Opinions from around the country

The last statistic I remember hearing is that 95 percent of our fires are handled with one line or less (you can use your imagination regarding the “or less”-handheld extinguisher, bucket of water, or whatever). Under those circumstances, tank water is probably sufficient. However, the other five percent of fires will require more than one line and, hence, more water.

Our policy is that “every engine shall ensure its own continuous water supply.” If the officer believes he can handle the fire on tank water, he need not lay in from a hydrant. If, after sizing up initial fire conditions, the engine officer believes the fire may require more than the tank, that engine must lay its own line or have another engine lay in. Inner-city engine officers, whose stations’ locations are based on the assumption of how far a horse could run, and which usually are a mile or so away from another station, can afford to have another engine lay in. Those newer stations located farther apart find themselves providing more water for their engines because of the distance from which other units are responding. Either way, to run out of water before they run out of fire is a very big error that could have very severe consequences. We pay them good money to make good decisions; almost 100 percent of the time, they make the right decision concerning their water supply.

John “Skip” Coleman, deputy chief of fire prevention, Toledo (OH) Department of Fire and Rescue, is the author of Incident Management for the Street-Smart Fire Officer (Fire Engineering, 1997) and Managing Major Fires (Fire Engineering, 2000). He is an editorial advisory board member of Fire Engineering and a member of the FDIC Educational Advisory Board.

Question: Some departments require the first-in engine to “always” lay its own supply line at a fire. In other departments, the first-in engine never lays its own supply line. Does your department have a written policy on the first-in engine and its water supply?

Ron Hiraki, assistant chief, Gig Harbor (WA) Fire & Medic One

Response: We do not have a written policy that the first-in engine always lay or get its own water supply. Since we are a combination department that serves urban and rural areas, a number of variables create a challenge. In our rural areas with older homes, there are no hydrants, and the water supply is from a fleet of 3,000-gallon tenders. The second variable is long driveways. Our response area is a peninsula-two islands connected by a bridge. We have a lot of waterfront property with long driveways in addition to estate-type farms. In these situations, laying a supply means laying forward dry so that we can keep the tenders and the water-shuttle operation out on the main road. The third factor involves staffing and response times. These times are not consistent from our volunteer stations. This impacts what the first-in engine may do or has to do.

We have been working to standardize and improve our size-up reports so that subsequent arriving units know what the situation is, what the first unit is doing, and what needs to be done. Our Training Division Chief, Tracy Lyon, is developing standard commands and definitions such as “laying forward dry,” “laying forward wet,” “next-in engine establish a water supply,” and “we have a hydrant.” These simple measures help to ensure a safe and efficient operation.

Rick Lasky, chief, Lewisville (TX) Fire Department

Response: First, the words “always” and “never” often don’t apply to a dynamic fireground, unless they have to do with safety. Our department’s policy is as follows: The first-arriving engine or quint chooses whether to do a forward lay into the fire, do a reverse lay out, or have the next-in company bring in a supply line. It often depends on several issues: Is a lot of fire showing on arrival, or was there a large header on the way in, which would mean using more than just the tank water right away? If so, this engine/quint would have to lay in with its own supply line. If nothing or light smoke is showing, the next-arriving company could lay in for this engine/quint, which could go to work with its tank water in a quick-attack mode. If there is a delay in the next-closest company’s getting in, the engine/quint would have to lay its own.

When they do lay in for themselves, engines/quints are reminded to lay the line to one side of the street so that the truck company and other units can make it in to the scene. To back things up a little, on our first-alarm responses, often the first-arriving ambulance assists in stretching the supply line and gives the first-due driver engineer a hand if it’s not a real long stretch. Most often, this is how it works, and it works well.

We try to allow our company officers to think on their feet and change things a little if they think it necessary-the decision the majority of times lies with them. The communication between the companies determines how well the system works. If they talk to each other and let each other know if they need water, it works well.

