In the February 2005 issue (“Engine Company Stand- pipe Operations: Pressure-Regulating Devices”), I addressed the wide range of potential problems associated with pressure-regulating devices. I also outlined some of the potential solutions firefighters can use to overcome the myriad problems they may encounter during standpipe operations. Most notably was the recommendation to use a 212-inch handline for standpipe operations, especially those operations that take place in large, uncompartmentalized high-rise office buildings. In this two-part article, I will address the tactical use of 212-inch hose for fireground operations with an emphasis on those operations that take place in high-rise and standpipe-equipped buildings.


It’s very unfortunate that many in the fire service have written off the use of 212-inch hose for interior fire attack purposes based on the perceived difficulty associated with the use of this weapon. At the root of the problem is that many firefighters have probably had one or perhaps several bad experiences with 212-inch hose over the course of their career. Many years ago, I, too, had some frustrating and ineffective experiences when I first attempted to use 212-inch hose as an attack line. However, I have had countless and only positive experiences ever since I learned the fine points of using the “Big Line” and began to apply them on the fireground.

(1) Engine Company Standpipe H.O.T. evolution, FDIC 2004: Firefighter Jeff Shupe, Cleveland (OH) Fire Department Engine Co. 24, and Firefighter Dave Karn, Columbus (OH) Fire Department Rescue Co. 2, instruct firefighters in the proper operation of a 212-inch attack line. (Photos by author unless otherwise noted.)

Simply put, there are engine companies and firefighters who can and those who can’t. Those who can are able to complete the assigned task, whatever it happens to be, primarily because of their attitude. Effectively using 212-inch hose begins with a can-do attitude and the application of specific techniques. Most important is the implementation of a comprehensive and ongoing training program to hone the basic, fundamental skills necessary for success with the Big Line.

At FDIC HOT programs across the country, I have been given the privilege to lead what I consider to be an “American Fire Service Dream Team.” Our 10-member team of professional firefighters from coast to coast has instructed countless other firefighters on how to effectively use a 212-inch handline during standpipe operations. My team members demonstrate how even fire departments with very limited staffing can effectively use this most valuable weapon (photo 1).

A frequent comment regarding the use of 212-inch handlines that always seems to come up in conversations is that there is a need for much more personnel to effectively use it. Yes, the effective use of 212-inch hose as an attack line does require more staffing than a 134-inch handline, but not nearly as much as many think. I’d put three or four well-trained firefighters with can-do attitudes up against six, eight, even 10 naysayers who never train on the use of this tool. It’s all about attitude and technique.


With regard to staffing levels, many small, medium, and even several large fire departments frequently use the excuse that they simply don’t have enough personnel to use 212-inch hose. Often, photographs of many of these fire departments will show multiple firefighters, working alone, operating several low-flow handlines, with little or no effect on the fire. And worst of all, these same fire departments, having abandoned the acquisition and use of 212-inch hose entirely, will sometimes attempt to use a three-inch supply line instead of a 212-inch as an attack line. Let me state this clearly: Three-inch hose is a supply line, not an attack line!

It may be hard for some to accept, but the fact is, smaller- and medium-sized fire departments have the greatest need to use a 212-inch attack line. Those departments with fewer overall resources must make proactive decisions at the outset of a fire with regard to proper weapons selection. This is simply because they don’t have the resources necessary to play catch-up once they’re behind the Btu curve. Large fire departments can usually throw more resources at a problem and often can overwhelm a fire even after some poor initial tactical decisions. Small departments must work smarter, and this includes a proactive use of a 212-inch attack line. In many cases, when a small but well-trained team is using this line properly, it will pulverize the fire and eliminate the problem before it has a chance to get completely out of control. A recent fire in Castle Rock, Colorado, serves as an excellent example. Firefighters from the Castle Rock Fire Department had heavy fire showing on arrival at a large one-story strip mall. Although they had only 17 personnel on-duty, they used two 212-inch attack lines and quickly stopped a very serious, fast-moving fire (photo 2).

(2) With only 17 personnel on duty, this recent strip mall fire in Castle Rock, Colorado, was quickly stopped during an aggressive attack using two 21⁄2-inch attack lines. The can-do attitude of Castle Rock firefighters resulted in an excellent stop, preventing a property loss that would have been in the millions. [Photo by Timothy Tonge.]

It all boils down to a more effective and efficient use of fireground resources. Rather than having three firefighters operating alone, each struggling to control high-pressure, low-volume weapons while having little or no effect on the fire, put them together as a team, and have them operate one “Big Line” for the greatest impact possible. Take a closer look next time, either in a photograph or on the fireground, and you’ll clearly see the nozzle bail partially closed, halfway or, often, three-quarters. With a properly operating automatic nozzle, there will be a “pretty stream” delivering enough water to rinse off the chief’s buggy. Eventually, the fire will go out, but only because the fuel source has been exhausted.


