How Prepared Is Your Engine Company?


Your engine is the first company on the scene of a two-story brick, side-by-side town home separated by a firewall. Fire is showing from the second-floor window above the front entrance with heavy smoke pushing out the front bedroom windows. Police on-scene reported that a young girl was seen at the front bedroom window on the second floor. The police officers told the girl to remain at the window and to get down. As an engine company, what would be your actions?

This scenario recently occurred on the West Side of Chicago. Chicago (IL) Fire Department (CFD) Engine 68, the first company on the scene, rapidly stretched a hoseline to the second floor. With the hoseline in position and the nozzleman directing its stream on the fire, members of Engine 68 began a primary search, which resulted in the rescue of the young girl. This successful operation was a result of frequent, intense training in hoseline management.

Fire departments today provide many nonfirefighting services, such as technical rescue, hazmat, and emergency medical services. Their disciplines increase the level of service to the community but require hours of training that can compete with the time necessary to maintain and improve skills in the most important functions of an engine company—stretching, advancing, and operating hoselines. You can recognize an engine company that has neglected the basics of its job by its sloppy, undisciplined hoseline operations. This is the company whose nozzleman takes off running toward the fire with just the nozzle and the end of the hose, that stretches short because most of its hose lies in a pile next to its apparatus, or that cannot flow sufficient water because its hoseline is a mess of kinks. Engine company members who lack strong leadership and have no clearly designated function and position on the hoseline will fail to reach the fire because everyone wants to be on the nozzle. Consequently, the hose will snag on corners, doorways, stairs, and other obstacles while members crowd behind the nozzleman.




An effective hose stretch begins with a hose load configured to facilitate stretching with a minimum of personnel. Load hosebeds so that firefighters can carry the hose in flakes or horseshoes instead of dragging the entire stretch. Keeping dragging of the hose on the ground to a minimum will be to your advantage, as it will minimize the likelihood of its getting caught under vehicle tires, in fence gates, in porch railings, and on building corners.




In photo 1, this 200-foot 1¾-inch preconnected hose load is bedded in two 100-foot stacks. The first 100-foot section is connected to the discharge swivel. Begin the second stack by placing the male coupling of the first 100-foot stack at the bottom of the hosebed, loading the second 100-foot section and connecting the nozzle in the manner as the first section was loaded. This is a fairly simple hoseload that one firefighter can stretch.

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(1) Photos by Gordon Nord.


Deploying a 200-Foot Crosslay


A single firefighter can deploy a 200-foot crosslay as follows:

1 Face the hosebed. Line up one shoulder with the nozzle. Place the section with the nozzle on the shoulder opposite the shoulder that is lined up with that nozzle.

2 Pull the section halfway down while at the same time keeping the load tight by compressing it with your hands (photos 2, 3).

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3 Step into the hose with your shoulder, and turn away from the load, allowing the hose to flip upside down, positioning the nozzle on the bottom (this allows the hose to flake off from the top) (photo 4).

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4 Pull down the next section in the same manner as the previous section. Step into it with your shoulder, and turn away from the load (again, this allows the hose to flake off from the top). Placing the hose on your shoulder in this way will keep the few feet of hose connecting the two sections, which touches the ground, behind your feet instead of in front, minimizing a trip hazard (photos 5, 6). You are now ready to proceed to your desired location as the hose flakes off one shoulder at a time, minimizing the need for additional help (photos 7, 8).

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Deploying 2½-Inch Hose


A single firefighter deploying 200 feet of 2½-inch hose attached to 100 or 150 feet of 1¾-inch hose may use the following method (one of many procedures).

Photo 9 shows the top view of the rear hosebed with three reverse horseshoes of 2½-inch hose (also known as drop loads) totaling 200 feet, which is reduced to 100 or 150 feet of 1¾-inch hose connected to a 1¼-inch solid bore nozzle and a 2½- to 1½-inch gated wye. Photo 10 shows a standing view facing the rear.

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1 Pull down the three 2½ horseshoes to a ready position (photo 11).