Michael J. Allora, lieutenant, Clifton (NJ) Fire Department

Response: Our procedure states that two independent water supplies should be established for a structure fire. If smoke or fire is visible, the first-due engine company should consider securing a water supply at the closest hydrant. An officer and two firefighters usually staff our engine companies. The first-due engine may wrap the hydrant and lay a five-inch supply line to the scene while the second-due engine completes the hydrant connection. If the first-due has a third firefighter, this firefighter can be left at the hydrant to complete the connection. This requires good radio communication between the responding companies.

There have been, and will continue to be, instances where first-due does not lay its own supply line, whether it be that there is no accessible hydrant on the approach or there are no indications of a fire prior to arrival. In instances such as these, the second-due unit will have a much harder time getting the first-due unit a water supply. The fire attack will be initiated using the tank water.

There are instances where the fire may be in an area that would make it difficult for the second-due engine to get the first-due engine a water supply. Examples include dead-end streets or some garden apartments. It would be a good idea for the first-due unit to consider laying a supply line at the entrance to these areas to allow the second-due unit to complete the split lay at the nearest hydrant.

Thomas Dunne, deputy chief, Fire Department of New York

Response: New York City has an extensive and generally reliable hydrant system. The chauffeur of the first engine is required to position the apparatus at a hydrant and initiate a water supply while the other personnel are stretching the hoseline.

The second engine to arrive is generally responsible for helping the first engine get the hoseline into position. However, the second engine chauffeur (as well as all subsequent engine chauffeurs) is also required to position his rig near a serviceable hydrant. This provides an essential backup water source should the first engine’s hydrant prove to be inoperative or inadequate. It also allows for more water capacity if numerous hoselines or large-caliber streams are required.

There are approximately 200 engine companies in our department. Each engine is staffed with a chauffeur, an officer, and three or four additional firefighters. Departments not as well staffed could on occasion manage to have the first-arriving engine initiate a hose stretch while the driver establishes a water supply. This would be only under ideal conditions involving a short hose stretch and a conveniently located water source.

If long stretches are needed or establishing a water supply is difficult, the absence of sufficient personnel will delay putting water on the fire. Fire problems (and life hazards) will increase exponentially.

Not all local governments are sufficiently educated on the problems inherent with a delayed or inadequate water supply. Understaffed departments can legitimately argue that having the apparatus and personnel available for a quick water supply is a form of insurance-and, like insurance, you never give it much thought until something bad happens and you discover that you don’t have enough of it.

John O’Neal, chief, Manassas Park (VA) Fire Dpartment

Response: Our department has a written policy stipulating when fire conditions warrant that the first-due engine establish a continuous water supply by laying its own supply line on arrival. If the first-due engine does not establish its own water supply by policy for residential and nonprotected commercial occupancies, the second-due engine will lay the supply line. For protected commercial occupancies, the second engine will lay and supply the fire department connection, and the third-due engine will ensure that the first-due unit has a continuous water supply. Our policies mirror those of the region because of the extensive use of automatic aid in northern Virginia.

Gary Seidel, chief, Hillsboro (OR) Fire Department

Response: The City of Hillsboro maintains a Class 2 ISO rating. In addition to having an extremely good water and hydrant system, our engines have 1,000-gallon tanks. Therefore, the large volume of water available on the apparatus allows the company officer to choose whether to lay or not to lay a supply line. This choice is made after evaluating several factors, including the location of the incident, the type of structure(s), the source of the water supply available, the additional companies responding, the amount of fire observed, and the life safety risk.

Jeffrey Schwering, lieutenant, Crestwood (MO) Department of Fire Services

Response: Our department operates two engines out of one house. According to our policy, the first engine is the water supply company; the next engine is the “holding” or attack company. Since we have gone to five-inch hose as our main supply line, we now have more flexibility in our policy.

