What is the purpose of the first line? Some will say it`s to extinguish the fire, but they would be wrong! Its purpose is to protect the primary means of egress. In private dwellings, this is usually the front door; most times, the first line extinguishes the fire at this type of fire. There are exceptions, however.

The first line may be needed to protect people at windows when heavy fire is venting below. Or it can be used to protect the interior stairs at cellar fires while the second line extinguishes the fire from another entrance. In incidents involving attached garages or when garages are under living areas, the first line should be stretched to protect the interior entrance to the house from the garage.

The point is, “Don`t get tunnel vision.” Protecting life is still our number one priority. Protecting property is second. Properly positioned and operated hoselines have saved more lives than any other action or tactic.

Line Size

The engine company officer must determine which size of line to use, based on the objectives to be achieved. Is there total involvement? Do exposures need protecting? Is the involved store large? Is there extremely heavy smoke? Is the fire area undetermined? Is there more than one floor of fire? Is it a standpipe building? These are conditions that warrant stretching a 212-inch line. At most other fires, the 134-inch line should provide enough water.

Line Position

The goal is to get the line as close to the fire area as possible before charging it while maintaining a reasonable amount of safety. The rule is, Never enter the fire area without water. At private dwellings, the line is positioned through the front door. In multiple dwellings, it`s through the door to the fire apartment.

Quantity of Line

There must be enough line at the entrance so that the line can be advanced through the entire fire area. At most private dwellings, 50 feet of hose is enough for firefighters to reach anywhere in the building. At other large-area buildings, a judgment will have to be made about the distance from the entrance to the fire area. When in doubt, always go with more line. Firefighters stretching hose must be sure to carry enough to cover the length needed. Simply taking the nozzle to the point of entry and advancing is difficult and time consuming.

If using preconnected lines, they should be packed with three or four large loops, each equaling 50 feet of hose. The nozzleman should grab the first loop. This will ensure that at least 50 feet of hose will be at the entrance to the fire area. At the entrance, the line should be flaked out, charged, sufficiently bled, and ready for advancing into the fire area.

While company members are stretching this line, the officer should be quickly surveying the fire building or the fire area itself. If the involved structure is a small private dwelling, the officer should make a quick perimeter survey and then, if possible, an interior survey before advancing. In larger buildings such as stores, schools, and business offices, it may not be possible to make an exterior survey; the officer will have to make an interior survey. In multiple dwellings, a quick and usually accurate way to get an idea of an apartment layout is to check the floor below the fire floor, excluding the first floor, which may have a different floor layout.

Advancing the First Line

Now that the line has been stretched and the survey completed, the first line is ready to be advanced. This line should be under the total control of the officer with very few decisions being made by the nozzleman (see “Special Conditions” on page 97). The decision of when to open or close the nozzle is strictly the officer`s except in an emergency, when the nozzleman should be allowed to open the nozzle on his own.

To have control over the nozzle team, the officer must maintain a position next to and on the same side of the line as the nozzle team. Sometimes, cramped areas and suboptimal staffing levels may necessitate the officer`s functioning as the backup firefighter. Once the line is opened and advanced, it should remain open until no more fire is visible. The line should then be closed, allowing the room to lift so final extinguishment can be made.

Types of Stretches

A simple hose stretch is one that is laid straight from the rig to the entrance to the fire area. There are no turns or stairs. This type of stretch is usually used at private dwelling fires or store fires.

The same stretch, but with stairs, is usually used at apartments or multiple dwellings. One very important point to remember when stretching through doorways is that any door passed through must be chocked open. At a stairway stretch, use the wellhole if there is one. If not, advance up the stairs normally with a firefighter at every turn to assist the line. If the stairway wraps around an elevator shaft, many extra hands will be needed; all available personnel will be assigned to help with the stretching of the first line.

One way to alleviate the need for many hands at long stairway stretches (usually four stories or more) is to find a stairway with landing window(s) that are in line with each other from the ground or first floor and use a rope to hoist hose up to the floor below the fire. Two firefighters can accomplish this stretch. At a standpipe building, a 212-inch line can achieve maximum water from the system and should be coupled on the floor below the fire and then advanced up. It should always be connected to the outlet on the floor below the fire.

