The Right Handline


The right handline, properly placed, will quickly stop the spread of fire and create a safer environment for the victims and the firefighters. A handline that is too short, too small, or not in the proper location can result in greater property loss and potentially the loss of life. Many variables dictate which line is best for the situation at hand, and the decision should not be taken lightly.

Fortunately, handline selection can be simplified into a three-step process. First, determine the hose diameter needed, 1¾- or 2½-inch? Second, determine the hose length needed. Is it a small residential house or a large commercial structure? Third, determine the handline’s proper placement. Where is the fire and where are the occupants? By dividing the most important fireground decision into these three areas, you can make it much more quickly and easily.


What size hose is needed? Most fire departments carry 1¾- and 2½-inch handlines. For most fires, a 1¾-inch handline will suffice. This line can extinguish up to five fully involved residential-sized rooms. Flowing up to 180 gallons per minute (gpm), this intermediate-size line is extremely effective for most residential fires where the fire extension is limited. When there is potential for large volumes of fire, the 2½-inch handline is the best weapon. Although it is heavier, its 250-gpm flow will control any fire during an offensive attack. The 2½-inch line is best suited for the following operations:

  • Commercial fires: These structures may feature large open areas, high ceilings, and a possible heavy fire load.
  • Standpipe operations: Many standpipes are designed for use with 21⁄2-inch hose, not 13⁄4-inch hose. High-rise fires demand large flows.
  • Large volumes of fire:Such situations will need the additional gallonage.

Remember, if the 2½-inch handline’s superior flow and penetration are available, the line requires sufficient staffing to properly advance it. At a minimum, you will need one firefighter for every 50-foot length of hose to effectively operate this handline. Ideally, you would need six firefighters to efficiently advance a 200-foot handline. That is the reason it is best to use the “two engines, one handline” concept and assign two companies to advance the hose. 


How much hose is required? To accurately estimate this, you need to know the size of the structure and its setback from the street. The street-to-door distance differs from one area to the next, so you must know the typical setbacks in your response district. The minimum hose length needed depends on whether it’s a residential or commercial structure.

<House fires require a minimum of 50 feet of hose for each floor and 50 feet of hose at the point of attack. For example, you have a house with fire in a second-story bedroom. The house is set back 50 feet from the street. A 200-foot, 1¾-inch preconnect handline is sufficient.

<Commercial structures are slightly more complicated. The width and the depth of the building are added to determine the amount of hose needed on the ground level. Next, add 50 feet for each floor above the ground level and a second 50-foot lead at the point of attack.

For example, a large warehouse measuring 100 × 100 feet has a fire in an upstairs office. The size and type of structure call for a 2½-inch line of at least 300 feet at the point of entry. This may seem like a lot, but this will enable you to reach the majority of the warehouse. 


The most effective place to attack the fire is directly through the front entrance. This contradicts the belief that structure fires should be attacked from the “unburned side,” which most likely stemmed from the improper use of fog nozzles.

Using the front entrance eliminates the need to stretch the line to the rear, which can be a difficult, time-consuming task. The rear entrance is also usually more fortified, if forcible entry is needed. Finally, in most homes, the stairs are located closest to the front door.

There are some exceptions. On your arrival, if a victim is in a window or on a fire escape that is directly affected by fire, use the initial line in rescuing the civilian. At some basement fires, there may be direct access in the rear of the structure. If so, you should position the initial line there. There are other situations where using the front entrance is not advisable, but they are few. Overall, it is more practical to attack directly through the front door. 


Firefighters are inherently creatures of habit. From day one, we are conditioned to using step-by-step procedures to accomplish tasks, which ensures consistency. Unfortunately, this conditioning can lead to the habit of choosing the same handline at every fire.

With an ever-changing enemy that presents itself in many different battlegrounds, this can be very dangerous. More often than not, you will find a company deploying the same preconnect line for every fire. Although it is not necessarily the wrong choice, it does not suit every incident. If inappropriate for the situation, it may result in an increase in property loss and the loss of life.

EDDIE CROMBIE is a firefighter/paramedic with the Joliet (IL) Fire Department, with which he has served since 2007. He began his fire service career as a volunteer for the Minooka (IL) Fire Protection District in 2001, becoming a paid contract employee in 2004. Crombie is an Illinois-certified fire instructor I and has trained firefighters in volunteer, combination, and career departments.

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