Although the policy is still in effect, the company officers have the latitude to make changes as needed. Street size, hydrant location, location of the fire building, and so on, all play a crucial role in the company officer’s decision in making a forward or a reverse lay. We make every effort to forward lay into a structure fire. By doing this, we can place both engines in front of the fire building. This allows for a faster attack and knockdown of the fire with all of our on-duty personnel while awaiting our automatic-aid companies.

Leigh Hollins, battalion chief, Cedar Hammock (FL) Fire Rescue

Response: Our department follows a countywide recommended operating guideline (ROG) that indicates the functions of each arriving engine and truck. The ROG calls for the second-arriving engine to establish a water supply, when needed. The manner in which the supply line is laid is flexible: forward, reverse, hand-jack from first engine.

The first-arriving engine is responsible for size-up or investigation, forcible entry, search and rescue, and placement of the initial attack line. The second-arriving engine locates and establishes the initial water supply, provides personnel to supplement secondary attack lines or rescue operations, and supports sprinkler and standpipe operations, if applicable.

Craig H. Shelley, fire protection advisor, Saudi Aramco

Response: Our department does not have a written policy regarding providing our own water supply, but in practice, the first-arriving engine will always supply its own water. Since there are limited resources (eight persons) on the first-response fire department crew, they must be self-sufficient. Most of our responses are to industrial facilities, where the plant operators are trained in firefighting and have used fire extinguishers on incipient-level fires or have started operating fixed fire-water monitors on larger fires to contain the fire.

This is in addition to the fire department’s eight responders. We also have plant emergency response teams that respond to assist the fire department with additional staffing at incidents. However, the first response engine from the fire station will connect to a water supply. In my years in the fire service, I have seen incidents where the first-in unit does not connect to a water supply, relying on the second-in unit. This works only when the second-in unit is right behind the first. If a delay were to occur, we would be placing our first-in crew in jeopardy. Communication is vital. In my previous department, we ran a three-unit response with the second engine spotting the hydrant. The crew would hook up and supply the first-in unit with water in a structure fire. If the second unit was not responding with the first, then the initial engine supplied its own water from a hydrant. Once again, communication and policies are key.

Steve Kreis, assistant chief, Phoenix (AZ) Fire Department

Response: We do not require first-in companies to lay their own supply line; but, if you don’t lay in and things go wrong, you need to have a really, really good reason for not following standard engine company operations. If you elect not to lay a supply line and things work well, you still need to have a pretty good reason for not following standard engine company operations.

There are very few times when the first-in company laying in its own supply line could create a problem at an incident. More often than not, however, the operation was at a disadvantage-or worse, a real mess-when the first-in company didn’t lay in. The first-in engine’s not laying a supply line sets up all types of problems, ranging from messing up tactical options to getting somebody hurt.

We have good company officers who make high-quality decisions when we train them properly. For our department, it makes sense to teach officers the advantages and disadvantages of laying supply lines and then allowing them to make the right decisions on the fireground, thus our reason for not having a black-and-white rule about laying supply lines.

Standard conditions (fires) should cause us to perform standard actions (laying supply lines), which will produce standard outcomes (everybody goes home sitting up, and we successfully perform our mission). That’s the goal-as a general rule, lay supply lines.

Shawn L. Connery, assistant chief, Little Egg Harbor (NJ) Fire District

Response: Our policy is complex at this time, and our situation is not in the majority, I am sure. Our hydrants are very sparse, and our first-due carries 3,000 gallons of water.

The first-in unit: Don’t hit the hydrant. Go directly in, position just past the structure, and make attack unless you are sure the volume of fire will require more than the water you have. Hit the hydrant if the volume of fire is large or if requested to do so by your officer. (Can you see the fire from a distance, or has the officer on-scene notified you to hit the hydrant?)

The second-in unit is an aerial to be positioned in front of the structure.

The third-in unit is an engine bringing the large-diameter hose (LDH) from the hydrant or reverse laying to the hydrant. We use a hydrant valve that allows the supply engine to use the same hydrant as the first-in unit when necessary.