With all this done, the line is now ready to advance to and extinguish the fire.


The engine company is still the foundation of the fire service, and the engine officer is the engine company`s foundation. The efficient extinguishment of a fire greatly depends on the engine company officer`s initial size-up, radio report to other incoming companies, and expediency in ordering and overseeing the stretching of the line to get water to the fire location quickly.

The officer should have a good knowledge of engine and truck operations, his company`s capabilities, and the abilities of each company member.


The first-due engine company officer must make some of the most important decisions on the fireground. Nothing will affect the outcome of the fire more than the proper positioning and operation of the first line. The officer`s responsibilities include the following:

first and foremost, to ensure the safety of all the members under his command;

to size up the scene and achieve a positive water supply;

to establish objectives–attacking the fire, protecting trapped occupants, or protecting exposures;

to select the size of the first line, determine its most efficient position, and order it to be stretched;

to survey the fire building and fire area, if possible; and

to supervise the advancement of the first line so that the fire can be knocked down and extinguished as efficiently as possible.


The nozzleman position is pivotal to the operation`s success. No other firefighter on the fireground will be as close to and experience as much heat as the nozzleman. At serious fires, the most senior and seasoned firefighter should be assigned this position. At routine one- or two-room incidents, assigning a junior or less experienced firefighter to this position enables him to gain valuable experience on the nozzle.

Once the engine company officer orders the line stretched, the nozzleman should grab the first folds of hose and begin the stretch and carry the needed amount of hose to the entrance of the fire area; as noted, 50 feet of hose should be plenty to reach areas within most private dwellings.

The nozzleman will have to estimate how much hose will be needed for stretches at fires involving larger private dwellings, multiple dwellings, or commercial buildings. For unusually long stretches with preconnected lines, two beds may have to be connected to reach the fire. Conversely, with short stretches, the line can be broken to avoid excess hose, which can lead to kinks and wasted engine pressure.

The nozzleman must be sure to take the shortest possible route when stretching, even if this means laying hose over cars, fences, or other obstacles. He also must know the exact type of stretch needed to get the line into the most efficient operating position.

At the fire area. Once the line reaches the entrance to the fire area. The nozzleman should drop his line and let the members who aided in the stretch know he`s there. He should then flake out his line and prepare to advance into the fire area. As the nozzleman flakes out his line, he should make a judgment as to whether the amount of flaked line is sufficient to advance through the entire fire area (the entire house in a private dwelling, the fire apartment in a multiple dwelling or apartment house). If the nozzleman feels there isn`t enough line at the entrance to cover this area, he should call for more hose before charging the line. When enough line is in position at the entrance and the officer has checked with his nozzleman, he then calls for water.

The nozzleman, while waiting for water and before donning his mask, should have the line firmly secured under his knee to prevent it from being pulled or kicked away and should hold his helmet between his legs while donning his mask, for the same reasons.

The nozzleman must bleed the line before entering the fire area and flow good water. Opening a nozzle and closing it when water reaches the tip is not bleeding a line. Flowing water ensures the nozzleman of the following:

the stream pattern in adjustable fog nozzles,

the absence of air in the line,

the absence of clogs in the nozzle,

that the engine is actually pumping water, and

the amount of engine pressure (too little or too much).

Once the line is charged, the nozzleman, the backup man, and the officer should position themselves on the same side of the line on the side designated by the nozzleman. From this point on, everything is done to facilitate the nozzleman`s advance on the fire. Under fire conditions, this line should be under the total control of the officer. The nozzleman, however, can do the following:

call for more line,

open the nozzle in an emergency,

determine the rate of advance, and

determine when to sweep the floor with the nozzle.

Special conditions. The nozzleman normally should not open the nozzle to put water on smoke or before entering the fire area and actually seeing fire. He can, however, open the line when the following conditions are present:

Heavy fire is venting from the entrance (the fire must be pushed back before entering).

A metal-clad door is present, which can be identified by its glowing red color. This door must be sufficiently cooled before the nozzle team passes through, or any member of the nozzle team may sustain serious burns. These doors are usually found in multiple dwellings, apartment houses, and commercial buildings, but they can also be found at the main entrance of private dwellings, where they are used as decorative doors, and between an attached garage and the living areas.

