Anthony Piontek: Essential Engine Company Operations

By Anthony Piontek   

We all know that today’s engine company has to be a multifaceted company, responding to various types of incidents including emergency medical service calls, motor vehicle accidents, leaks and spills, special rescue situations, public relations, and even responses involving prevention and code enforcement issues. That being said, there is still only one company assigned to put water on the fire, and that’s the engine company.  Regardless of all the other duties to which we may be assigned, the fire will not be extinguished unless water is applied.

As you examine this single activity, one that the fire service overall is doing less and less every day in most cities, you see that there are a multitude of tasks related to this simple duty of putting water on the fire.  This article discusses some areas where training and performance can and should occur to maximize the effectiveness of the company.  It’s not as simple as it may seem.  The engine and its operations is a “thinking man’s game,” as one of the instructors I teach with says.  The following is not a list of tactics or procedures, but is information you can use to examine your skillsets and those of your company.  I pose a question: Are you ready to perform these types of operations successfully day in and day out?

Water Supply

It goes without saying that companies should be proficient in hydrant operation and, in rural areas, with water-shuttle operations.  Proper setup and positioning are key components at every emergency scene; they can cause problems that are difficult to correct once apparatus is spotted and operating.  Working off tank water is a great place to begin operations for most departments.  Companies should know the capabilities of running from their tanks and explore options for tying engines together to augment the initial water supply on scene while establishing a secure water supply from a hydrant or a tender shuttle. It builds in redundancy.   

Engines with 1,000-gallon water tanks are not uncommon; they give the company a longer work time without a positive supply.  Additionally, laying dry supply lines for incoming engines to supply may also be an option.  And don’t forget split lays and reversing out.  Pushing water always works better than “pulling” it, using the static pressure from the hydrant to supply the pressure.  Are you “fully tapping” the hydrant–that is, using all the outlets? How many tenders are in your response are? Can they dump all their supply in your portable tank without your have to shut down to wait to use it?  How much do you really know about the water supply in your district? How can you get the most from it if you need it?

Attack Lines

Preconnected lines are the bread-and-butter of today’s engine company.  Know their lengths and the norm for your response district.  Know where you will stretch short regularly, and practice stretch size-ups. There will be places that are beyond your preconnects, and building a static bed or line that will cover these situations is critical.  Configure your lines so they will work for you–that means trying different lays to explore options.  In some instances, changing from a flat lay to a triple or a minuteman may be a better option.  Potentially, make them different lengths. Have you explored reduced lines, and do you practice with the 2½-inch line?  Have you flow tested and tried different nozzles so you are flowing the proper gallonage and pressures?  Try it. The results may surprise you!  Know your weapon and the ammo you’re using against the enemy.  Practice as often as you can the initial stretch, find and eliminate problem areas, eliminate kink points, and operate the line as you advance.  Identify the areas of concern, and try other options.  Work on body mechanics, nozzle work, attack positions, jobs on the line, hose tools, line placement, and working the attack and backup lines as an “attack team.”

Defensive Operations

In the advent of the latest studies, more departments are looking at using this type of tactic to “reset” the fire to create safer interior operations.  Do you know when to use this tactic and when its advantages have been completed to go interior again?  Are you using 2½- or three-inch, maybe four- or five-inch lines to supply the master stream devices?  Do you have a single line option for rapid deployment? Do you practice with the deck gun so you don’t waste water while you aim it? Have you used the device as a portable hydrant or used a manifold to supply multiple lines off a single supply?  Can you put the line in service quickly and efficiently?  How long can you operate without a supply?

Standpipe Operations

Although not a routine response for most, nearly every community has buildings containing standpipes. If you don’t, do you have structures of three stories or more that you could use an exterior stretch?  They work similarly! What are you supplying?  What configuration is your hose bundle? Have you trained on it in the open or in a tight stairwell? Are you combining companies to make the stretch to get the first line operating on the fire?  Have you trained on the control position, getting the proper hose laid out and operating at proper pressure to the fire floor?  Have you worked and operated the line down a hall as a team? What are the stair configurations? Which stairway is designated as the attack stair?  What about those standpipes in big box stores or industrial facilities all on one footprint?


Knowing proper pump pressures should come from flow tests to be completely accurate.  But pumping is more than pulling a discharge and setting a pressure.  Have you trained on multiple lines, lines of different sizes?  Do you know how long you can work off your tank water?  Do you begin operations off a pumping chart or just what you think is right?  Do you practice supplying your own hydrant water, relay pumping, drafting operations? Is foam an option?  What about trouble shooting? Can you work out of mission failure?

The above is just a primer for training topics for the engine company and is by no means complete.  Apparatus placement, on-scene communications between the split company and within the company, what to do when things go wrong inside and outside, driving, daily maintenance issues, and a multitude of other topics could be included.  Most of us don’t fight fires with any regularity anymore, but we are the only company that will come when the alarm sounds.  Are you prepared?


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