Mike Froelich, lieutenant, Sylvania Twp. (OH) Fire Department

Response: Our department’s standard operating guidelines (SOGs) for commercial and residential structure fires state, “The first-in engine company must identify an adequate uninterrupted water supply …. Water supply may be assigned to the next due engine …. In situations where large volumes of fire are present, a supply shall be established.”

An operating guideline such as this is just that, a guide. It can be altered as needed to fit each situation, which, as we all know, is not the same. Our actions are determined by size-up, which starts at dispatch; knowing the district, the type of structure you’re responding to, the time of day (concerning occupancy), how long before arrival of the second-due engine, staffing, and any prearrival information from dispatch. Once arriving on-scene, the size-up will include what is seen and how best to start operations with present personnel (which could be two-, three-, or four-person engines, depending on that day’s staffing). On a “nothing showing” report, the second-due engine stages at the closest hydrant. All of our engines (three engines, a quint, and two reserve) carry 1,000-gallon water tanks, which also play a role in the decision on when to drop a line. My personal choice is to at least drop a line from the plug when any smoke is showing and let the second- or third-due hook it up if it’s needed.

William Carey, sergeant, Hyattsville Volunteer Fire Department, Prince George’s County, MD

Response: Our department’s general order for the first-due engine is that it will lay a continuous water supply. This will normally be accomplished by the use of a forward, straight lay from the closest appropriate hydrant or water supply point. The same applies for the third-due engine on Side Charlie (rear) with consideration being given to the arrival and positioning of the second-due truck company. It seems to go without saying that the engine company, particularly the first-due engine company, would “lay out” whether or not an emergency is observed. However, there is one big influence that has most departments making a general order for something so simple: laziness.

A lazy shift that doesn’t check its tools, that doesn’t drill, and that doesn’t dress for “bells” is likely not to lay out unless the crew sees smoke as it turns the corner. There should be no excuse for not laying out. The only exception would be if the first-due engine has a hydrant closer to the fire building than the one it passed coming in. In this case, the engine company can do a “back stretch” or “reverse the 400” (the longest preconnect line on our engines) and the engine can pull up to the hydrant, flaking out the last section of this hose load as it goes down the street.

Engine companies that accept not “laying out” when approaching the fire building should be drilling on how to get water when they get inside.

Anthony Brooks, lieutenant, Columbus (OH) Division of Fire

Response: We have an SOP that states, “Supply lines should be laid and charged whenever interior crews are expected to use more than 25% of the vehicle’s water tank capacity.”

We have another SOP that states, “If fire or smoke is showing, the officer in charge has the option of laying a line or going on in. Officers in charge of engines with 1,000-gallon tanks should always be thinking of responding directly to the fire building without laying a supply line. If there is any doubt … good judgment may dictate laying a supply line ….”

Generally, our second-in engine company lays the supply line, but if heavy involvement is encountered on arrival, companies are to lay in to the fire, supplying their own water.

Also, we only use five-inch supply lines. We carry three-inch lines, but they are generally used to supply ladder pipes and deck guns or to refill tanks.

Danny Wnek, firefighter, Cayuga Heights (NY) Fire Department

Response: There’s no blanket best or worst policy in this case. Coming from a small but very well staffed volunteer department, we’re lucky that shortly after the first engine is on-scene, our second supply engine is just around the corner. Therefore, it’s our department’s policy that the first-in engine does not lay its own supply line but instead takes care of whatever initial operations are appropriate for the situation. This way, we don’t lose any time once on-scene, and it’s a little weight off the backs of the firefighters on the first-in engine; they’ll have plenty of other things to worry about once inside.

Many departments don’t have this luxury. When you arrive on the scene of a working fire, water supply is one of the factors that can make or break your attack. It’s critical to ensure that your water supply-particularly if you’re doing an interior attack-remains uninterrupted. It may not be ideal to lose those few extra moments having to lay your own line, but you must maintain your own water supply if you cannot guarantee, beyond a doubt, that the cavalry is on its way.