When given the opportunity to teach other firefighters, I always emphasize the importance of being able to go beyond the preconnect. The preconnected 134-inch attack line is the workhorse of the American fire service. Water applied with a single, 134-inch preconnect safely and successfully handles most of our fires, making it an extremely valuable tool. However, it is the low-frequency, high-risk events that create problems for us, as we all too often tend to fall back on our daily habits and attempt to apply small fire tactics to big fire problems. A good engine company is one that has developed the ability to apply water effectively using the more powerful tools in its arsenal, not just the 134-inch preconnect. In essence, the company has developed the ability to go beyond the preconnect. Specifically, the good engine companies can effectively use larger weapons, including apparatus-mounted deck guns, portable master stream appliances, and the 212-inch handline. Standpipe operations are an excellent example of going beyond the preconnect.


For most operations with a 212-inch handline, specifically standpipe operations, this means putting several members together to work as one attack team. Generally, having two engine companies work together is very effective. Even the largest of fire departments has applied this concept. The Fire Department of New York (FDNY), for example, always assigns two engine companies to operate one handline off a standpipe. All fire departments can and should adopt this concept, especially those with very limited resources, including those forced to operate with three-person engine companies. With a three-person company, even if the pump operators must be left outside to supply the system, there are still four firefighters between two engine companies left to stretch, operate, and advance the 212-inch handline. This, of course, is not ideal, but it can be done. Yes, these four firefighters will be working very hard, but we all must remember, we are firefighters, not a Brownie troop.

In the Denver (CO) Fire Department (DFD), we are fortunate to have a minimum staffing of four firefighters per engine company. Of course, we’d like to have more, but we feel fortunate, since many fire departments across the country run with three and sometimes even just two members per company. With four members per company-once again, with the pump operators assigned to supply the system, which is standard procedure on the DFD-there are still six members to operate the attack line. Six well-trained, physically and mentally prepared firefighters can be extremely effective with this most powerful weapon.

At our hands-on training (H.O.T.) program, my FDIC team members instruct firefighters on both the four- and six-person methods of operating the 212-inch attack line. We believe that it is very realistic that most fire departments, even most of the smallest, can muster at least four to six firefighters within the first few minutes of a fire. For the past eight years, we have consistently seen firefighters leaving our H.O.T. program invigorated, taking back home with them brand new, can-do attitudes. Yes, it can be done. Now, let’s look at some of the specifics as to what really makes it happen.


Several very important components associated with the use of 212-inch handlines create a synergistic effect that will ultimately culminate in fireground success. I like to refer to these components as the “Keys to Success” with the “Big Line.” Using 212-inch hose as an effective tactical tool is often only talked about during seminars, classroom sessions, and company drills, and, of course, by most candidates in assessment centers during a competitive promotional process. They talk about how they would definitely use a 212-inch attack line for “that fire” and how they would put one over here and one over there. They talk about it because they know it’s the correct tactical decision; the right thing to do on the fireground; and, of course, it will result in a higher score in the assessment center.

Quite frankly, it’s very easy to talk about using 212-inch hose. It requires little experience or training to draw a line indicating a “Big Line” on an easel board in an assessment center or during a training drill. It’s quite another thing to actually quickly place this weapon in service on the fireground and use it in a proactive, effective manner. Once again, it most definitely can be done, even with minimal personnel, but it depends entirely on the participants’ willingness to dedicate themselves to the necessary prefire training and development to hone their skills.


User-Friendly Apparatus and Equipment

At every FDIC, I walk through the convention center exhibit area with a particular interest in the new fire apparatus. I really enjoy looking out at and wandering through the sea of brand-new red fire trucks. However, I am always amazed to see just how nonuser-friendly many of the apparatus are-specifically, the pumper apparatus. Time and again, I see hosebeds that are so high off the ground that it’s difficult to even see that it’s a hosebed. It makes me wonder if the fire department that purchased this apparatus will have to spec out a new tower ladder in next year’s budget to reach the hosebed of its new pumper.

(3, 4) Sacramento City (CA) Fire Department Engine Co. 5 is set up to go beyond the preconnect with a static hosebed of 21⁄2-inch attack line in the rear and three sections of 21⁄2-inch hose with a high-rise/standpipe kit stored in a compartment.

Frequently, the culprits contributing to the extremely high hosebed are a very large water tank and an attempt to jam on a pumper a whole lot more equipment than it was designed to carry. Because I work in an urban environment with an excellent water supply and an abundance of hydrants in most areas, fireground water supply is typically not a major problem for me. However, I do empathize with those firefighters who work in suburban and rural areas who must use pumpers with very large tanks and dedicated tankers for their water supply. Regardless of the water supply issues and problems, the design of any pumper apparatus must follow some very basic principles, including that of a user-friendly hosebed. L-shaped water tanks and compartments built around a lower, more convenient hosebed will yield a much more user-friendly apparatus and lead to more effective and efficient fireground operations. Ultimately, if firefighters can see the hose and preferably be able to touch it from the ground, they likely will be able to stretch it more easily and, ultimately, will be more inclined to stretch the appropriate weapon, not just the one they can reach or use most of the time.


