Start a Second Line

By Michael N. Ciampo

We arrived as the second-due engine to a fire in a two-story detached private dwelling. The first-due engine and truck were positioned halfway up the block and were beginning operations. The engine was stretching and had a hydrant, and the truck was raising its aerial. As we approached the scene, the second-due engine chauffeur spotted a hydrant at the intersection of the narrow block. He parked the engine so it would not interfere with the second-due truck’s access and to check that the hydrant was usable. Remember, even though the first-due engine has a water supply, it is the responsibility of the other incoming engines to position at or near hydrants and test them for serviceability in case the first-due engine’s water supply is inadequate. Personnel may have to stretch an additional supply line to another engine using “hand-stretching” or the apparatus itself.

Making our way up the block, we observed a moderate smoke condition coming from the structure. Radio reports indicated crews “only had a room” on the first-floor rear. As we reached the first-due engine, we checked that it had a viable source of water and that its hoseline was properly stretched, charged, and free of kinks—all part of our initial “backup” responsibilities. Remember, getting the first hoseline into position is of the utmost importance and the main priority for the engine companies.

Next, we sized up their apparatus to see what hose load we would stretch and informed the chauffeur which line we would take. The order was given to go ahead and start the second line. One of the firefighters blurted out, “Hey, Boss, it’s only a room.” The next words heard were “Let’s go,” and we stretched the line.

On reaching the front door of the dwelling, we checked that we had the hoseline properly flaked out in the yard before calling for water. Most firefighters are taught to carry a 50-foot lead section of hose with them to a drop point just outside the dwelling (a private residence-type home) and then lay the hose on the ground in an accordion-style figure that prevents kinks when the line is charged. This method also allows you to feed or move the line into the structure more easily, because you have to advance only part of the working length. If you had “clothesline” stretched to the front door (you took the nozzle only to the door), you would find it very difficult to drag the hoseline across the yard and into the structure once it was charged. In most private dwellings, this working length of hose will cover the floor you’re assigned to operate on.

Suddenly, we heard a radio transmission saying there was extension to the rear room on the second floor. We immediately called the chauffeur on the radio and had him start water in the second hoseline. As we began to stretch, one firefighter remained at the base of the stairs and fed the hoseline up the stairs until we had sufficient hose on the second floor. Next, we proceeded down the hallway in near zero visibility to the rear of the structure. We stopped at the doorway of each room—taking a quick glance, looking for the glow of fire, checking for any other high-heat conditions, and listening for any “crackling” to make sure we weren’t passing any other fire extension. We reached the back room and quickly extinguished the extending fire there. Then we pulled the hoseline back into the hallway, and the truck reentered to open up the walls, floor, and ceiling. Once that was completed, we washed down the wall bays, ceiling bays, and floor joists to prevent any rekindle.

After taking up and repacking the line, the company held an informal critique at the scene to discuss the operation and to review some key issues of an aggressive interior fire attack. Some of the issues discussed were the following:



  • It is important to make sure the first engine company has a water supply and is putting the initial attack line into operation, no matter how many companies it may take to assist.



  • If “hand-stretching” a supply line is required, do not limit the length of the stretch. If it involves numerous lengths, additional companies can be assigned to assist in the operation. Remember, keep the line to the side of the street; when it is charged, it will expand and often “stretch” out and form loops, which can block the street and limit access to the fire building for other incoming units.



  • If the second-due engine company had to use its apparatus to stretch the supply line, it could have either allowed the second-due truck to enter the narrow block first or could have backed into the block and then laid hose to one side of the street on the way back out to the hydrant.



  • Whenever you stretch a hoseline to extinguish a fire inside a dwelling, you should stretch a second hoseline as soon as possible or when staffing and conditions allow. The main purpose of this line is to protect and back up the members operating the first hoseline in case of severe fire conditions, a burst length, or a blockage in the hoseline or nozzle. Its secondary duties are to advance to the floor above or floor below and to protect life and exposures.



  • Stretching a second hoseline to the structure is insurance for firefighters. If it’s not charged or used, that’s to our advantage, and having it in position to cover a multitude of places or to be able to complete specific tasks is beneficial to us. Plus, we can all use the stretch as a learning experience.


    Remember, just because the fire is not autoexposing out the windows to the floor above, or you’re thinking, “It’s only a room,” the fire can still be extending. Start the second line!

    MICHAEL N. CIAMPO is a 24-year veteran of the fire service and a lieutenant in the Fire Department of New York. Previously, he served with the District of Columbia Fire Department. He has a bachelor’s degree in fire science from John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. He is the lead instructor for the FDIC Portable Ladder H.O.T. program. He wrote the Ladder chapter and co-authored the Ventilation chapter for Fire Engineering’s Handbook for Firefighter I and II (Fire Engineering, 2009) and is featured in “Training Minutes” truck company videos on


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