Kai W. Rieger, captain, Jackson Township Fire Department, Canton, Ohio

Response: In the fire service, we know that “always” and “never” are dangerous words to use in tactics. Laying your own supply line depends on your personnel and equipment response to the incident and the timeframe of when your help arrives.

If your first-due engine company is responding alone and the next-arriving unit is six or more minutes away, you must seriously consider laying your own supply line. Even if you use booster tank water to start operations, an operating stream will drain the booster tank dry long before help arrives to get hydrant water.

We operate under SOGs that state the first-due engine goes to the fire and operates off booster tank water. Our second-due engines are usually very close (one to two minutes) behind us and, if needed, will reverse lay from the attack engine to the hydrant. There is an option for the engine officer to change that operation at his discretion. If the first-due engine’s position is close to a hydrant (usually less than 100 feet), the engine driver will hand-stretch to a hydrant after he charges the line with booster water. This will be relayed over the radio or face-to-face with the second-due engine to advise of a change of operations. The second-due engine will confirm the water supply and assist in getting the attack line in place and can put a backup line in operation if necessary.

Jim Mason, lieutenant, Chicago (IL) Fire Department

Response: On neighborhood responses, the first engine would secure a positive source of water from the closest hydrant on the block. Typically, the duty of the second engine would be to ensure that the first engine had a positive source. The idea is to get the first attack line in service as quickly as possible to stop the spread of the fire. For the second engine, this may be as simple as helping pull LDH hose to the first engine’s hydrant or as involved as dropping LDH to the first engine and laying line to a distant hydrant. Then the second engine would be concerned with securing a separate source of water in case the first engine had troubles that stopped the advance of the attack line.

When the incident commander (IC) or the first-arriving engine company officers recognize the fire to be fast spreading or large or believe that the attack should be defensive, the second engine would immediately secure its own water supply from a hydrant separate from the one used by the first engine. The second engine would then start an additional attack line in a flanking mode that would complement the first engine’s attack. This would be for two reasons: again, in case the first engine lost water for some reason, and to reach the critical flow of water needed for delivery to the seat of the fire.

Brian Halwachs, captain and training officer, French Village Fire Department, Fairview Heights, IL

Response: At this time, it is left to the first-due company officer or the chief officer, if he arrives on-scene prior to the engine. We use the principle of “big fire, big water,” so if the need arose, the company officer would not hesitate to lay his own line. Any tactical maneuver performed without a continuous water supply is nothing more than a reckless gamble.

Greg Perricone, chauffeur/firefighter, Setauket (NY) Fire Department

Response: As a chauffeur on engines and ladders, it is imperative that I know my response duties. Our 2005 operating guidelines require chauffeur/drivers to “place [the] engine where directed or past the front of the dwelling, without blocking access for the ladder of other units. If a hydrant is in close proximity, position at or near the hydrant, test, and hook up if needed.”

As a result of the guideline, first-due engine companies may pass the hydrant and roll directly into the scene. However, our chief officers manage us closely. If they are on-scene initially, they will determine whether the first-due picks up a hydrant or not. More often than not, it is left to the second-due unit-usually on confirmation of an actual fire. With all of our first-due engine companies carrying 750 gallons of water and preconnected 134-inch attack hose with smoothbore nozzles, most room-and-contents fires are being extinguished with tank water. Factor in that a typical confirmed structure fire (in the vicinity of or reported by the neighbors) in our fire district gets a minimum of three (standardized 750-gallon water tank) engine companies carrying 2,250 gallons of water, it is easy to see why hose laying has gone from being a must to being an option, at least in our corner of the metropolitan New York area.