Ideally, a user-friendly pumper apparatus is set up with at least one 212-inch preconnected attack line and a large static hosebed with a substantial supply of 212-inch hose, a minimum of 600 feet, depending on a needs assessment of the response area. The 212-inch hose in this static bed should be set up in a reverse lay, with a nozzle attached to the lead length of hose. The first two or three sections can be set up in horseshoes for easy stretching of the line. In addition, three separate sections of 212-inch hose should be set up for, and dedicated to, standpipe operations (photos 3, 4).

User-Friendly Standpipe Hose Packs

Fire departments that protect standpipe-equipped buildings, both high-rise and low-rise, have a critical need to be equipped with user-friendly standpipe hose packs. In a two-part series on high-rise/standpipe hose packs (“High-Rise/Standpipe Hose Packs: A Primer,” Part 1 and Part 2) in the July and August 1999 issues of Fire Engineering, I listed some essential considerations when designing and assembling a standpipe hose pack to ensure that it remains user friendly. Those considerations follow:

• The hose pack should be as lightweight and as compact as possible.

• The hose pack should be relatively easy and comfortable to carry.

• The hose pack should be designed for easy, fast, and efficient stretching on the fireground.

(5) This ridiculous hose pack serves as an excellent example of what not to do. It contains three sections of 13⁄4-inch hose and a high-pressure automatic combination fog nozzle. The entire package weighs more than 50 pounds. This combination of weapons would be an excellent choice to combat a medium-sized outside vehicle fire with no exposures, but it is a very dangerous choice for standpipe operations.

I have seen advertisements for various devices used to carry and transport standpipe hose packs. One particular system is very large and appears to be quite cumbersome, resembling a body bag slung over a firefighter’s shoulder. Other devices use a system of straps and buckles to hold several sections of hose together. Many fire departments have purchased such devices and use them to carry all of their standpipe equipment, including three sections of hose in a very heavy and bulky one-size-fits-all hose pack (photo 5).

6) Sacramento City (CA) Fire Department Engine Co. 5 has a modular high-rise/standpipe equipment package consisting of three sections of 21⁄2-inch hose and a small, lightweight equipment bag that contains all of the hand tools and water-delivery appliances needed for high-rise firefighting operations.

The theme with regard to hose packs should be “keep it simple.” The overall high-rise/standpipe equipment package should not consist of one large, heavy bundle of equipment. The entire equipment package should be designed as a modular system, with several, lightweight, manageable components that are transported to the point of operation by a team of firefighters. On arrival, that team determines how much hose needs to be stretched and what equipment should be used for that particular operation and then proceeds to quickly place it in service (photo 6).

(7) Denver firefighters climbing stairs to the 29th floor of a commercial high-rise building at a recent drill. The labor of transporting the necessary high-rise/standpipe tools and equipment is divided among team members.

Operational efficiency and effectiveness are best achieved by dividing the labor of transporting the entire equipment package among several team members. A single-hose pack consisting of one 50-foot section of 212-inch hose per team member is ideal. The single-hose pack preferably should weigh less than 20 pounds. Even lighter hose is available on the market today. The DFD specifies a high-rise 212-inch hose that weighs only 16 pounds per 50-foot section. Reducing the overall weight that one firefighter must carry up several flights of stairs by specifying lightweight hose and dividing up the labor is very effective (photo 7). One-piece hose packs, with all the ancillary equipment attached, can weigh well in excess of 50 pounds, and that’s using smaller-diameter 112– or 134-inch hose. Even the biggest, strongest, and most physically fit members will become exhausted quickly because of the physical punishment of transporting such a heavy and cumbersome equipment package up several flights of stairs, not to mention the issue of attempting to use an inappropriate weapon for a firefight that will likely require something much more powerful.

Properly Stretching the Line

8) Properly stretching a 21⁄2-inch attack line for high-rise/standpipe operations begins on the floor below. With three sections of hose placed on the landing of the floor below, firefighters begin by connecting the sections and removing the hose pack straps.

Once the equipment has been brought up to the point of operation, typically the floor below the fire, members can determine the amount of hose needed to effectively reach the fire area; generally 150 feet is a good starting point. The hose must then be connected and properly stretched (photo 8).

(9) Failure to properly stretch the attack line prior to its being charged leads to severe kinks, can compromise the entire operation, and can lead to firefighter injuries. Take time to make time.

When using the recommended 212-inch attack line, it is critically important that the entire attack line be fully and properly stretched prior to calling for water. Literally, spending an extra minute to ensure that the attack line is properly stretched will pay significant dividends during attack and advancement out onto the fire floor or into the fire area. “Flaking” the hose out on the landing is not acceptable and will not work. Even a small pile of 212-inch hose, perhaps only five or 10 linear feet, that has not been properly stretched out will develop several serious kinks once the line is charged (photo 9).

