Envision the following scenario: A large 212-story residential frame structure is on fire and has flames coming from the second-floor windows. The volume of fire and the building’s age and condition tell us the fire involves a couple of rooms and is extending to other areas within the structure. There are plenty of fire and smoke for everyone.

The first fire department unit, a four-member engine company, turns into the block. As the company arrives on-scene, the officer calls in a “working fire” and gives other information by apparatus radio. It is now the beginning of another American fire service bread-and-butter operation, the same scenario played out by our nation’s fire departments in cities and towns across the country.

The engine company chauffeur positions the engine past the fire building so the first-due ladder company can get its fireground position in front of the fire building. After the apparatus comes to a stop, the members go to work.

Our engine company members have their job assignments. On the fireground, members of the company perform their jobs independently of each other but as part of a disciplined team so that the initial attack line can be put in operation quickly. For many fire situations like this one, here is where the old fire service adage “As the first line goes, so goes the fire” applies.

The engine firefighters are now starting their stretch of the initial attack line from a static hosebed. It is a 134-inch hoseline equipped with a solid-bore nozzle capable of discharging more than 180 gallons per minute.

1) Fire is traveling throughout the second floor and attic area in this structure. Two lines are needed for extinguishment. The stairway to the second floor is straight ahead as you enter the front door. The drop point for the attack lines is the front yard. The nozzleman will take the nozzle to the stairway and call for water while the backup firefighter flakes and straightens the hose; he will then feed line to the attack team. (Photo by Steve Nedrich.)

The firefighter with the nozzle has the “working length” of hose on his forearm and is heading to the “drop point,” where the hose will be prepared for attack. The officer heads toward the fire building, helping with the stretch as needed, equipped with his radio and hand light. The backup firefighter is playing hose from the bed. He will estimate the amount of hose needed, break the hoseline, and then hook the coupling to an already charged outlet. The pump operator/chauffeur has charged a preselected outlet with booster tank water and is now starting to hand lay his supply line to a nearby hydrant.

The whole operation of getting the initial attack line stretched out, charged, and made ready to go to work should take no more than 90 seconds if executed properly by company members.


Let’s examine a couple of items that may help our engine crew get the initial attack line in service easily and quickly.

Attack Hose

The engine company is the basic unit for fire extinguishment in the fire service. The firefighters-the end-users-should determine the type of equipment the department should buy. Engine apparatus hosebeds, as you have heard before, should be designed to be user friendly. That means attack hoselines should be easy to put in operation, with only a minimum of personnel. Complex hose loads or other loads that may work for some departments may not work for yours.

(2) The reverse horseshoe fold can be used to create a “working length.” It gives the nozzleman 50 feet of workable hoseline at the threshold of the fire. This fold can be used for wide or narrow hosebeds. (Photos 2-4 by Greg Ricker.)

In the above scenario, the attack hose is coming from a static hosebed, meaning the hose is not preconnected to any outlet. With this type of hosebed, there is no limited or fixed amount of hose, as in the case of a preconnected line. Many fire departments rely exclusively on preconnected hoselines for fire attack and feel they are quick and easy to get in service. This is true to an extent. And there is nothing wrong with having a preconnected hoseline on an engine.

(3) A narrow 21⁄2-inch preconnected attack hosebed. In this configuration, a reverse horseshoe is laid on its side so it will fit.

However, many fire departments have had fires where they have come up short in their fireground stretches because of the limited amount of hose in their beds. Some departments have only two preconnected beds of 134-inch hose and one bed of two 212-inch hose for attack. Others have three or more preconnected hosebeds of 134-inch hose on an engine, each with a different amount of hose. For example, one bed may have 150 feet, another 200 feet, and the third 250 feet. Let’s say there’s a fire in a location where the longest preconnected hose (250 feet in length) is needed. The initial hoseline is stretched to the fire, and a second line is needed to help the first line. Do you see a problem here?

The belief that preconnected hoselines save time in getting in service is not going to prove true here because the firefighters assigned to the second line will have to break the hose and add a length or two so it can meet with the initial attack line. No time saved.

(4) The working length, after having been folded on the ground, is loaded on its side into a narrow hosebed.

