STRETCHING HOSELINES: WHEN PRECONNECTS FALL SHORT

BY BILL GUSTIN

Most engine companies are fairly proficient at stretching and advancing preconnected hoselines. This is primarily because most preconnects can be deployed easily and can be stretched by only one or two firefighters. There is also the factor of skill built on repetition-that is, preconnects are the most frequently used hose loads, particularly for rural and suburban fire departments.

PRECONNECTS, PART 1: LOCATIONS, LOADS, AND “LEAD OUTS”

PRECONNECTS, PART 2: HOSE LOADS

PRECONNECTS, PART 3: EXTENDING THE HOSELINES

Some engine companies show a weakness in situations, however infrequent, that require a stretch beyond the length of preconnects. Failure to effectively stretch a hoseline longer than a preconnect is usually the result of one or more of the following: lack of training, shortage of personnel, improper/inadequate size-up, and hose loads that are not configured to facilitate a long hand stretch.


Stretching three-inch hose beyond the reach of preconnects: (1) The first firefighter in the stretch shoulders the gated wye and the first double coupling.

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Preconnected hoselines, which generally range from 150 to 300 feet in length, are effective only when a pumping apparatus can position close enough to the fire. Obstacles such as fences, landscaping, parked vehicles, and garbage dumpsters can block apparatus from spotting within preconnect range. This problem is only going to get worse for suburban fire departments as their growing communities become more congested. Additionally, consider that many suburban fire departments today are running large, multiuse apparatus, such as quints and pumper-tankers, as first-due engine companies. These behemoths are often too large and cumbersome to maneuver within the range of the departments’ preconnects.

SIZE-UP IS ESSENTIAL

A size-up, prior to spotting an apparatus and stretching hose, is essential for any engine company, but it is critical for understaffed companies. They have to get it right the first time because they don’t have the personnel to reposition a hoseline that was stretched to the wrong location. A size-up pertaining to stretching hose must answer four questions:


(2) Other firefighters in the stretch shoulder couplings as they are pulled from the hosebed.

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1. What is the location of the fire? This is not always obvious because of wind or the size and complexity of the fire building. Don’t rely entirely on information provided by civilians or police officers. You must be certain of the fire’s location to answer the next question.


(3) The last firefighter in the stretch is the first to drop his couplings. He then moves up the line to help move the hose around corners and obstacles.

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2. What path will the hoseline take to reach the fire? The engine company officer must identify the best entrance doorway, stairwell, and hallway that lead to the fire. Additionally, the officer must determine how to get the hoseline to an upper floor. Whether hose can be raised directly up a well opening in a stairway, can be hoisted by rope from a window, or must be hand-laid on stairs will have a significant bearing on the next two size-up questions.

3. How many lengths of hose will it take to reach the fire?


(4) The three-inch line stretched into the courtyard supplies 13⁄4-inch handlines to the second and third floors. (Photos by Ray Bell.)

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4. How many firefighters will it take to stretch and advance the hoseline?

STAFFING AND TACTICS

A long, complicated stretch around several corners and obstacles can easily exceed the capabilities of an understaffed engine company. This is especially the case when a hoseline must be hand-laid up three or more flights of stairs. When an engine company officer determines that he has insufficient personnel to make a stretch, the best option is to combine the crews of as many companies as necessary to get that critical first attack hoseline into position and operating. If additional personnel are not available, a “street smart” fire officer will choose tactics that match the available resources. Consider the following scenario, which, unfortunately, is becoming all too common in today’s fire service:


5) The 13⁄4-inch hoseline is connected to a 21⁄2-inch nozzle. The shutoff is tied open to prevent accidental shutdown. (Photo by Eric Goodman.)

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Your engine company, staffed with a crew of three, responds to a reported fire in an apartment building. Your dispatch information indicates that your company will be first-due and that you will have to operate alone for as long as 10 minutes because your closest second-due engine and first-due ladder companies are tied up on medical calls waiting for ambulances.


Extending the hoseline from the gated wye: (6) The three-inch hose supplies the 13⁄4-inch handline. Extra hose is laid out on the floor below the fire and connected to the unused outlet of the wye.

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On arrival, you find fire showing from the third-floor windows. Faced with a lack of personnel, you decide against following your department’s standard operating guidelines that call for stretching a hoseline up an interior stairway. Instead, you order your two firefighters to raise a 24-foot extension ladder to a window of an apartment next to the unit on fire. Then, you and your company advance a 134-inch preconnect hoseline through the adjoining apartment and attack the fire from the public hallway. This method of fire attack may not be considered “textbook” because it does not protect the interior stairway. It is, instead, “expedient” firefighting based on realistic expectations of what an engine company staffed with three firefighters can accomplish.