Kinks are among the engine company’s greatest enemies on the fireground and can lead to operational failure and firefighter injuries. Some kinks are a fact of life and will naturally occur during the advancement of the hoseline at most operations. Those kinks can usually be addressed and corrected easily by members of the attack team. No member, including members of other companies and command officers, should ever pass a kink without taking the time to eliminate it. Keep in mind that most kinks can be prevented by properly stretching the hoseline from the beginning.

(10) This firefighter is securing the hose on the landing above the fire floor by kneeling on it, before the line is charged. If this is not done, the weight of the water will pull the hose down, creating a pile of hose and several kinks. Firefighters should use the time while the line is being charged to don all personal protective equipment, including the SCBA face piece. Once the line is charged, the weight of the water will hold it in place, and the firefighter will move down to the fire-floor landing or below before the door to the fire floor is opened. The door to the fire floor must be kept closed while this firefighter is above.

In addition, when hose must be laid out up a flight of stairs, and specifically when the hose is stretched up past the fire-floor landing, members must secure the hose before water is called for and while the line is being charged. This is a simple process of holding onto the line or using your body weight by kneeling on it to hold it in place. If this isn’t done, the weight of the water will pull the hoseline down the stairs when it is being charged, and all your hard work will be for naught. If this is allowed to happen, the operation is doomed to fail (photo 10).

11) This firefighter is making sure that all excess hose not used to complete the stretch in the stairwell is fully stretched out on the floor below before the line is charged with water. No piles of dry hose means no kinks in the wet hose

Remember, when stretching a 212-inch handline, especially during high-rise and standpipe operations, the line must be fully and completely stretched out, with no piles of hose at any point, and members must physically secure the line before it is charged. Simple, basic fundamentals are the keys to success (photo 11).

Proper Operating Pressures

Without exception, excessive and improper operating pressures are at the heart of every failed 212-inch handline operation. Once again, because this tool is most applicable at our low-frequency events, a lack of training can quickly lead to a failure at the pump panel. Simply put, with 212-inch handline, less is more. It is a high-volume weapon, but, because of its size, there is much less friction loss than what we typically experience with 134-inch handlines. In fact, the friction loss in a big line is six times lower than that of a 134-inch handline at equal flows.

Pump operators get used to engine pressures in the 150-psi to 200-psi range when supplying typical preconnected 134-inch attack lines. When the time comes to supply a 212-inch handline, they must significantly alter their operation, sometimes even gating down a valve at the pump panel to reduce intake pressure from a good hydrant. Short stretches of 212-inch hose (150 to 200 feet) into small- and medium-sized commercial buildings typically require very low operating pressures. If your engine pressure is more than two digits, the 212-inch attack line is probably overpressurized (not including additional pressure required to overcome elevation head in a tall building). For example, a 200-foot stretch of 212-inch hose using a low-pressure smoothbore nozzle (118-inch tip, 266 gpm @ 50 psi) requires an operating pressure of only 80 psi. In fact, with new modern fire hose, a proper stretch, no kinks, and minimal turns, pump operators can reduce engine pressures by 10 percent and still maintain effective flows. So at 65- to 70-psi engine pressure, a 200-foot stretch of 212-inch attack line can flow well over 250 gpm.

(12) The standpipe inline pressure gauge is an invaluable piece of equipment that allows the attack team to determine and maintain a proper operating pressure from the floor below. Labels with predetermined pressures affixed to the gauge body will simplify the operation.

Proper operating pressures applicable at ground-level operations can and should also be applied to operations on the 29th floor of a high-rise building. The key here is having the proper equipment. The standpipe inline pressure gauge, used by FDNY for years, has been adopted by many fire departments across the country and is now standard equipment in high-rise/standpipe hose packs from coast to coast. This simple piece of equipment gives us the finesse to properly pressurize an attack line from the floor below. Pump operators, generally not knowing the exact fire floor at the outset of an event, can pressurize the system to an approximate level without an exact number. Inside, the attack team can fine-tune the pressure using the inline gauge. It’s like having a pump panel on the floor below. Labels can be affixed to the inline gauge with preestablished pressures based on hydraulic calculations and flow testing (photo 12). This simple step can enhance the value of the inline pressure gauge, making it and the overall operation of achieving proper operating pressure very user friendly. For example, most fire departments use a pressure of 70 to 75 psi from the floor below to properly pressurize a 150-foot-long 212-inch attack line with a 118-inch smoothbore tip.

Low-Pressure Nozzles

One of the very best tools to help firefighters achieve a successful fireground operation when using a 212-inch attack line is the low-pressure nozzle. In fact, I consider the use of low-pressure nozzles, specifically the smoothbore nozzle, to be an absolutely essential part of a successful Big Line operation. Those who insist on using combination fog nozzles, specifically high-pressure and automatic-type nozzles, for operations with 212-inch handlines are setting themselves up for probable failure.

