extend their arm through the folds at the end of a tier or layer of hose and pull off flakes that can readily play off their forearm as they ascend stairs. Pumping apparatus, particularly outside of big cities, typically do not have hosebeds or hose loads that facilitate stretching hose because they are designed to do more than just pump water and deploy hose. For example, many suburban fire apparatus carry a full array of extrication equipment, cribbing, large positive-pressure ventilation fans, and all the paramedic equipment carried in an advanced life support ambulance except perhaps a stretcher. Consider also that many departments stretch hose from quints with rear-mount aerial devices and engines with 1,000-gallon booster tanks that have extremely high hosebeds. Consequently, these apparatus were not primarily designed to facilitate hand stretching hose up the stairs of a multiple dwelling.
Before we examine hose loads that facilitate a stairwell stretch, let’s look at “the shuffle,” which is an extremely rudimentary method of stretching hose up a stairway. The shuffle works with any kind of hose load, even if firefighters should drop their flakes of hose and they end up in a pile of “spaghetti.” It also requires very little skill or personnel; two firefighters can stretch a hoseline to a second or third floor in a timely fashion, but more firefighters will speed up the operation. Say a company of three firefighters has to perform a stairwell stretch to the third floor of an apartment building. They begin the shuffle by stretching their hoseline and placing every coupling at the base of the stairs so the hose is laid out in a series of “S”s (photo 19). A firefighter, usually the driver-engineer, remains on the ground until he has pulled all the hose into the stairway (photo 20). The officer takes a position at the half-landing and begins to pull hose up the stairs from the base of the stairway (photo 21) and “feeds” it to the nozzleman, who ascends to the second-floor landing. Once the nozzleman reaches the second floor, he lays the nozzle down on the stairs above him (photo 22) so he doesn’t bury it with the hose that he will pull and pile on the second-floor landing (photo 23). Once all the slack hose has been pulled to the second floor, the officer and the nozzleman move up to the next level; the nozzleman ascends to the third floor, and the officer takes a position on the half-landing between the second and the third floors. There, the officer pulls up the hose piled on the second-floor landing and feeds it to the nozzleman. As mentioned, more firefighters will speed up this operation. When personnel are available, position a firefighter at the base of the stairs and at every floor landing and half-landing below the fire floor. Performing the shuffle with firefighters at each landing is one of the simplest, fastest, and least strenuous methods for stretching hose to an upper floor.
|(19) Couplings and the nozzle are laid at the base of the stairway to begin the shuffle evolution. (Photos by Chris Martinez.)|
|(20) The firefighter at the base of the stairs pulls hose into the stairway and shuffles hose to a company officer on the first half-landing.|
|(21) The company officer on the half-landing pulls hose up the stairs from below and shuffles it to the nozzleman climbing to the second floor.|
|(22-23) The nozzleman sets the nozzle down on the stairs above him so he doesn’t bury it with the hose he pulls to the second-floor landing.|
CONFIGURING HOSE FOR A STAIRWELL STRETCH
Fire departments that may have to perform conventional stairway stretches should configure a hose load that can be carried on firefighters’ shoulders or forearms and plays out hose as they walk and climb stairs. For example, a “minuteman” load is ideal for a stairwell stretch because hose plays off the top of the hose load as it is carried. Conversely, a triple-layer load is totally unsuitable for a stairway stretch because it is dragged, not carried, once it leaves the hosebed. The Clearwater (FL) Fire Department uses a 300-foot minuteman load that two well-trained firefighters can stretch up a stairway. The hose load is easily pulled from the engine’s relatively low hosebed to the firefighters’ shoulders because the apparatus has an “L”-shaped booster tank (photos 24-26).
|(24-26) Clearwater, Florida, firefighters stretch a 300-foot minuteman load from the low hosebed of an engine with an “L”-shaped booster tank. (Photos by author.)|
Crosslay preconnects can also be configured in a minuteman load, but there is a limitation: The preconnects can be pulled only from the side of the apparatus where the nozzle is (photos 27-28). Pulling the hose load from the other side of the apparatus will cause the nozzle to catch and bind on the swivel connection when it is at the bottom of a crosslay hosebed. Many fire departments use a modified minuteman crosslay where just half of the load, the portion connected to the nozzle, is configured in a minuteman. Engine companies with crosslays configured in a flat load can improvise a minuteman load if each half of the load is in separate stacks and the crosslay hosebed is at a reasonable height. If this is the case, the nozzleman can pull a portion or the entire hose load with the nozzle on top and flip it over so that the nozzle is on the bottom and the hose plays off the top of the stack.
|(27-28) A modified minuteman load is pulled from the crosslay and stretched up the stairway.|
A hose load “finished” in one or more reverse horseshoes, pictured in Part 1, is also excellent for stretching up stairs because the nozzle is in the inside of the horseshoe and hose plays out from the outside of the load. Similarly, hose in a flat- or triple-layer load can be arranged in an improvised horseshoe, as described previously and is shown in photos 4-6.
STRETCHING AND ADVANCING HOSE THROUGH AN ADJOINING APARTMENT
Firefighters arriving in the parking lot of an apartment complex can see fire showing from a third-floor window of a five-story building. Buildings in this complex are situated around a courtyard and require a long hose stretch just to reach an entrance. Additionally, the buildings do not have windows in the hallways that would allow hose to be hoisted by a rope, and the stairs do not have a well opening. Firefighters are familiar with this apartment complex because they had recently revised its prefire plan. They also had an opportunity to train in one of the buildings that had some vacant apartments. Now their preplanning and training are about to pay off because they gave them the opportunity to devise a method to get a hoseline to the upper floors of these buildings without having to stretch hundreds of feet of hose into the courtyard and up a stairway. Their plan is to raise a ladder to a third-floor window and advance a hoseline through an apartment adjacent to the fire.