A MISTAKE BECOMES A VALUABLE LESSON

Conducting a size-up before stretching hose can take discipline and leadership because firefighters, especially new, inexperienced personnel, are compelled to take action the moment they arrive at a fire. Similarly, pressure to make a quick decision can cause a new officer to order a stretch without taking the time to conduct an adequate size-up. It took an embarrassing mistake for me to learn my lesson.


(7) The handline is shut down.

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As a newly promoted lieutenant, my engine company was first to arrive at a daytime fire in a public housing project. The complex, consisting of several two-story apartment buildings, faced a courtyard and was surrounded by a tall iron fence. On arrival, I could see smoke rising from the courtyard. I had no idea which entrance gate was closest to the fire, so “naturally,” I ordered the pumper to stop where all the police cars were. As I walked toward the entrance gate, I was met by a police officer, who told us that we had better “hurry up” because residents were reporting that some occupants were trapped. Without seeing for myself, I asked the police officer if we could reach the fire from that entrance. Since he said yes, I shouldered a bundle of 134-inch hose and ordered my company to stretch 300 feet of three-inch hoseline into the courtyard.


(8) The handline is disconnected from the wye.

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Soon thereafter, I learned the consequences of relying on civilians or police officers to do my size-up: We failed to reach the fire. Fortunately, our second-due engine had a calm and experienced officer who took the time to walk into the courtyard and size up conditions for himself. As a result, he ordered his engine to relocate to another street, where his company could reach the fire from a much closer entrance.

EXTENDING HOSELINES

There are basically two ways to extend hoselines beyond the length of preconnects. One method is to pull and fully extend a preconnect and then connect extra sections of hose. There’s usually little concern with adding sections to a 212-inch preconnect, except for ordering the engineer to increase the discharge pressure to allow for the additional friction loss. However, you must be careful when adding sections of 134-inch hose.


(9) The handline is reconnected to the extra hose.

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As I explained in my June 2002 article on preconnects,1 there is a limit on the length that 134-inch hose can be extended before friction loss and pump discharge pressures become excessive. The maximum length of 134-inch hoselines must be determined by each fire department based on the friction loss of its own hose and the intended gpm flow of its nozzles. There is no substitute for flow testing, because friction loss varies widely across different brands of fire hose. Even hose from the same manufacturer can have substantially different flow characteristics, because new hose may have smoother linings and jackets that expand on pressurization to increase the cross-sectional area of the waterway.


(10) The other outlet of the wye is opened to restore water flow. (Photos by Mike Posner.)

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The other method to extend hose longer than preconnects is to stretch 212– or three-inch hose from the main hosebed. The larger-diameter hose has two advantages over a long stretch of 134-inch hose. First, it has lower friction loss, which allows greater flows over longer distances. Second, the increase in flow gives 212– and three-inch hose the ability to supply two 134-inch handlines by connecting a 212– × 1 1⁄ 2– × 1 12-inch gated wye. =”position:>


Making a 100-foot 13⁄4-inch hose pack: (11) Each 50-foot half is laid side by side. (12, 13) Each half is folded onto itself.

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A disadvantage of stretching 212– or three-inch hose is that it usually takes more personnel than 134-inch hose. A long stretch of 212– or three-inch hose requires teamwork and, often, the combined efforts of two or more companies. Engine companies that frequently hand stretch 212– or three-inch hose commonly arrange the end of their hose loads in horseshoes or folds, which allows each firefighter to grab and carry up to 100 feet of hose.


14) Both halves and the nozzle are bound with straps. (Photos by Eric Goodman.)

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Without a special hose load finish, each firefighter involved in the stretch should stand at the rear step of the pumper and be prepared to “shoulder” couplings as they are pulled from the hosebed. The first firefighter in the stretch places the nozzle or gated wye at the end of the hoseline on his chest, directly below the shoulder and the coupling joining the first and second section of hose at his other shoulder. He then steps forward a few feet and waits for the next firefighter in the stretch to shoulder the couplings of the second and third sections of hose. The process continues with each firefighter, except the first, dragging 100 feet of hose. The last firefighter in the stretch will be the first to drop his couplings as the slack between him and the pumper is pulled from the hose. He must then straighten his sections to remove any potential kinks and then quickly move up the line to help the other firefighters pull their loops of hose around obstacles, such as corners, gates, and the tires of parked vehicles.


(15) Connecting the hose pack to the gated wye.