With the required 100 psi for nozzle pressure, coupled with the friction loss in the line, the overall engine pressure is in excess of 125 psi. This pressure makes the line much more stiff and difficult to maneuver. Add to this the significant nozzle reaction, and something has to give. The nozzleman likely will have to partially close the bail to maintain control of the line, thus reducing the critical flow and adding to the excessive (static) pressure within the overall system. The firefighters attempting to operate this line will be left with the memory of a miserable experience and will be less likely than ever to select a 212-inch hand-line for future fireground operations.

For you who for whatever reason cannot accept the facts that clearly distinguish the smoothbore nozzle from the combination fog as a superior weapon for interior structural firefighting, I strongly suggest that you at least consider using low-pressure combination fog nozzles. Once again, the goals are to lower the nozzle reaction without reducing critical flow and to lower the overall pressure needed to supply the handline and nozzle. Some very good nozzle manufacturers produce excellent low-pressure combination fog nozzles with rated flows at 75 and 50 psi. So if you really want to make pretty patterns and push fire, heat, smoke, and other products of combustion to uninvolved areas and toward unsuspecting “customers,” a cone-shaped pattern with a powerful venturi of entrained air is the obvious choice.

For ground-based operations, the use of a low-pressure combination nozzle is acceptable for those who feel strongly about the use of that tool and is relatively safe when kept on a straight-stream pattern. However, once the firefight moves to a higher altitude, specifically within a high-rise building where the weapons are supplied from a standpipe system, the use of a combination fog nozzle is downright dangerous. First, there is the issue of pressure, low pressure. Standpipe systems are in fact low-pressure systems by design and fire code requirements. Many buildings were built under a code requiring a residual pressure of only 65 psi at the topmost outlet and 100 psi for newer buildings built after 1993. A comprehensive review of NFPA 14, Standard for the Installation of Standpipe and Hose Systems, both pre-1993 and post-1993 editions, will help clear up many misconceptions.

The second part of the nozzle equation when operating inside high-rise and standpipe-equipped buildings has to do with debris. Firefighters have encountered during standpipe operations in cities, large and small, all across the country debris in the forms of rust, scale, sediment, trash, and a long list of various other items from small rodents to hypodermic needles.

(13) Its small, lightweight, and compact size, coupled with its low operating pressure and ability to pass most debris, make the smoothbore nozzle the obvious choice for standpipe firefighting operations. (Photo courtesy of the late Lt. Andrew A. Fredericks.)

As a young firefighter, I was part of an attack team that had a failed operation because of a massive amount of debris that clogged our attack line. At the time, the DFD still used combination fog nozzles on standpipe hose packs. At that fire, other companies from outside the building had to stretch a second handline to stop the fire. The only injuries were to our pride, but it was an invaluable lesson that led to comprehensive changes in the DFD, including the implementation and use of smoothbore nozzles for high-rise and standpipe operations. Clearly, because of its design, I feel the smoothbore nozzle is the best and safest choice for standpipe operations (photo 13). Yes, it, too, can become clogged with very large pieces of debris; however, with the smoothbore, it is much easier to identify the problem and correct it, and the nozzle is much less likely to sustain damage.

14) This short piece of pipe was removed from the standpipe system inside a Denver high-rise building. It was the supply pipe to a 21⁄2-inch outlet from the main riser. It serves as graphic evidence of the significant debris problem that can be encountered during standpipe operations.

I have encountered several other debris incidents at fires in standpipe-equipped buildings over the years, and I have heard countless horror stories from other firefighters in the DFD and across the country who have had similar experiences. A brother firefighter in the DFD, Captain Thor Hansen of DFD Ladder Co. 8, who was at the time assigned to our Fire Prevention Bureau, gave me a very powerful piece of evidence. During his work, he encountered a standpipe system in a Denver high-rise building with a buildup of debris that would be the envy of most cardiologists. Hansen was kind enough to give me a short section of pipe from that standpipe system, which has served as a valuable visual aid for several years (photo 14). At a high-rise/standpipe training class presented to the Oakland (CA) Fire Department, an Oakland firefighter told me the proper term was “tuberculated” pipe. I certainly wouldn’t want to hear that from a doctor.

Debris is a fact of life for firefighters who operate in high-rise and standpipe-equipped buildings. If you haven’t yet encountered a debris problem, that’s because you’ve been lucky. I can speak from first-hand experience: It’s a very bad feeling when you’re inside a fire building and your weapon becomes completely clogged with debris. However, it would certainly be an even worse feeling if you knew ahead of time that it could happen and failed to protect your firefighters by not proactively providing them with the appropriate tool to effect a safe and successful operation.

In the DFD and at our FDIC H.O.T. program, all firefighters are taught to combat the standpipe debris problem with two specific actions:

(15) Briefly flushing the standpipe outlet prior to hooking up an attack line will greatly reduce the potential of debris clogging up the attack line or nozzle during the operation.

1. Flush the standpipe outlet before hooking up the attack line (photo 15); and

2. Use a smoothbore nozzle for the firefight so that any subsequent debris will be more likely to pass through the large open bore design of that nozzle.

