Stretching and Advancing the Initial Handline


An engine company’s most basic function is to get water on the fire. To perform this task, the company must effectively stretch and advance the hoseline, which involves getting the hoseline from the hosebed on the engine to the position inside the fire building from where the fire attack will be launched. As a professional, it is important that you can perform this basic task in a timely and effective manner. The most aggressive crews of firefighters are worthless if they have not stretched and advanced their handline in a manner that will allow them to attack the fire. What good are engine companies who stretch a hoseline to the front door of a burning residence and advance the line into the building only to find that they need another 15 feet of hose to make the turn into the bedroom that is on fire? Remember, attacking the fire is the most important initial fireground operation; it is the quickest way to save lives.

To effectively perform hoseline stretching and advancement operations, firefighters must first understand the difference between stretching a hoseline and advancing a hoseline. Stretching hoselines involves uncharged lines. Because no water is available in these hoselines, you must perform stretching operations in non-immediately dangerous to life or health environments. This may include outside the building as well as in stairwells and on uninvolved floors. Hoseline advancement is the movement of charged hoselines. Stretching operations set up advancement operations that allow the fire attack to be made. Both operations are essential for an effective fire attack.

Hoseline operations may differ from each other in multiple ways such as the type of building, the number of floors, the size of the hose, and the type of hose load on the engine. For example, my department uses 200-foot preconnected hoselines that can be used for forward and reverse lay operations and can be added onto as needed. Other departments, such as the Detroit (MI) Fire Department, use much different hose loads such as the “Detroit Bundle,” which is designed for reverse lay operations and consists of approximately 750 feet of 2½-inch hose with a gated wye on the end followed by between three and five lengths of 1¾-inch hose attached to the gated wye. These two hose loads operate differently, but the principles of stretching and advancing these hoselines remain the same.

Before you can stretch and advance hoselines, you must estimate the hose stretch. This estimation is performed in three phases in the following order:

  • The fire area.
  • The distance from the building entrance to the fire area.
  • The distance from the building entrance to the engine.

The rule of thumb for performing this estimation is to start at the fire area and make your way back to the engine. Allocate 50 feet of hose for the fire area; this will allow you to make an effective fire attack. The exception would be for extremely large areas; in this case, provide more than 50 feet for the fire area. After determining the amount of hoseline that will be needed for the fire area, estimate the amount of hoseline needed to span the distance from the entrance of the building to the fire area. Provide 50 feet of hoseline for each floor leading up to the fire floor; this should ensure that enough hoseline is provided regardless of the type of stairwell you encounter. Last, determine the distance between the engine and the entrance to the building, and provide the proper amount of hoseline.

Once you have determined the needed amount of hoseline, begin stretching and advancing operations. Although the estimation of the hoseline stretch began at the fire area and worked back to the engine, the stretching and advancing operations will begin at the engine and work to the fire area. Perform the stretching and advancing of the hoselines in the following three phases, which should be done in this order:

  1. From the engine to the building.
  2. From the entrance of the building to the fire area.
  3. Into the fire area.

Complete each of these phases before moving to the next; this ensures that the entire hoseline is available and nothing is left lying in the street while the crew attacking the fire needs more line.

On a hoseline being stretched and advanced by a three-person crew, the assignments should include nozzle, backup, and control.

  • The nozzle firefighter is responsible for operating the nozzle as well as the first 50-foot section of hoseline. This firefighter must ensure that he has the proper amount of hoseline needed before advancing any further.
  • The backup firefighter is responsible for assisting the nozzle firefighter with stretching and advancing the hoseline. One of his most important functions is to assist in navigating turns.
  • The control firefighter is responsible for ensuring that all of the hose has been stretched and advanced. As the nozzle and backup firefighters enter the building, the control firefighter must ensure that the hose advancement proceeds from phase 1 to phase 2; this means that this firefighter must get all of the hoseline into the building before moving up to the next position. Once phase 1 is completed and there is no hose remaining outside of the fire building, the control firefighter must then perform the same task inside the building, ensuring that the hoseline has been advanced completely from floor to floor before moving to the next floor. By performing the hose advancement in this manner, it is ensured that every foot of hoseline is available for the fire attack.

Engine companies perform many functions, but stretching and advancing hoselines (the most basic tasks they perform) and attacking the fire remain their primary functions and responsibilities. Since stretching and advancing hoselines are simple yet essential tasks, they should be instinctual. Taking the extra couple of seconds to properly stretch and advance a hoseline rather than simply rushing through the operation will make a great difference when the attack team reaches the fire area.

Proper stretching and advancement operations will ensure that every foot of the hoseline is inside the building and available to the attack team. A professional engine company should never stretch short and, unless they must make an extremely long advancement on multiple floors, must be advanced in their skill.

ANTHONY ROWETT JR. is a captain for the Mobile (AL) Fire Rescue Department. Rowett was previously a firefighter for the Ogdensburg (NJ) Fire Department. He has an associate degree in fire science technology from the County College of Morris in Randolph, New Jersey, and bachelor’s and master’s degrees in fire science and emergency services management, respectively, from Columbia Southern University.


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