Stretching In: Initial Line Placement

Article and photos by David DeStefano

Properly placing the correct size hoseline is generally the most effective task the first-in engine company can complete to save firefighter and civilian lives at a fire. Previously, we discussed the thought process used to determine the size, length, and path the line will take to advance into the building, but where the line is operated will determine the overall success of the operation and our ability to conduct an aggressive primary search

Engine companies must consider their tactical priorities of life safety and incident stabilization, as well as property conservation, as they relate to the location and extent of the fire and the likely path of extension. Building construction and layout and occupancy are keys to making the correct choices.

First, protect any known occupants by placing a line between them and the fire. Often, the location of occupants must be determined by the primary search conducted by the first-in ladder company. The first-in engine must stretch its line in support of this search, again placing the line between the search team and the fire. Since the search on the fire floor will likely commence at the point closest to the seat of the fire–where viable victims may be expected–the engine is usually protecting a hallway or stairway in most residential settings.

In typical two-floor, single-family dwellings, the ladder company may ascend an open stairway to the second floor to search bedrooms. Especially during first-floor fires, it is imperative that the engine company protect those stairs as a means of egress for firefighters and civilians alike. Should a withdrawal become necessary, the members of the engine must be sure the ladder company members have descended the stairs or made egress through a window before withdrawing the protection of its handline.

(1) Firefighters know that in balloon frame “triple deckers” like this one the door on side B will access all floors and usually leads to a kitchen in each apartment. Mounting an initial attack via these stairs and protecting them for searches and egress is a high priority in these small multi-dwellings. Without access to the back stairs an upper floor fire may require an outside stretch via the front porch.

(2) The initial line for an apartment fire off this public hallway will likely be stretched from a standpipe connection on the floor below and be placed between the search team and the fire and protect the means of egress for civilians and firefighters alike.

(3) A fire in the manufacturing space of this industrial building may warrant an initial attack using a 2 1/2-inch hand line through the front door, attacking from the unburned side. This action will protect the interior exposure and push the fire back into the burned area.

In certain instances, especially those involving a large body of fire or a fire in a large, open floor space, firefighters should attack from an unburned area, pushing the fire back into the burned area and possibly out a window or door. Building construction and layout are key components of this size-up, since a convenient access point is needed in an unburned area from which to mount the attack. Firefighters must also perform a risk-benefit analysis with regard to conducting extensive interior operations under heavy fire conditions based on the viability of the structure.

When the first-in engine stretches the initial attack line, the company officer needs to have the tactical priorities clearly in mind. Putting the line between the civilians and the fire, the search team and the fire, and the means of egress and the fire all help achieve the life safety goal. By making an attack from the unburned side to the burned side using the correct size handline, members will often shorten the firefight, making the operation safer and decreasing property damage.

In any scenario, the initial line must be the correct length and diameter and stretched along the correct path to the point of best advantage. But perhaps most importantly, it must be operated aggressively on the fire. A stationary line is not an attack line. If you are not gaining on the fire, the fire is gaining on you!

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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