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As mentioned, 212– and three-inch hose can be reduced to 134-inch hose. Many 212-inch handline nozzles are equipped with 112-inch threads, which allows a firefighter to shut off the nozzle and connect 134-inch hose at the tip. This makes it convenient to extend the smaller-diameter line for more mobility or reduced flow after knocking down the main body of fire.


(16, 17) The firefighter grasps the bottom flakes and pulls the hose until all the slack and kinks are straightened. (Photos by Lazaro Acosta.)

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It is a good idea to secure the bail of the 212-inch nozzle in the open position with a short section of rope or nylon strap. This will prevent the accidental loss of water flow to the 134-inch hoseline. Three-inch hose is not intended as a handline and should not, therefore, be connected to a nozzle. Instead, a 212– × 112– × 112-inch gated wye facilitates the connection of two 134-inch handlines to three-inch hose.


(18, 19) The hose pack is split into 50-foot bundles, which play out around corners or for laying up stairs. (Photos by Eric Goodman.)

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The gated wye appliance also allows firefighters to rapidly lengthen a hoseline by connecting extra sections with just a momentary interruption in the flow of water. Before explaining the procedure, it must be emphasized that “stretching short” and not reaching a fire is not just embarrassing for an engine company, but it can also be dangerous. The chance of stretching short is substantially reduced when an engine officer conducts a thorough and accurate size-up before putting hose on the ground. In a perfect world, an engine company would never stretch short. There are situations in the real world, however, where it can be almost impossible to determine the accurate length of hoseline before advancing it into a smoky unknown-for example, fires in office buildings, where every floor can be a different maze of offices and cubicles, make it almost impossible to determine the length of hoseline by familiarizing oneself with the floor below the fire.

When there is a possibility of stretching short, prepare to extend the hoseline by connecting extra hose to the unused outlet of a 212× 112× 112-inch gated wye placed outside the entrance to the fire building or on the floor below the fire. Carefully lay out the extra hose to eliminate any potential kinks, and bring the male coupling back to the wye. Now, if the crew advancing the hoseline calls for more hose, ask them if they are in a safe position to momentarily shut down their line. If they are, advise the nozzleman to open the nozzle to bleed off pressure while you shut off the outlet to their hoseline, quickly disconnect it, and reconnect it to the extra hose. Now, open the other outlet on the wye to restore the flow of water. This procedure takes only a few seconds and can be repeated by connecting the additional hose to the outlet of the gated wye that is now no longer being used to supply the attack hoseline.

Carrying 134-inch hose and deploying it from a gated wye or 212-inch nozzle will be easier if it is folded in bundles and bound with straps. Over the years, my company has experimented with several types of hose packs in an effort to find the best way to carry 134-inch hose and stretch it from a 212– or three-inch hoseline. Presently, we make our 134-inch hose pack by connecting two 50-foot sections (or one 100-foot section) and folding each 50-foot half into a bundle. The two bundles are then bound together, side by side, with straps. The hose pack can be deployed in two ways: It can be set down at the gated wye with the nozzle and female end on top. After connecting the hose, hold on to the nozzle as a second firefighter grasps the bottom flakes and pulls the hose until all slack and potential kinks are straightened.

Another way to deploy the hose pack is to separate the two 50-foot bundles (keep them connected) so that each bundle plays out hose as it is carried over a firefighter’s forearm.

Connecting two or more hose packs and stretching them in this manner is an excellent way for engine companies to lay hose up a stairway or around multiple obstacles, especially when their apparatus hose loads are not finished in folds or horseshoes that facilitate a stairway stretch.

There’s certainly nothing sophisticated or “high tech” about the procedures detailed in this article. Stretching hoselines is one of the most basic, fundamental duties the public expects firefighters to perform. Unfortunately, because of the ever-expanding range of services today’s fire department delivers, there is intense competition for the time allocated for training. As a result, firefighters may not get the amount of practice in basic hose evolutions to keep them proficient. Training to maintain skills is best accomplished at the company level. Company officers must, therefore, take the initiative to conduct frequent drills that emphasize skill, teamwork, and safety.

Special thanks to my chief, Bill McDonald, for his assistance.

Endnote

1. “Preconnects, Part 3: Extending The Hoselines,” Fire Engineering, June 2002.

BILL GUSTIN, a 32-year veteran of the fire service, is a captain with Miami-Dade (FL) Fire Rescue and lead instructor in his department’s officer training program. He began his fire service career in the Chicago area and teaches fire training programs in Florida and other states. He is a marine firefighting instructor and has taught fire tactics to ship crews and firefighters in Caribbean countries. He also teaches forcible entry tactics to fire departments and SWAT teams of local and federal law enforcement agencies. Gustin is an editorial advisory board member of Fire Engineering.

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