(16) The nozzleman is one of the most popular and glamorous assignments on the fireground. However, the 21⁄2-inch attack line will move forward only if members are assigned to the unglamorous positions at friction points well behind the nozzleman. (Photo courtesy of Mark Wesseldine.)

The weight of the nozzle might not seem all that important during day-to-day operations. However, a pound here and a pound there will certainly add up, and firefighters will feel it during an arduous climb from the lobby to staging. The pressure and debris issues make the smoothbore an excellent and much safer tactical choice for operations aloft. The weight issue is a much more practical concern, as firefighters can literally shed significant, unnecessary weight long before the climb begins. In many cases, the weight difference between a typical smoothbore nozzle vs. a combination fog can be as much as 10 pounds. If it makes technical sense to use a smoothbore for high-rise/standpipe operations, it certainly makes even more practical sense to select it to ease the logistical aspect of the operation.


Let me share a couple of final thoughts regarding nozzles while keeping in mind that the primary topic of this article is not that of nozzles alone; however, using the appropriate nozzle is a critical part of the overall fireground operations. Some of you might not like what I have said regarding combination fog nozzles. Most advocates of combination fog nozzles for structural firefighting operations will frequently cite what has been referred to as “protection” as their primary reason for selecting this weapon. Fortunately, a very large and growing segment of fire service professionals has long since disregarded this idea as a myth. It will be a spectacular achievement when the entire fire service finally comes to an understanding that “protection” comes from extinguishing the fire as rapidly as possible, and that is only going to happen if water reaches the burning solid fuel. If a cone-shaped pattern is chosen, replace the word “protection” with the word “pushing” because that’s what is occurring: The nozzle team is using a very powerful force of entrained air to push the problem away from them. As the late William E. Clark stated in the Fire Chief’s Handbook, 5th edition (Fire Engineering, 1995): “The revision of fire stream tactics (fog to smoothbore) is the strongest trend of the nineties.” The best publication to help fire service professionals achieve a comprehensive understanding of fire streams is David P. Fornell’s Fire Stream Management Handbook (Fire Engineering, 1991). If it’s not already there, add this to your library. Take a close look, and you, too, can join the evolutionary process that has been occurring for the past 15 years in the American fire service. That process has to do with water delivery: more volume, less pressure, proper form. The smoothbore nozzle is a simple, dependable, powerful, and safe weapon. It also happens to be essential for operations with 212-inch hose and of critical importance for standpipe operations.

If the long list of fire service publication articles, technical analyses, and common sense still have not convinced you regarding nozzle selection for interior structural firefighting, maybe the name James Heenan will. James Heenan was a firefighter in West Deptford Township, New Jersey. On January 1, 2001, he made the supreme sacrifice while operating at a structure fire. As a result of this incident, the New Jersey Division of Fire Safety conducted an extensive investigation and compiled a comprehensive report regarding this firefighter fatality.

The report states the following: “The death of firefighter James Heenan can be directly attributed to a cumulative effect of three factors.” One of those factors listed was the following: “The introduction of the fog fire streams into the hole in the floor and through the exterior basement windows pushed the fire and superheated gases back down on Firefighter Heenan, thus causing the burn injuries that ultimately led to his death.” I highly recommend a review of this entire report, which can be found on the Internet.1

Unglamorous Operating Positions

The vast majority of firefighters would likely agree that one of the most popular assignments on the fireground is that of the nozzleman. It is truly the attack team’s most glamorous and satisfying position. A good nozzleman protects the crew with proper water application and can see immediate results of his actions at most fires (photo 16). Unfortunately, there is only one nozzle position, and we can’t all be on the nozzle at once. Therein lies the problem: Without the proper training and fireground discipline, some firefighters tend to sneak up on the line in an attempt to get a piece of the action.

The nozzleman must have a backup, and the company officer must be in a position to see, lead, and direct the attack. Four-person crews can operate in that manner, with the pump operator outside. In many situations with limited resources, specifically when operating with a three-person crew, the backup firefighter is also the company officer-not ideal, but a fact of life for many.

Even in situations with limited resources, most fire departments are able to work hard, work smart, and quickly get a preconnected 134-inch handline to the objective. At our typical bread-and-butter operations, most of which occur in single-family dwellings, the stretch is usually relatively short and uncomplicated. A well-trained backup firefighter can operate in a fluid manner, moving back as necessary to free more line caught on friction points. Any support personnel operating inside can help; firefighters operating near the point of entry, such as a rapid intervention team, also can provide some assistance with the line. For long and complicated stretches and operations that involve the use of a 212-inch attack line, additional personnel will be necessary to fill the so-called “unglamorous positions.”