Andrew Bencomo, battalion chief, Las Cruces (NM) Fire Department

Response: Our department does not have a written “requirement” for the first-due engine to take a water supply; this is the company officer’s decision to make based on the situation. That being said, they should take a water supply as first due if smoke or fire is showing. This way, if a “dead” hydrant or some other issue related to water supply presents itself, the second-due unit will not find this out later, causing the third-due unit to have to find a water supply. Basically, you arrive at that conclusion sooner this way and also “guarantee” yourself a water supply in case anything should stop or delay the later-arriving units.

C. Michael Buchanan, chief, Sterling (VA) Volunteer Fire Company

Response: Our first engine is supposed to lay out or hand-jack an LDH line into the fire. On rare occasions, the second engine reverse lays from the first engine. The second engine is responsible for hitting the plug and establishing the water supply for the first engine.

Ross A. Baker, firefighter, Washington Township Fire Department, Dublin, Ohio

Response: Saying “always” or “never” is sometimes questionable in this business. To have a hard-and-fast rule on the table for laying or not laying a supply line might backfire someday. It is the experience and knowledge of that first-arriving officer that determine what will serve the operation best. We have written guidelines, but they reference only options like laying a supply line (uncharged) and then letting the next-in company hook up and pump to you, laying a supply line (charged), or proceeding directly to the fire (no line laid). We are also able to do a reverse lay if the situation arises. We are not held to only one set-in-stone rule.

My personal feeling is that if staffing permits and I realize going into the scene that I have an advanced fire, I prefer to establish my own water supply. This gives the engine plenty of water, which is especially useful if we are going into a “big-fire” situation. I would rather know going in that I have water than wait on another company to get it for me. If a medic unit is behind the engine, its personnel get the line and allow the engine to proceed to the fire with its full complement of personnel.

Other factors are how far the fire is from the water source and if “laying in” will affect any other operations negatively. The majority of the time, the engine will go directly to the fire because of the close proximity of hydrants and the closeness of the next-arriving engine. However, it is nice to have options.

All options have their advantages and disadvantages. Experience is often the best teacher for decisions like this. Doing a personal size-up of your crew’s ability and the type of district your department responds in can help steer you toward good critical decision making. Having a good uninterrupted water source and an aggressive crew to deliver it will make the end result much more desirable. Having your apparatus set up for forward and reverse lays doesn’t limit your engine company to only one way of doing things.

Matt Rettmer, lieutenant, Castle Rock (CO) Fire and Rescue Department

Response: We currently are revising our SOGs, and this topic will be discussed with our command staff. However, our officers will lay in when there is considerable smoke or fire showing. Knowing the status (travel distance/time) of the second-due will determine if I lay in or not. I believe that my crew can be more productive and efficient by getting to the scene and setting up for fire attack. We have adequate water supply throughout our district, and all engines carry 500 gallons or more of water. Not laying in makes the second-due’s job easy, as it will be primary water supply; our quint can operate and function as the truck. We are successful in operating this way because we have very good radio size-ups that include whether we lay in or want the next-due to bring the water.

Bert Witherspoon, firefighter/paramedic, Denton (TX) Fire/Rescue

Response: Our department’s policy says that the first-due engine company arriving at a working structure fire, if there is not sufficient personnel on-scene yet to formally form a four-person crew, may perform exterior actions in preparation for an interior attack. This includes establishing a water supply (LDH), shutting off utilities, setting ladders, and so on. This is in place to follow the “two-in/two-out rule.”

Our department does not officially participate in the National Fire Protection Association 1710 standard recommendation of a four-person engine crew. However, occasionally when we are fully staffed, four firefighters are placed on apparatus.

For the most part, the second-arriving apparatus, other than an ambulance, will perform the necessary lay-in and supply the water unless otherwise directed by the IC. In our city, we are very lucky to have a great water supply in most areas of our jurisdiction. Water supply is usually not a significant problem.