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2 Place the 1¾-inch horseshoe on your right shoulder with the nozzle placed around your neck to control it from self-deploying (photo 12).

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3 Grab the bottom right horseshoe with your right hand, because it is the first to be dropped. Slide your left arm up though the two remaining horseshoes, and grab onto the 1¼-inch solid bore nozzle tucked into the top horseshoe. You are now ready for deployment (photo 13).

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On top of 500 feet of flat-loaded 2½-inch hose are three reverse horseshoes made from 200 feet of 2½-inch hose. (The term is four to make three: four lengths of 2½-inch hose to make three horseshoes.) Starting right to left, make the horseshoes approximately five feet long; five wraps give each horseshoe between 60 and 65 feet of hose. Between each horseshoe, put a load of hose about eight to 10 feet (called a “runner”). This provides slack or spacing between each horseshoe to give room between the nozzleman and the door firefighter and allows each horseshoe to be deployed without pulling on the other.

Dropping each horseshoe (drop load) one at a time will allow one person to advance this type of load with minimal help. This will not be an expedient leadout, but it will be a reminder of how important it is to have more than one person on a hose team.

Through my trials and errors and from the training of experienced firefighters and officers, I have learned that 25 to 30 feet of hose is needed between floors. For example, if you need to get to the third floor of an apartment building, allow 60 feet to get you to the landing. Before you drop a pile of hose at the front of the building and start running up the stairs with the nozzle, stop and think of a better way to get this nozzle to the third floor. First, a good size-up should give you an idea of the fire’s location. Is it in the front or toward the rear? If the fire is determined to be toward the rear, then it is common practice to shoulder 60 feet plus an additional 20 feet of hose to be flaked out into the front room. It is not uncommon to attack the fire from the rear staircase as well (photo 14).

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Charged Line


Depending on your level of experience and department policy, going in with a dry line may not be an option. To get a charged line to the third floor on your own or with limited personnel can be challenging. First, place the first coupling in the front doorway. This will make it easier to get the first 50 feet of hose into the structure. It is much easier to move 10 or 15 feet of hose at a time instead of 50-plus. Then, load the stairs with a few loops, which should allow you to get the nozzle to the top of the third-floor stairs. Other methods being taught—pushing the hose up the staircase and leaving the nozzle at the bottom, for example—may work for a straight shot staircase but will be difficult if there are turns. Also, be careful on upper-floor landings in fire-threatened staircases with the nozzle at the bottom floor. To be clear, it is difficult for one person to stretch a charged hoseline to upper floors; most likely, it would be done in extreme circumstances.

Discussing single-person leadouts may seem unrealistic or even impractical. However, when fire conditions warrant multiple leadouts, it is not uncommon to self-deploy a hoseline, such as exposure lines, and get a line in place for searching above a fire. Also, keep in mind that a great number of departments run with two-person engines. I am not advocating freelancing hoselines or being in a fire building by yourself. I am advocating being skilled in leading out with minimal assistance. If you can lead out on your own, then having a two- or three-member hose team can enhance your efforts and reputation as a good engine company.




Working as a team in advancing a hoseline is a coordinated effort. Like all other tactical operations, each person (position) has a specific job to do. The nozzleman must know how much hose is needed to get to the seat of the fire or the desired location. For example, you have a one-story 25 × 40 single-family dwelling with fire showing in Division C (rear). At the minimum, you will need 60 feet on your shoulder to be brought to the front if you are leading out to go in through the front. Sixty feet will get you out the back door as well as to the far walls (windows) and four corners in each room off the hallway. As I mentioned earlier, if the space in front allows, flake the hose behind you, and set the first coupling at the doorway. If the nozzleman fails to bring the amount of hose needed and set it up for advancement, the operation will be delayed, and the work of the heelman (also referred to as the door position, the firefighter who feeds and withdraws hose into a doorway) is multiplied. This is not a static position. The door firefighter must position himself on the hoseline whenever necessary, to provide the nozzle team with hose as it advances. This method of positioning the hose outside the structure makes it easier to advance a charged line inside.