Ideally, two engine companies with a minimum of six personnel (not counting pump operators) should be used to effectively stretch, operate, and advance a 212-inch attack line. The second engine company should be used to support the first engine company’s advancement by positioning the members at critical friction points within the stretch. Those locations include corners, doors, and stairs (photos 17 and 18). The first engine company or the nozzle team should consist of three members-the nozzleman, a backup, and a company officer leading the attack. The second engine company, or the support team, should consist of three members. A firefighter should be positioned at the closest friction point behind the nozzle team and the company officer at the next friction point, so he can get the best overall picture of conditions and maintain best contact with both of his members. The remaining firefighter should be positioned at the next friction point and will likely have to operate in a fluid manner for long stretches, moving forward and backward as necessary to free the line and pull more line in at the entry point (photo 19).

In the heat of battle, inside a fire building with a serious fire, radio communications are frequently poor at best; considering that all six members of this team will be physically working to move the line, it is easy to see that it may not always be possible to communicate effectively by radio. We always try, and in many situations the radio works well, but we must be prepared to communicate directly. Therefore, all support team members must remain fluid and move forward and backward on the line to keep the line moving and communicate with each other. When operating in this manner, all members must maintain constant contact with the line, as that is their umbilical cord to safety and the direct link to other team members (photo 20).

At the same time, the nozzle team must realize that feeding it more line is a difficult task and that time must be allowed for the support team to accomplish this. The nozzle team should request additional line by radio or by sending a firefighter back to the support team; then the nozzle team must give the support team time to get the job done. In addition, nozzle firefighters should quantify their requests. Instead of saying, “More line, more line,” my FDIC Standpipe H.O.T. team instructs firefighters to say, “Give us five more feet” (or whatever quantity is appropriate). That simple change in communication results in a much smoother operation. The “more line, more line” request, especially when spoken loudly or yelled, is interpreted as a very urgent request and will often result in rapid, sloppy, and urgent action. The support team will likely push an overabundance of line toward the nozzle team in a very rapid manner, which can actually push the nozzle team forward, forcefully toward the fire. The nozzleman sets the pace. When he wants to move the line forward, he should estimate the distance, do it in short intervals, and quantify the request. Each support team member will be able to approximate five or 10 feet of hose as it passes through their hands and is advanced to the nozzle team. After that, they’ll stop and wait for the next request. A good operation is based on finesse.

Depending on the situation, the second engine company or support team might be used to relieve the nozzle team at some point during the operation. Depending on the type of building and the length of the stretch, support team members may actually be located outside of the smoke environment. One example would be a standpipe operation in which the nozzle team is making slow progress attempting to advance toward the seat of the fire. The support team, out in the stairwell with members below the smoke condition, can help advance line as necessary but can remain off air unless it’s needed. By doing so, they can relieve the nozzle team and ultimately maintain good forward progress with the attack line, thus maximizing the use of resources, especially when they are limited. With that said, all members must use full personal protective equipment, including SCBA, and be on air when it is appropriate. Furthermore, once the attack team is able to advance out onto the fire floor or toward the fire area, support team members must go on air and get into position at the forward friction points to assist with the advancement.

From a tactical standpoint, advancement of the line depends on many factors. For example, a serious fire in a large commercial office building, especially a building with center-core construction, will require a second handline immediately, before the first attack team can advance out onto the fire floor. This must be done to protect the egress point, as fire may loop back around the core and cut off the egress. This possibility is greatly exacerbated by the inappropriate application of water in cone-shaped patterns from combination fog nozzles. Remember, it’s not protection; it’s pushing. And, it’s not a good idea to use a tool to push fire back around the center core and cut off your egress.

The support positions that help advance the 212-inch handline are the most unglamorous of fireground assignments. You could also argue that these positions are also the most important. Without positioning well-trained, disciplined, and physically and mentally prepared firefighters in the unglamorous positions of a hoseline stretch, that line will not move. With six members, half of whom are in support positions, properly spaced out, a 212-inch line can be effectively moved a significant distance, including making several turns into a fire building or out onto a fire floor (photo 21).

Training, Training, and more Training

Of the seven keys to success when using a 212-inch attack line, the seventh key is by far the most important. Just as it’s written-“training, training, and more training”-training never ends, and you’re never finished preparing. Unfortunately, as stated at the beginning of this article, many have written off the Big Line and disregarded it as a realistic tactical option. Because of that, they’re certainly not going to train on it. I mean really, what would be the point? They believe that they can’t do it anyway. Once again, it begins with a can-do attitude.

To become efficient and effective with a 212-inch attack line, an engine company must schedule a reasonable amount of training into the daily routine. You’re not going to train on the Big Line every shift, but a good company makes every attempt to do some sort of drill on different topics each shift. With runs, inspections, housework, and rig maintenance, a busy company will not always get the opportunity to complete a daily drill. The point is this: Put it on the schedule, try and get it done, and do what you can when you can.