Heavy smoke and high heat are present with no visible fire–sometimes referred to as “black fire.” This is a serious situation, and the nozzleman may have to delay the advance until the truck performs further ventilation.

Large obstacles are blocking the entrance or a building or apartment is loaded to near capacity with just about anything from furniture to old newspapers. When these conditions are encountered, the nozzleman must try to deflect the stream off the ceiling and walls in an attempt to get water over and around these obstacles. If he cannot make any headway through the front entrance, he should consider an alternate means of applying water, such as breaching the wall of an adjoining apartment or laying a second line through another entrance or window.

In such severe conditions, a 212-inch line is recommended. If none of these conditions exist, a 134-inch line should be advanced to attack the fire directly because of this size line`s easy mobility and ease in moving around in tight spaces.

Operating the nozzle. The nozzleman should also know how to actually hold and operate the nozzle. It seems so simple: Open the tip, and the fire goes out. It isn`t that simple. Just holding the nozzle takes some skill. The introduction of pistol-grip nozzles has given some firefighters the false sense that holding the grip in close to the body will enable them to control the nozzle better. This actually gives you less control and maneuverability of the nozzle.

The nozzle should be one to 112 feet out ahead of the body. The control hand–the hand on the opposite side of the body from the line itself and which controls all the nozzle`s movements–should be tight behind the first butt. This makes it easier to turn the nozzle to the side, hit the ceiling, and sweep the floor. Holding the nozzle back and close to the body limits the ability to move the nozzle and prevents the nozzleman from making large enough clockwise circles to cover the entire fire area. It can also lead to a severe kink in the line directly behind the nozzle when turning the line to extinguish side rooms or areas next to his position. The hose itself should also be in tight under the armpit.

Some things the nozzleman must remember while advancing the line include the following:

Before advancing into the fire area, the nozzleman must check with the other members of the nozzle team to be sure they are ready. Moving into the fire area alone is very dangerous and will ultimately interfere with the line`s advancement to the fire area.

Once advancement has begun, the nozzle team must keep moving unless conditions become such that the officer finds it necessary to back out the team. If the nozzle team has to leave, they should back out with the line operating to cover their retreat. Again, if advancing, the nozzle team must keep moving forward. A line that is not moving is a line that is losing.

The nozzleman must not advance blindly, looking at the ground. He must always look up and around, watching for the glow, rollover, smoke conditions, and movement as well as anything that will aid in the advancement of the line.

Moving a line down a hallway or through a series of rooms requires a steady advance, and some fire may exist in the rooms after they have been darkened down–i.e., window and doorframes or minor burning of furnishings. Moving forward past this minor burning should not be considered passing fire. The nozzleman should knock down the entire fire area; he may have to move back to accomplish final extinguishment.

The nozzle team must stay low and to one side of the hallway or stairs. If it is known on which side of the hallway the fire room is located (this can be determined by looking in under the smoke before advancing), the team should stay to that side, using the wall as a natural barrier until the fire room is reached.

The nozzleman then opens the line and directs the nozzle into the room at an angle until the fire is driven back enough to move it into the center of the doorway, allowing the nozzleman to cover the entire room with the nozzle. There is no reason to enter these side rooms. Ninety percent of the fire can be knocked down from the hallway. Once it has been determined that the room in which the nozzleman is directing his stream is the only room burning, he can move into the room for final extinguishment. Moving into this side room without knowing if fire still exists at the end of the hallway is extremely dangerous.

The nozzle should be pointed up and ahead of the nozzle team and should be opened directly overhead only in the case of an emergency such as flashover. Holding the nozzle out ahead of him, angled toward the ceiling while advancing at fire, the nozzleman opens the line at the ceiling with large, rapid, clockwise circles. The couch burning in the corner isn`t going to kill firefighters; the fire and unburned gases overhead will. Once the line is opened, it should remain open until all the visible fire is extinguished.

The nozzleman occasionally will sweep the floor ahead as he advances to remove burning debris from the floor; protect against burns and abrasions; and listen for any change in the sound of the water`s hitting the floor or walls that might indicate a hole in the floor, another doorway, an obstacle, or even a person lying on the floor.