The door firefighter is the primary workhorse in the leadout operation. A common mistake and misconception is that the door firefighter stays on the heel of the nozzleman. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Until the nozzle is at the seat of the fire with water flowing, the door firefighter should be in constant motion. If the nozzleman needs more line, that is the job of the door firefighter. The experienced firefighters and officers with whom I work and I pride ourselves on not depending on members of other companies to stretch our line. It is very unnerving and indicative of a weak engine company when the door firefighter is at the top of a third-floor landing screaming down to the first floor for more line. When a member fails to perform his duties, it directly affects the duties of others. As a door firefighter, do not commit yourself to the fire floor until you are certain there is a sufficient amount of hose in place. To do this requires constant communication between the nozzleman and the door firefighter and constant movement from the top to bottom floors and in and out of the structure. Keeping a distance no closer than a length of hose away from the nozzleman is a good mark of where the heelman/door position needs to be. To move the hose, start from the engine and work forward, not the other way around. It is much easier to push hose into a structure or up to a structure’s upper floors than it is to pull it. Load front or backyards, living/dining rooms, loops in stairwells, and riding railings (on top of handrails) when possible.

Other ways to help with advancing hose to upper floors is for the nozzleman to carry 50 feet of rope in his pocket with a carabiner. Hoisting the nozzle up from the upper-floor window, an outside staircase/fire escape, or balconies saves time and the amount of hose needed. When choosing to lead out through a window, keep in mind that you may not be able to protect or control conditions in the staircase and that your emergency exit is a window, not a doorway. So, it’s a good practice to think about having a ladder thrown to the window and making the window opening as wide as possible.




Having too much hose, especially in heavy-smoke situations, can be quite difficult. If the nozzleman makes a huge mistake by dropping a pile of hose inside the structure, it may be easier to leave it and deploy another hosebed. You can spend twice as much time trying to straighten out hose in poor visibility than it would take to lead out another line the correct way. As I mentioned earlier, use available space for excess hose—for example, if you are on an upper-floor landing of a three-story, six-unit apartment building with a center staircase, then force or kick in the door to the apartment adjacent to the apartment on fire and flake excess hose. Another option would be to flake the hose up and down the stairs. Make sure the nozzle is shut. After putting it at the door, and as the hose is being charged, lift the hose up against the wall and allow it to stand up as the hose fills with water (air most likely at first). This can be quite a challenge, especially when companies are trying to use the stairs.




I learned this option the hard way when I misread the height of a structure. Fire was pushing out of three windows in the rear of the top floor. Expecting another set of stairs, I found myself at the door of the fire floor with 30 feet of hose on my shoulder. The staircase was black with smoke, so I set the nozzle down, making sure the bail was shut, and then flaked the hose on the stairs. A member from the truck and I stood the hose up in loops, allowing it to successfully charge. Because of the heavy smoke conditions of the staircase, I wanted to keep the door to the apartment shut until we had a charged line. Normally with an upper-floor fire in the rear, I would lead out inside, dry, with the amount of hose needed to get to the fire floor and enough to flake out into the front room, allowing me to reach the hallway. However, because I misread the building, we were forced to manage the situation in a black staircase with changing conditions.

Not having enough hose or having a length of hose rupture is challenging and dangerous for the interior crews. Being short of hose can be the result of a poor size-up or maybe an uncommon interior layout that necessitates more hose than normal. The most common cause for having a short leadout with departments that run with a 2½- or three-inch hose that reduces to a (wye) or a 1¼-inch shutoff (smooth bore nozzle) attached to a 1¾-inch hose is the placement of the wye or the shutoff (nozzle). I have learned through experience and lessons learned from experienced CFD firefighters that if the leadout nozzle is through the rear of the structure, then the divider and shutoff (nozzle) should also be brought to the rear along with enough 2½-inch hose to darken down heavy fire if needed. When the wye is dropped in the gangway or at the side of the structure, be prepared to be short. For a 25 × 50 building with the wye in the middle of the gangway or on the side of the structure, a loss of 25 feet of hose is automatic.

