Know Your Stretches

Article and photos by David DeStefano

The first-in engine company responding to a fire generally has the responsibility of operating the initial attack line. An aggressive engine company stretching, operating, and advancing the correct diameter line to the seat of the fire will do more to save lives at most fires than any other fireground action. The challenge for engine company officers and firefighters is to always have a plan for stretching a line to the seat of the fire.

Although circumstances change from incident to incident, an engine company operating in its district and the surrounding response area where it may be first-in should be able to predetermine the most advantageous lengths for the preconnects it will use on the rig. Rather than packing each preconnect with the same length and hoping it will reach all the required locations, packing several of the most common lengths for hose stretches will give the company officer more options for using the right length of preconnect. Using a 300-foot line to attack a fire 50 feet from the apparatus is just as inefficient as trying to stretch 100 feet of hose from the street to the rear of a third-floor apartment fire.

(1) Garden apartments may require outside stretches via a balcony or window because of their long public corridors and the fact they often lack standpipes.

Additionally, engine company firefighters must be ready to stretch beyond the preconnect for certain occupancies. In suburban or rural areas, firefighters may encounter residences with deep setbacks from the street or driveway. In other areas, garden apartments, high-rises, or large commercial or industrial buildings may require standpipe connections; outside stretches through the fire escape, window, or balcony; as well as the use of larger-diameter hose wyed off to accommodate increased length requirements.

Predetermining some stretches in standard-type residences and commercial occupancies can establish rules of thumb that may be used at future incidents even if the fire isn’t in the exact predetermined location. For example, you may determine that most single-family dwellings in your town’s new residential subdivision are set back at least 100 feet from the nearest point of apparatus access. Based on this, you may want to set up a 250- and possibly a 300-foot 1¾ -inch preconnect, knowing these lengths may be necessary for fires in these homes.

Other common examples include small, single-family dwellings in urban areas built almost to the curb line. Any point in these dwellings may be reached with 150 feet of hose. In this case, a 150-foot preconnect may be in order. Another more versatile solution may be a 300-foot minute-man load with the nozzle packed 150 feet into the load. The attack team can pull the top half, and the pump operator can disconnect the load at the 150-foot point and connect to a discharge at the pump panel.

In districts with many small multidwellings, engine company members may need to employ an outside stretch to avoid labor-intensive stretches up narrow stairways. Members can drop a rope bag or bucket from a window or balcony that can be used to haul a line (shorter than needed to traverse several floors of closed stairways) to a safe area closer to the fire. The engine company members should predetermine which line will get them to each floor of the prevalent occupancy types in their area. Adjustments for exact location are easier to make when you have a general guideline from which to work.

(2) Hose loads should suit the likely stretches required in a engine company’s response area. This hosebed features two preconnected 1 ¾-inch lines 200 feet in length. In addition, 400 feet of three-inch hose is loaded to support long attack lines using a wye. On the right side of the supply hose are 250 and 300 foot loads of 1 ¾ hose. The 300-foot line may be split to stretch only the top half of the hose with the nozzle if needed for shorter stretches. 

 In scenarios where friction loss demands a larger-hose diameter wyed off closer to the fire attack, a well-prepared company will have the necessary appliances and suitable hose load ready for deployment. Just as important in this scenario is that all members are aware of what needs to be accomplished and what tasks are expected of each member. The company officer should be able to give one or two simple commands that set the process in motion. Explaining the steps as the incident unfolds will cause undue delay.

Standpipe operations must have proper hose appliance and other equipment allocated for use. A bag for tools and appliances and bundled hose specifically for these operation helps ensure nothing is left behind when the company deploys. As with any hose stretch, members must know department policy for standpipe connection and use. In occupancies with complex layouts that may lead to longer stretches, the officer must account for the possibility of needing more hose than a straight-line deployment would require.

The fact is that an engine company needs to be prepared to advance adequate water to the seat of a fire no matter where it is located. In some incidents, a handy preconnect with a well-selected length will suffice. However, a highly motivated engine company will predetermine standard hose requirements in the district, know the locations of difficult stretches, and have a plan in place to meet the challenge of a fire in those occupancies.

David DeStefano is a 22-year veteran of the North Providence (RI) Fire Department, where he serves as a lieutenant in Ladder Co. 1. He previously served as a lieutenant in Engine 3 and was a firefighter in Ladder 1. He teaches a variety of topics for the Rhode Island Fire Academy. He can be reached at  

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