Once the fire and gases have been pushed from the ceiling back to the point of origin, the nozzle can be lowered to hit the main body of fire. This lower angle will allow deeper penetration for hitting the room farther in and also allow the impact of the stream to break and vent the windows.

Note: A very dangerous situation can present itself in an area that has two doors or a wrap-around commonly found in kitchens, dining rooms, and living rooms of private dwellings. While advancing into a kitchen, the nozzleman may be pushing fire out the other entrance and around behind him.

The officer should constantly monitor this situation and, if needed, order that a second line be placed in position to protect the nozzle team. The second line should not advance on the fire but remain there to prevent the fire from wrapping around behind the first nozzle team.

After knockdown. Once the body of fire is knocked down, the officer should have the nozzleman close the line to allow the room to lift and let any remaining hot spots light up. This will aid in final extinguishment and cut down on excess water damage. The officer can also direct that the line be taken to the window to perform hydraulic ventilation, which uses the force of the fog pattern or broken stream on smooth-bore tips to pull heat and smoke out of the building. To achieve a broken stream on smooth-bore nozzles, just crack the tip open halfway, or simply take off the outer tip.

The members operating this line should be relieved as soon as possible to lessen the chance of a fatigue-caused injury. The nozzleman and the backup firefighter (see below) constitute a team–they go in as a team and should be relieved as a team.

Backup Firefighter

The nozzleman could not achieve his objective without the assistance of the backup firefighter. The backup firefighter is the strength of the nozzle team. His job is to absorb as much backpressure as possible while giving the nozzleman stability and moral support.

The backup firefighter is responsible for grabbing and stretching the second folds of hose off the engine. He carries his folds of hose until the nozzleman calls back and says he has enough line. The backup man should drop and flake out his folds and then move up to aid the nozzleman with his folds. Once the line is totally flaked out, the backup member will move in behind the nozzleman, on the same side of the line, and secure the line under his knee to prevent it from being kicked or pulled away.

After enough line to cover the entire fire area has been flaked out and water has been ordered, the line is now ready to be advanced. The backup man should maintain his position behind the nozzleman throughout the entire advance. He should lean into but not push the nozzleman. His position should be with a shoulder leaned into the back of the nozzleman, and he should be looking up and ahead of the nozzle team. The backup man should not have his back into the nozzleman`s back; this is the wrong way to back up the nozzleman, because this position takes away the backup man`s ability to see anything ahead and to anticipate the nozzleman`s next move.

The backup man with his shoulder leaned into the nozzleman should relieve as much of the backpressure as possible so the nozzleman doesn`t have to work to hold or maneuver the nozzle. He should anticipate the direction in which the nozzleman wants to go and move in the opposite direction to maintain fluid movement in and behind the nozzleman. If the nozzle is high, the backup man should have his line low. If the nozzle is low, the backup man should have his line high. He should be thinking like a nozzleman, anticipating his actions, and reacting accordingly.

The backup man must not push the nozzleman, who is probably experiencing more heat than the backup firefighter and may also know something the backup doesn`t–i.e., there are holes in the floor, fire is on both sides of the hall, or an obstacle is present. The backup man must communicate to the officer or nozzleman anything he feels could pose imminent danger–fire to the side, overhead, or even behind the nozzleman, for example. If the backup does his job correctly, he should be far more tired than the nozzleman, since he is absorbing most of the backpressure.


While the nozzle team, the officer, the nozzleman, and the backup man are pushing the line in to extinguish the fire, someone must feed them line. This position has many different names–the doorman, hydrant man, or hookup man, for example. But the job is the same. This firefighter must act like a roaming “linebacker” and clear a path for the first line. Basically, it`s bull work–humping hose, chasing kinks, chocking doors, and doing anything to aid the stretching and advancing of the line. He should also, on short stretches of four lengths or less, help the chauffeur hook up and achieve a water source. Once the line is hooked up, this firefighter should follow the line from the pumper to the fire area, knocking out kinks, moving obstacles, and chocking doors (again, if a dry line passes through a door, the door must be chocked open; it is extremely dangerous to charge a line under a closed door). Once the doorman reaches the fire area (the front door in a private dwelling or the door to the fire apartment in multiple dwellings or apartment houses), he should stay low and to one side of the door to feed line into the nozzle team. If the fire is deep within the house or apartment, the doorman can move into the area, making sure he doesn`t block any route taken by entering or exiting firefighters. This can be achieved by moving out of the hallway and into a side room or doorway while still feeding line to the nozzle team.