If you find that your leadout is short and you can’t reach the fire area, then consider breaching walls to create a path for the hose stream to begin putting water on the fire. To add hose to your leadout, make sure the added length of hose is stretched out in position before shutting down the line; this will allow for a quick hookup and advancement. It may be advantageous, if interior conditions permit, to add the additional length of hose nearest to the nozzle to avoid having to advance 150 feet of hose vs. 50 feet or less. In freezing weather, allowing the hose to trickle may help prevent the line from freezing. Also, stretching a different line of appropriate length may prove to be your best bet.

You can replace a ruptured length of hose in the same manner as described above. For example, I was the heelman/door position for a leadout to the fourth floor of a four-story, multiunit apartment building with fire pushing through the roof of an interior stairwell. We stretched a line up the rear outside staircase to the fourth floor above the first engine’s position. As the nozzle was in position and charged, glass from a rear window punctured a length of hose that was stretched on the third-floor porch. Disconnecting the female end of the damaged length and dropping it down to the ground and tying it to the male end of the replacement length allowed me to raise the good length of hose to the third floor and quickly reconnect the hoses to get back in service. This is one way among many to add or replace a length of hose during operations.




Although there are several points I can discuss in regard to operating the nozzle, I will focus on bail control and hose stream application. When putting water on the fire, open the nozzle all the way. Gallons per minute (gpm) put out fire. If you cannot handle a 1¾-inch nozzle with the bail fully opened, then the pressure is entirely too high, or your technique needs work. Remember to use fixed objects (walls or door frames) to help with the back pressure of the hoseline. Also, try to keep the nozzle an arm’s length in front of you to allow more range of direction for the stream. If the pipe is too close to your body, it becomes difficult to handle and limits your range of direction.

When applying water during suppression or overhaul, use a straight or solid stream. Straight and solid streams provide reach, penetration, as well as gpm without steam blasting the interior crew or victims who may still be inside. What has always worked for me is to give the ceiling a quick shot side to side or back and forth and then attack the contents. Also, if the area is smoky and hot and you have not yet reached the fire, keep the ceiling cool by giving it a quick shot of water as you advance through the structure. Keeping the ceiling cool will reduce the chances of flashover.

Once the major body of fire is knocked down, fog out the window using horizontal hydraulic ventilation. Once the area is fogged out, back out of the way and let the truck team go in and do its job. The most effective way to fog out a room is to kneel down, adjust the fog pattern to cover most of the opening, and make sure no one is standing in the doorway. After the walls and ceilings have been opened up, adjust the nozzle back to a straight stream and open the nozzle all the way, slowly working each bay, forcing the water into every wood to wood joint. Also, if fire was running the walls, shove the nozzle in the opened-up wall spaces and shoot the water up and down the walls. Applying your hose stream during overhaul in this way will reduce your chances of having to return for a rekindle.

One last point I want to mention is the use of handlines or master streams outside the structure while companies are inside. Do not put water into a window when companies or people are still inside. This will without a doubt—and many can testify to this—push hot air, gases, and possibly steam beyond the room on fire. I have experienced an instant change of conditions while inside a structure. We were the first engine at a two-story frame with fire pushing out three windows on the second-floor rear. As we were advancing down the hallway toward the rear, the heat was bearable because the fire was venting out the windows. Then, instantly, the hallway went black, and the heat forced me to the floor, facedown. When the outside crews realized we were inside, they withdrew the two 2½-inch handlines they had placed in the windows.

Using a master stream/deck gun to knock down a large amount of fire is quite effective. However, it is a first-engine maneuver; the idea is to angle the stream toward the ceiling to create a sprinkler effect for an approximate 10-second count. Be careful not to direct the stream straight into the window and down a hallway toward the rear of a structure unless the structure is fully involved.

These are just a few areas of hoseline operations that are important. I hope this article will stimulate discussion and a personal evaluation of your level of comfort in hoseline management and engine operations.

BRETT SNOW is a 21-year veteran of the fire service, serving the past nine and a half years with the Chicago (IL) Fire Department. He spent the first seven years on a West Side engine and is now on Squad 2.


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