Using a static hosebed gives the engine crew the versatility to stretch a little bit or a lot, depending on the amount of hose needed for the stretch. This hose load also creates a user-friendly load that works fine even with only two firefighters making the stretch. It is quickly deployed and put in service, and it works with small- and large-diameter attack handlines.

The type of hose load used in our scenario is a flat load. Many departments across the country use this load. It is the kind of load that will play out easily in a single straight line when it is deployed. Some hose-load arrangements are loaded so that two or three pieces of hose come out of the bed together when the attack line is pulled, whereas other loads have all the hose in the bed being unloaded or “dumped” next to the engine. Doing this is not going to get this hoseline in operation any more quickly than hose from a static bed, simply because no water will be able to flow through it until the hose is straightened and all kinks are removed.

The keys here are simplicity and ease of stretching. Attack hoselines should be loaded and finished so they play out easily by the least number of firefighters available for the operation.

Working Length

After the attack hose is loaded, the hosebed is finished with the last section of hose folded in such a way so that when the hose is deployed, the firefighter with the nozzle will also have 50 feet of hose with him. This amount of hose is called the “working length.” This will guarantee that the attack crew will have enough hose to reach the fire area and more and will not be confronted with a short stretch-an embarrassing and frustrating occurrence that can let a fire gain headway because the attack crew cannot move in on it.

The type of fold used to make a working length can vary, and this can be determined by inspecting the height, width, and depth of your engine’s hosebeds. It does not matter if the hosebeds are crosslay type (transverse) or come from the rear of the apparatus. The working length can also be used on 134-inch or 212-inch attack hose. If your department uses preconnected hosebeds exclusively, the working length can also be used in this application.

There are several types of folds:

• The reverse horseshoe with the nozzle tucked in the center of the shoe when finished.

• Flat loops that hang approximately a foot or so over the edge of the hosebed.

• The continuous loop of hose on edge with the nozzle stored in the center of the loops.

In all three folds, the nozzle is put in the center of the working length. When the nozzle firefighter pulls the working length toward him, the nozzle comes along with the hose. Now, the nozzle firefighter can have the nozzle in one hand and carry the working length of hose on his forearm. It is preferable to carry the working length of hose on the forearm instead of over the shoulder for a number of reasons:

(5) These three attack hosebeds all employ static hose loads. The 13⁄4-inch hosebed on the far right contains a working length made from loops of hose about six or seven feet long, laid on edge. The 21⁄2-inch attack hose load employs a reverse horseshoe working length. When a 13⁄4-inch hoseline is used, firefighters stretch the amount needed, break the coupling, and hook it into the rear outlet. While the hose is being stretched, the pump operator/chauffeur charges the outlet with booster tank water. The hoseline is then ready to be charged. Pump discharge pressure is adjusted for the line�s length. A supply line is now stretched to a nearby hydrant. If a second line of 13⁄4-inch hose is needed, the second-due engine or crew assigned to the line has another bed ready to be stretched. Since both beds carry equal amounts of hose, a short stretch should be avoided. This line gets its water supply from the wye also. (Photo by author.)

The 50-foot working length of hose, whether 134 inch or 212 inch, is light enough to be carried comfortably on the forearm.

(6) The nozzleman carries the working length of 21⁄2-inch hose on his forearm. (Note the compact size of the folds.) The backup firefighter stands at a distance from the engine hosebed and plays out additional hose for the stretch. His positioning helps to keep hose from piling up near the engine, keep it moving straight to the nozzleman, and minimize kinking. (Photo by John Whitinger.)

As a firefighter carries the hose on his shoulder and makes a couple of turns around stairways and corners, the hose has a tendency to fall between the firefighter’s air tank and his neck or back. When it’s time to “drop the line,” the firefighter has to twist his body around trying to get all the hose on the ground.

The working length, when folded properly, creates a neat, compact hose load six or seven feet long a firefighter can carry on his forearm. This is important especially when the hose must be stretched down narrow hallways, stairways, alleys, or corridors.

(7) For upper-floor fires in large buildings, the drop point should be the floor below the fire floor. Here, the working length is dropped along with extra hose. The nozzleman will advance the nozzle up the stairs midway between the fire floor and the drop point and call for water, thus ensuring that the attack team will have a water supply before entering the fire floor or area. (Photo by Greg Ricker.)