The line must not be forced when being fed to the nozzle team; a severe kink can result. Kinks cost water. One 90-degree kink can cause up to a 20-gallon decrease in gallons per minute. To avoid forcing a kink, the doorman should raise a four- to five-foot bow in the line and replace it with another when it is pulled ahead by the nozzle team. This process should be continued until the line stops advancing and the fire is knocked down.

Once the fire is knocked down, the doorman should move up to join the nozzle team to help with anything from removing debris to exposing hidden fire to actually taking the nozzle to give the nozzleman relief. Engine work is truly a team sport. Unless each member does his job, the line would never achieve its primary goal of saving lives and extinguishing fire.

Nozzle Team Members

Before entry, nozzle team members should stay low and to the side of the entrance or in a position that affords them the most cover for the following reasons:

A sudden outrush of heat and smoke can come through the doorway. Once the fire attack begins, the doorway belongs to the engine. Other firefighters must make sure they do not accidentally block it when helping to advance the line.

The entrance must be left open as an es-cape route for retreating members.

Victims may have to be removed through that entrance.

At stores or commercial buildings, nozzle team members should use the building`s characteristics as cover and avoid positioning near large plate glass windows, if possible.

The nozzle team should also, before advancing into the fire area, get low to the floor and look into the area to get an idea of the layout, even if they have to put their faces to the floor. They may be able to see the fire`s location, victims, or obstacles. They should be able to determine if the door to the fire area needs to be chocked open.


The engine company member should don the following gear: a full set of bunkers, gloves, a hood, a helmet (with earflaps down), a properly working SCBA, and a working PASS device. These should be worn at all times while operating in the fire area. The officer should accept no excuses for any member`s not wearing this gear properly.

The following tools should be carried: at least two chocks, one in the coat and one in the helmet; two lights, one in the coat and one in the helmet; a spanner wrench (preferably the folding type); and a hose strap.

If the firefighter is aggressive, he should also carry some type of knife, a length of utility rope (15 feet is sufficient) for hoisting and securing hose, a set of screwdrivers, some type of vise grips, and extra chocks (anyone passing through an open doors should chock it).


We must know where our nozzle team is actually coming from. During the 1970s and 1980s, fire departments across the country were hit by the budget ax. Most departments don`t have the staffing that some large cities have. Apparatus are now responding with fewer firefighters. Three personnel on a rig is very common; two on a rig has become commonplace also. The bottom line is that we must do whatever is necessary. If engines or engines and trucks have to be teamed, we have to do it. Team three engines if necessary. If the officer has to become the backup man, the doorman, or even the nozzleman, he has to do it. The first line must be put in operation–the lives of the public and other firefighters depend on it.

With the educational trends of the `90s, the arts of stretching and operating the first line have been lost. Remember, no fire will be extinguished without a well-trained and determined engine team willing to push that first line in and do the most important job on the fireground–extinguish the fire.

Smoke was showing from three windows on the second floor of this two-story private dwelling when firefighters arrived. This fire could have ended in tragedy had it not been for the knowledgeable first-arriving engine company officer`s decisions concerning line placement and the well-trained, determined, and motivated firefighters who pushed that all-important first line into the fire building to extinguish the fire. (Photos by author.)

Hose should be packed with loops that can be easily grabbed by the nozzleman and backup man.

(Above) The doorman should stay out of the doorway and raise a bow in the line to feed it to the nozzle team. (Right) The doorway belongs to the engine company once the fire attack begins. Other firefighters must not block the doorway.

The nozzleman, while waiting for water and donning his mask, should hold his helmet between his knees and secure the nozzle under his knee to prevent it from being pulled or kicked away.

A typical set of tools carried by an engine member should include a flashlight, chocks, hand tools, a spanner wrench, and utility rope.

TIM KLETT, an 18-year veteran of the fire service, has been a firefighter with Engine 69 of the Fire Department of New York for the past nine years. He is an FDIC H.O.T. instructor in live burn engine operations and lectures frequently throughout the Northeast.

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