Andrew Marsh, lieutenant, Mount Oliver Fire Department, Pittsburgh, PA

Response: Although we have no written water supply policy, we do have one relative to what we will “roll” first. That policy is based on daylight calls, when staffing is very limited, and one for the evening calls, when we can expect more personnel. For the daylight calls, our quint rolls out first, establishes the water supply, and does whatever the crew can to lead to a favorable outcome. For calls after 6 p.m., our engine rolls out first and will establish the water supply. This is a general rule of thumb and is subject to change based on the street conditions, staffing, hydrant locations, and the IC.

Both the quint and the engine have supply lines, so a few scenarios could play out. We found that what works best is that the hydrant man-after the line is laid, connected, and charged-will handle our accountability system. (That is also written in that policy.) Fortunately, we train frequently, and we have safe, aggressive, and efficient suppression crews and “truckies.” In addition, our staffing at our weekly drills is strong, averaging 17 to 21 people each week. Better yet, we have company and chief officers who are aggressive and progressive, stay on top of training, and continue their training and pass it on. In addition, these officers have open minds and are not afraid to try something new if it provides a safer environment on the fireground for all involved.

Ed Herrmann, lieutenant, Boynton Beach (FL) Fire Rescue

Response: Our department has chosen not to make this a rigid policy but to leave it to the discretion of the first-arriving officer instead. We do, however, regularly train the initial engine to immediately begin its attack role and the second-due engine to catch a hydrant on the way in and establish the water supply. This course of action allows for an immediate attack on the fire and, in a rescue situation, allows our first-responding medic unit to begin its search of the structure for victims under the protection of the attack team’s hoseline.

The initial decision, of course, depends on a number of factors, including the second-due engine’s estimated time of arrival, the proximity of the closest hydrant, engine staffing that day (usually three), evaluation of the incident, and so on. We are able to use this game plan in most of our fires, thanks to the relatively small area of our city (16 square miles) and the number of stations we operate. With an engine (in most cases equipped with an aerial device) and a medic unit (also with three personnel) at each of four stations as well as a truck/special operations crew, we normally have a second station arriving within a few minutes of the first.

Thanks to the construction boom in our area, this plan has been pushed to its limits of late. We are now in the process of adding a fifth station to accommodate our 60,000 residents.

Brian K. Singles, firefighter, Hampton (VA) Fire Department

Response: Our department does not have such an official written policy. The decision for laying a supply line is left to the discretion of the first-due engine company officer, who decides based on information gathered at the time of dispatch and additional information such as the dispatcher’s informing them of calls from neighbors reporting seeing smoke or fire coming from the structure. Such information would indicate a working fire and give the first-due engine’s company officer a heads-up with regard to laying in.

Nine times out of 10, a seasoned veteran firefighting officer will have the engineer lay the unit’s supply line to establish a constant water supply. I have worked with this type of officer, and we have always supported each other’s decisions made during the firefight. The only reason we would not lay a supply line from the first-in engine is if the dispatcher informs us that occupants may be trapped inside the structure.

In that case, we would radio the second-due engine to lay a supply line for us, the first engine, so we can attempt a quick rescue of the trapped occupants using tank water. That strategy also enables the first-due ladder truck to get the front of the structure to do its thing.

Every fire department has SOPs and written policies for how they would like to conduct business on the fireground. Use them as guidelines, but also use your brain. Most importantly, use what you have learned in the past based on experience relative to laying a supply line. We have all been taught that it is better to have hose on the ground and not have to use it than to need it and not have it. It takes only a few minutes to pack it back in the bed after the fire is out.

Lance C. Peeples, instructor, St. Louis County (MO) Fire Academy

Response: “Always” and “never” are two words that strike fear in my heart whenever I hear them around the firehouse kitchen. The engine company officer must consider multiple factors when deciding whether to establish a sustained water supply. For example, if I forward lay a five-inch supply line down the middle of a narrow dead-end street lined with cars on both sides, will I block out the truck? If I plan on reverse laying, what happens if the truck enters the fire block from the opposite end? Will I be blocked out from the hydrant? What is my staffing level? Can I spare a hydrant man? Do I have a report of people trapped? Do I see the second-due engine arriving simultaneously? How much tank water do I carry? How much fire is showing? The engine officer must consider all of these issues and more prior to deciding on a course of action.

