The cellar or distributor nozzle is a piece of specialized equipment often overlooked when drilling on engine company tactics. Many younger firefighters may never have set one up or seen one operate. Our department has developed a setup drill that can be deployed in the station parking lot in which all members can actually see a cellar nozzle at work and get a chance to operate it. Total time to set up for the drill and tear down is less than 10 minutes, excluding classroom and operating time. It makes an excellent drill for days when you are buried in administrative work involving hydrants or inspections and you still want to get in some quality hands-on training.

Application. First, review the type of incidents in which you would use a cellar nozzle-e.g., a basement fire in which the attack team cannot make the bottom of the stairs and cannot adequately ventilate. The cellar nozzle could be used as a quick fix for a rapidly moving void space fire to limit the fire’s direction of travel until adequate resources are in place. The device is not appropriate for all void space fires; the void should fit the main limitation of the cellar nozzle-its lack of penetration. For a void space longer than 20 feet, the cellar nozzle is not a good choice.

However, this appliance is an excellent choice for knocking down void space fires in a building collapse because of the limited void space a collapse usually creates.


Nozzle Type. What type of nozzle does your engine company carry-a Bresnan distributor or a cellar nozzle? They differ mainly in the type of fire stream produced. The Bresnan disributor nozzle (photo 1, right) rotates and produces a fog pattern that covers only about a 20-foot radius from the nozzle. The main advantage of using this type of nozzle in a void space fire or an unventilated basement where you cannot make entry will be the large volume of steam it produces, which will knock down a lot of fire in a confined space.

Remember, you are not using this type of attack in an area in which firefighters will be operating or savable victims will be found; thus, the steam produced should not be a factor for your operating forces. The cellar nozzle (photo 1, left) rotates and produces multiple streams at different angles and has a reach of about 40 feet, making it more suitable for a large area.

Operations. Review proper setup and operation of the nozzle. Place a valve one coupling behind the nozzle, which allows the attack team to charge and shut down the nozzle without having to call back to the pump operator.

Because of the limited reach from these types of nozzles, you will probably have to cut numerous holes and reposition the nozzle several times. Explain that, after the attack team operates the nozzle at the ceiling level for a short time, the device should be lowered to the floor and raised back up to the ceiling several times to ensure full coverage before repositioning.

The officer in charge will determine when to move the line, based on how conditions are changing at the hole, whether they are lightening up (indicating steam production) or not. The officer in charge may still elect to move the line even if conditions are not changing because the nozzle may not be above the main body of fire; the nozzle’s limited reach may require cutting additional holes.

Friction Loss. Review friction loss and nozzle pressure for your appliance. Regardless of whether it is used with 134– or 212-inch handlines, the nozzle pressure will probably be 100 psi. If it is used with a 212-inch handline, it can produce more than 250 gpm.

Work some evolutions on the chalkboard based on your nozzle type. For the nozzle used with the 212-inch handline, an excellent street hydraulics formula for figuring friction loss in a 212-inch line follows: Drop the last digit in the given gpm and subtract 10 for the friction loss per 100 feet. In the scenario using a 300-foot, 212-inch attack line attached to a cellar nozzle at 250 gpm with 100-psi nozzle pressure, the formula would look like this: 250 gpm (drop the last digit) = 25; 25 – 10 = 15 psi per 100 feet of attack line. Hence, a 300-foot attack line has 45-psi total friction loss in the line (15 × 3 = 45). Total friction loss in the line (45) plus nozzle pressure (100) plus 5 pounds for the gate valve equals an engine pressure of 150 psi.

Safety. Review the following safety considerations when using a cellar nozzle.

• Keep a handline in place to protect the crew cutting the hole in the floor.

• Constantly monitor the structural stability of the floor on which you are working. A cellar nozzle attack is probably not your first choice for a working basement fire, and it shouldn’t be. You should aggressively push an attack line down the interior stairs. Only after the line gets stalled and ventilation is either not working or not a viable option should you consider a cellar nozzle attack. Keeping this in mind, consider what the fire has been doing to the floor structural support system during this delay in getting water on the fire.

• Constantly monitor the walls and all voids attached to the basement to make sure the fire does not extend vertically through them while the cellar nozzle is in operation.

• A thermal imaging camera (TIC) is an invaluable piece of equipment during these operations for checking the floor stability and extension in the voids. Make one available to the crew operating above the fire as soon as possible.

• If operating on a roof for a common void space fire, make sure you secure the handline with hose straps before calling for water. The weight of the water filling the hoseline will pull the excess hose off the roof if it is not watched.


This drill requires 100 feet of the appropriate size handline, a cellar nozzle, a ball or gate valve, two hose straps, a utility rope, and a combination ladder set up as a stepladder.

Setup. Set up the combination ladder as a stepladder. We use a 16-foot combination straight ladder that breaks into an eight-foot stepladder. The gap at the top should be wide enough to allow the hose to drop through it. If using 212-inch attack line, you may have to spread the top of the ladder apart to allow the male coupling to pass through the top before securing the horizontal bars attached to both sides of the ladder when it is converted from a straight to a stepladder.

Drop one to two feet of hose through the top of the ladder and attach the nozzle. Secure the attack line in place using the hose straps and rope. Use one hose strap for each side of the ladder. Secure the hose going up the outside of the ladder with utility rope, and drop it down through the top of the ladder.


Place the valve one coupling back, and close it. Have the pump operator charge the line at the appropriate pressure. The 16-foot combination straight ladder that is converted into an eight-foot stepladder offers a pretty wide base; we have never had it fall over during a drill. If using a ladder with a smaller base, you may consider tying it off to something for support (photo 2).


Execution. Once everything is in position and the hose is charged up to the valve, have one member slowly open the valve to charge the nozzle (photo 3). As the valve is opened, have all members watch the nozzle as it attempts to straighten itself out. Once the valve is fully opened, all members will get to see firsthand the depth and penetration a cellar/distributor nozzle affords. Remind everyone that the ladder will break up some parts of the stream; this should be considered when trying to figure stream coverage. This drill demonstrates the coverage this device can provide when firefighters use it in actual operations.


Next, have the member who opened the valve close it, and rotate in a new member to allow all members in the company first-hand experience on how fast or slow to open or close a cellar nozzle. If they open it too fast, they will see how violently the nozzle can whip around (photo 4).

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Since some firefighters may use a cellar nozzle only once or twice in their careers, it is very important to train them on this piece of equipment at least annually. If this is the first time training on cellar nozzles and related friction loss for your firefighters, plan on at least an hour or two for the first drill. This allows time to consider multiple friction loss scenarios and answer questions about the nozzle’s limitations. After this initial drill and after all members are up to speed on the friction loss part of the drill, the entire drill could be easily completed in a half hour.

TOM SITZ is a lieutenant and a 20-year veteran of the Painesville Township (OH) Fire Department. He is an instructor at Lakeland Community College in its fire science program and in the Auburn Career Centers Firefighting Program. Sitz has presented classes at FDIC and written several articles for Fire Engineering.

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