How do I justify breaking the window of an apartment that is not involved in fire? By reminding skeptics that at this stage in this incident, nothing is more important than getting water on the fire. Breaking glass in an uninvolved apartment and disturbing its occupants is a small price to pay for getting a hoseline in operation in a fraction of the time it would take with a conventional stairway stretch.
It is not necessary to gain access to the apartment immediately next to the fire apartment, but stretching from a more distant apartment will require more hose to reach the fire. Fire conditions and the wind speed and direction are factors to consider. Clearly, apartments with balconies and sliding glass doors are ideal for this method, but it can be performed in buildings without them. The first firefighter up the ladder has to assess conditions in the adjacent apartment and hallway. He will check the door for heat and then carefully open it. If the hallway is clear of smoke, it is either because the door to the fire apartment is closed, keeping the smoke out of the hallway, or the building has exterior hallways, where smoke is free to vent. If the hallway is clear, firefighters can stretch a dry hoseline up the ladder, through the adjacent apartment, and to the door of the fire apartment. They will also pull sufficient hose for the nozzle to reach every point in the fire apartment.
If the hallway is filled with smoke, firefighters must not leave the refuge of the adjoining apartment without a charged hoseline. The first firefighter to enter the adjoining apartment must also locate a window through which to bring the hoseline; it may not be the one used to gain entry. The window selected must be most in line with the door to the public hallway to minimize the chances of the hoseline coming in contact with friction points such as door frames and corners (photo 29). Also, avoid high windows because they will require much upper-body strength to pull up the hoseline if it is charged. As mentioned, balconies with sliding glass doors are ideal for this method. Bring the hoseline under the railing or knock out a vertical member so that the hose doesn’t have to bend over the top of the balcony railing. This will give firefighters the advantage of using their leg muscles to pull hose.
|(29) Hose is pulled in the window of the adjoining apartment. This window was chosen because it is relatively low and in line with the living room.|
Firefighters must have sufficient hose to reach from the adjoining apartment to the fire apartment and to reach every point within the fire apartment (photo 30). If the stretch is long, it may not be possible to lay out all of the hose in the adjoining apartment. This will require a strong firefighter to remain at the window or balcony to pull up charged hose. If all the hose can be laid out in the adjoining apartment and charged without kinks, secure it at the window with a rope or strap as described previously in this article. When there is smoke in the public hallway, don’t open the door to the adjoining apartment before the hoseline is charged and flowed and firefighters have ensured that it is not caught under a couch or other furniture in the living room (photo 31). If all the hose necessary to reach a fire anywhere in the fire apartment can be laid in the adjoining apartment, it can be advanced with as few as three firefighters. Two firefighters, the nozzleman, and the company officer will advance to the fire apartment while a third firefighter takes a position at the doorway of the adjoining apartment to pull hose into the hallway (photo 32). Once the nozzle reaches the fire apartment, the company officer will pull up sufficient hose to reach any point within it. This frees the third firefighter, operating at the doorway of the adjacent apartment, so he can move up on the hoseline and take a position at the door to the fire apartment. There, he will pull hose laid in the hallway and feed it to the firefighters advancing the nozzle (photos 33-34).
|(30) Hose is laid out in an adjoining apartment. The door is kept closed to keep it clear of smoke.|
|(31) The charged hoseline is advanced out of an adjoining apartment.|
|(32) The firefighter in the foreground pulls hose out of an adjoining apartment and feeds it to firefighters advancing toward the fire apartment.|
|(33-34) The firefighter moves the hoseline up to the fire apartment and takes the door position, feeding hose to the firefighters advancing in the fire apartment.|
I see a disturbing trend in today’s fire service: Fire departments are neglecting basic engine company functions such as properly stretching a hoseline, removing kinks, and advancing hose to a fire. This trend is caused in large part by inadequate staffing, a problem that is out of our control. There is, however, another problem that is causing engine company basics to be neglected, a problem that we CAN control. That is inefficient and ineffective use of personnel when small fire departments try to emulate large, big city departments. A small fire department that tries to operate like a large department is destined to fail because it tries to perform too many functions at one time but with a fraction of the large department’s personnel. As a result, nothing gets accomplished properly and in a timely manner, especially getting water on the fire. A large, big city fire department is likely to have the staffing to perform both engine company operations and truck company functions such as search, vertical ventilation, and vent-enter-search simultaneously; it doesn’t have to prioritize or neglect one function for another. That’s hardly the case for many small departments today that had better get their priorities in order and realize that no fireground function saves more lives and property than rapidly stretching a hoseline and getting water on a fire.
Part 1 of this series was published in the March 2012 issue. Part 2 appeared in the April 2012 issue.
I see a disturbing trend in today’s fire service: Fire departments are neglecting basic engine company functions such as properly stretching a hoseline, removing kinks, and advancing hose to a fire.
BILL GUSTIN is a 39-year veteran of the fire service and a captain with the Miami-Dade (FL) Fire Rescue Department. He began his fire service career in the Chicago area and conducts firefighting training programs in the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean. He is a lead instructor in his department’s officer training program, is a marine firefighting instructor, and has conducted forcible entry training for local and federal law enforcement agencies. He is an editorial advisory board member of Fire Engineering and an advisory board member for FDIC. He was a keynote speaker for FDIC 2011.
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