I have on more than one occasion witnessed engine companies run out of water after they began their initial attack using tank water. If engine companies are understaffed and a serious body of fire is present, the reverse lay, while slightly slower than using preconnects, ensures a safer operation and has the additional benefit of ensuring that the front of the building remains open for the ladder company. Obviously, as a general rule, it is much safer for engine companies to ensure a sustained water supply prior to commencing interior attack. However, experience and training may suggest extremely rare occasions when engine officers may wish to deviate from a policy of always laying their own supply lines.

Danny Kistner, battalion chief, Garland (TX) Fire Department

Response: We have no such written policies and procedures. Typically, the second-due company will establish the water supply. Written policy states that if the first-due company does not lay its own supply line, then the second-due company should be instructed to do so. Officers have the discretion to take action based on the needs of the incident.

Our city enjoys an excellent public water supply system and an abundance of fire hydrants dispersed throughout all response areas. Water supply is generally ensured.

All variables considered, the first-due company will proceed directly to the alpha (address) side of the structure and conduct a size-up. If a fire attack is necessary, apparatus tank water is used initially. The second-due engine company will stage at the closest fire hydrant if one is not proximal to the scene and await a verbal command to lay in. Orders are not assumed. First-due truck companies will proceed directly to the incident scene unless otherwise directed.

There are instances, however, when a second-due company may be delayed and the first arriving company officer will exercise his discretion to forward lay a supply line. Often, a fire hydrant is in relative close proximity to the incident scene, requiring a mere short section of supply line and connection by the first-due apparatus operator.

Establishing a water supply is imperative for obvious reasons. Making one particular way mandatory may stymie creative application on the fireground. The availability of resources will further dictate how this evolution will be carried out.

Bobby Halton, chief, Coppell (TX) Fire Department

Response: In our department, the question of laying a supply line or not laying a supply line is directly related to several factors: staffing, conditions, and information available on arrival. We do not require the first-in with smoke showing to catch a plug; however, we are in the process of implementing strap loads to make plug connections quicker and less personnel-intensive. Coppell is very fortunate in that very few structures are more than 300 feet from a hydrant.

Given these conditions, we have found that we can secure water supplies very efficiently when the first-due recognizes the need while responding. Engine company placement past the fire building generally makes it possible for the engineer to be supplied by the second-due or presents the option of hand-jacking a supply line while the crew deploys on tank water.

We also are conditioned to pump to the forward engine from a municipal hydrant if the fire is in a complex served by private hydrants. Although we require these hydrants be tested, we prefer to put our faith in our own people and equipment.

We found that hard-and-fast fireground rules all have exceptions and that well trained company officers supported by excellent communications make the best decisions. The issue of securing water is also affected by our coverage. We have excellent first-due coverage, and the cities of Lewisville, Carrollton, Irving, and Grapevine are very efficient and supportive neighbors.

The engine company carrying 500 gallons of water normally has some time, again, dependent on the distance from the engine to the fire door, access issues, fire conditions, and crew strength. We have found water supplies to be easily accessible and readily secured. We have hit bad plugs, and we are aware that water is our only weapon, so we closely watch fire conditions and rarely enter large-fire situations without first securing water.

When we have three on an engine, the officer must realize the delay created when laying in. If fire conditions are such that the officer recognizes the flow rate needed will quickly use up the tank water, then a hydrant must be secured.

When fire conditions are such that commercial lines (21/2-inch) will be used, securing a plug is critical. Residential lines (13/4-inch) by their very diameter flow less water and, therefore, can be sustained a while longer on tank to support search and rescue activities in residential structures.

Our general philosophy is to secure a water supply on arrival when smoke is showing or fire conditions are moderate, but we recognize rescue, staffing, and other issues may influence a company to opt for a tank water attack while a water supply is secured.

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