Firefighting: Roundtable: Booster Reel Use

By John “Skip” Coleman

I would like to think that in today’s fire service there are very few hard-and-fast rules. To be sure, there are some. Many fire departments have over time developed a rule to not turn on a positive pressure ventilation (PPV) fan until after the fire is located and darkened. Your department should have a rule about never allowing firefighters to enter a building that is involved in fire without wearing and placing in service a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). Why would you?

Some “hard-and-fasts” have evolved over time and trial, such as the PPV case. Others have evolved because we simply know better, such as the SCBA thing.

When I came on the job, every “pumper” (engine) had a “booster reel.” 1-inch rubber hose was attached with a combination nozzle. It was used primarily for trash, dumpster, and automobile fires, and at times for overhaul. On occasion, a crew would pull it as the initial attack line. This was frowned upon by the administration, but its use still lived on as one of those “dirty little secrets” in our department until about 1980 or so.

One time, a full-alarm response was dispatched to a restaurant/bar located along the Maumee River. It was a late-morning fire, if recollection serves me right. Seeing only light smoke and a pretty long stretch for such a small fire, the first-in officer decided to “allow” the booster to be the first line pulled. Well, a very short few minutes later, firefighters were driven from the building by fire.

No “pumper” (engine) was ever ordered new with a booster reel on it and all existing reels were incapacitated. Now, in my opinion, you punish the perpetrator, not the tool. Booster reels had (and, in my opinion, still have) a place in the fire service.

That brings me to this month’s question: Does your department allow the use of booster (1-inch rubber hose) for initial fire attack in structure fires?

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Skip Coleman: Firefighting RoundtableJohn “Skip” Coleman Fire Engineering; a member of the FDIC Educational Advisory Board; and author of Incident Management for the Street-Smart Fire Officer (Fire Engineering, 1997), Managing Major Fires (Fire Engineering, 2000), Incident Management for the Street-Smart Fire Officer, Second Edition (Fire Engineering, 2008) and Searching Smarter (Fire Engineering 2011) and 2011 recipient of the FDIC Tom Brennan Lifetime Achievement retired as assistant chief from the Toledo (OH) Department of Fire and Rescue. He is a technical editor of Fire Engineering.

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