A short, but productive drill on the use of 212-inch hose at least twice a month, more if possible, will yield results in a very short time. The frequency and consistency of the training are important, but so, too, is the quality of the drill. Pulling a preconnected 212-inch line off the rig in front of the firehouse and then squirting some water on the grass while wearing gym shorts and a T-shirt is certainly better than nothing, but it is far from a realistic and truly valuable drill. When we arrive at a fire, we’re wearing full PPE and SCBA. For interior operations, we’re down low, on the floor, with our SCBA face pieces on, breathing air. During drills, some firefighters will ask, Do you want us in full gear? Hoods too? Do I need my gloves? The answer is always very simple: Use everything you would normally use at a real fire. As the saying goes, “You practice like you play.”

Quality training involves being very creative. Company officers and training officers must constantly work to create new, interesting, and innovative ways to train firefighters, especially on repetitive evolutions and the fundamentals. When drilling with the Big Line, it is always best to make the drill as realistic as possible. Make every attempt to use actual buildings for stretching lines. When I was the captain of DFD Engine Co. 3, there were a lot of abandoned buildings in my district. I would frequently take my crew out for drills in those buildings. In our dismally litigious society, it now takes an act of congress for many fire departments to use private property for training. Once their lawyers talk to the city attorneys, it’s all over. However, make every effort to find buildings scheduled for demolition, and be tenacious during the long process of getting approval from the property owner, the fire department bosses, and even any lawyers that get involved. Nothing is better than live training in acquired structures, especially if live-fire training is part of the curriculum.

If the opportunities for acquired buildings and training on private property are few and far between, remember, you have a great location you can use anytime. Pull the pumper out on the street, hook up to the hydrant in front of the firehouse, and stretch a big line into the basement. The older firehouses are well suited for this; and if you’re careful, some areas of the new palaces can also be used for a quality drill. Another option is the playground at your local city park. On numerous occasions, I took my firefighters down to Curtis Park for a drill. When the playground was not occupied, we’d stretch the Big Line to one side of the playground, call for water, go on air, and move through the playground equipment, periodically flowing water. It probably looked odd, but what an excellent way to hone the basic skills associated with moving a Big Line through numerous friction points.


My FDIC Engine Company Standpipe Operations H.O.T. team has a very simple motto that each member lives by: “Excellence is a continuous journey, not a one-time destination.” An engine company with the ability to go beyond the preconnect and use powerful weapons such as the Big Line demonstrates excellence. The most valuable tools in the engine company are the true firefighters with can-do attitudes. By following the seven keys to success, your engine company can develop the skills necessary to achieve fireground success with the Big Line.

Special thanks to all the members of the FDIC Engine Company Standpipe Operations Hands-on Training (H.O.T.) team and members of the Denver Fire Department Tower Ladder Co. 22, specifically Firefighters John Foster, Sean Roeper, and Eric Zuick, for their assistance in the preparation of this article.


1. “Firefighter Dies from Burn Injuries Sustained at a Structure Fire” (West Deptford Twp., NJ, Jan. 1, 2001). New Jersey Division of Fire Safety Firefighter Fatality and Serious Injury Report Series, Dec. 15, 2003. (Div. Of Fire Safety, Dept. of Community Affairs, State of N.J.).

DAVID M. McGRAIL is a 23-year veteran of the fire service and a district chief with the Denver (CO) Fire Department. He instructs internationally on fireground strategy and tactics, engine company operations, high-rise firefighting, and standpipe operations. He is the lead instructor for the H.O.T. Engine Company (Standpipe) at the FDIC, FDIC East, and FDIC West. He is a classroom and keynote speaker at FESA Singapore and is also a member of the FDIC and FDIC West educational advisory boards. He has written for numerous fire service publications and is a member of the Fire Engineering editorial advisory board. He is the author of the upcoming book on high-rise firefighting operations, to be published by Fire Engineering. He has two associate of applied science degrees in fire science technology from Red Rocks Community College and two bachelor of science degrees from Metropolitan State College of Denver, one in human resource management and the other in fire service administration.

(17) The last firefighter on the support team has a very demanding job. He must work to keep the line moving forward. During standpipe operations, this means pulling and pushing the line up the stairs and toward the team members operating on the fire floor. Shouldering the hose, driving with the legs, and pulling on the handrail for additional power-all will help keep the line moving.


(18) This firefighter is operating at a corner friction point, down low, receiving line from the firefighter on the stairs and helping move that line forward. For extra leverage and strength, firefighters can push their feet against a doorjamb and use their leg muscles to achieve maximum power.


(19) The last member of the second engine company or support team must remain very fluid, moving forward and backward along the line, freeing the line at multiple friction points and returning to the entry point as necessary to pull more line into the fire building. This position is the most physically demanding assignment on the Big Line. (Photo by Timothy Tonge.)


20) All members of the second engine company or support team may have to move forward or backward on the line to directly communicate with other members. The operation is very dynamic, and all members must remember to maintain contact with the line at all times, especially in heavy smoke conditions, as the line will lead to the other team members and safety.


(21) During standpipe operations, the last firefighter will move to the floor below, push more line up to the half landing, and then push that line the remaining distance up and out onto the fire floor. This is extremely physical and completely unglamorous work.


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