The working length carried in this fashion avoids the “wedding-train” effect, in which a couple of long pieces of hose are being pulled behind the firefighter, they do not play out well, and they get caught while going around corners and under doorways.

Drop Point

This is the point before the fire where the working length is dropped, flaked out/straightened, and charged. It is generally as close to the fire as safely possible without the fire’s endangering firefighters (after all, there is no water in the hose yet).

The drop point location is generally the floor below the fire floor. This gives firefighters a safe area to play out the line, charge it, and bleed the air. It is also a refuge area should the fire intensify, extend into the hallway, and push firefighters back.

For first-floor, ground-level, basement, and lower-level fires, the drop point is usually outside the structure, especially if access to the fire area is close to the building’s entrance. However, the location of the drop point can vary according to the fire’s location, the type of building occupancy/construction, the intensity of the fire, and what the fire building is giving you to work with. An example of this would be a fire in the lower level or basement of a large commercial building. In this scenario, the drop point is the floor above the fire’s location. The building, because of its construction, is confining the fire at this point. Here, the working length is brought inside and dropped, stretched out, charged, and made ready for attack.

Should there be heavy smoke or high-heat conditions on the floor above, and there is a possibility of the fire’s extending upward quickly through the structure, then, for the safety of the firefighters, the drop point probably would be in a more predictable area-perhaps even outside the structure if necessary. (Remember, although it’s not always possible, it is preferable to locate the fire and the best access to the fire area before committing your attack line.)

Another illustration of a drop-point location is when a fire is on the upper floor of an apartment or office building that is five stories or less in height. The stretch might be made from the apparatus hosebed, depending on the fire’s location and access. Again, the drop point should be the floor below the fire floor. The hose is stretched out down the hallway, and the nozzle is taken part way up the stairs to the fire floor and then charged. Firefighters should not drop extra hose on the stairs; this will only lead to kinking of the line as it is “pulled” instead of fed to the attack crew. It will be a tripping hazard, and the hose will not be any easier to move up to the fire floor.

A secret to successfully advancing hoselines from one floor to another is to keep the hoseline as straight as possible and to have firefighters spaced at intervals along the line, especially at the “bend points,” such as around stairway railings. Doing this will minimize kinks and keep the hoseline straight, making it easier to manage and advance. Firefighters should feed hose to the attack crew only when more hoseline is called for. Simply pushing hose toward them will cause kinking and make for an unmanageable line. Firefighters wanting a “piece of the action” and crowding toward the nozzle will try to pull the hose with them; this will not work either, as someone will have to go back and feed the line.

A frequently asked question is, When is the right time to charge the hoseline with water? Keep in mind that in this fire situation, where we are stretching from our engine hosebed, our goal is to get this line “working” quickly, preferably within our chosen time frame. As soon as the hose is dropped, the officer or acting officer should call to the pump operator to charge the hoseline. This will start water going into the line quickly. At the same time, the hoseline is also being flaked and straightened. The pump operator should acknowledge that water is on the way. Once water is received, the line should be bled and the line pressure and stream checked.

Again, it is a smart practice to find the fire’s location and the best access path to the fire area before stretching any hoselines. Premature stretching or committing of hoselines without knowing the fire’s location can lead to operational problems. There have been cases where firefighters have rushed in blindly with the hoseline, not knowing where the fire was, only to have the fire “light up” between them and their egress.

Determine the best location for the nozzle. It should be placed with three criteria in mind: locate, confine, and extinguish.

(8) Firefighters, wearing their face pieces, make their stretch. Notice one firefighter is hooking up his regulator. The firefighters need to keep air management in mind. The attack crews should don face pieces together at the drop point, after the call for water has been made and acknowledged. This practice helps firefighters consume their air supply at roughly the same rate. (Photo by Greg Gettens.)

Locate. As was mentioned before, it is best for the attack crew to know where the fire is. This will help determine things like access to the fire area and issues related to getting to the fire, such as forcible entry and hazards to personnel. Knowing the fire’s location helps protect attack personnel, since hazards sometimes can be identified along with the fire’s potential. Locating the fire and determining its size, volume, potential for extension, and hazards can help firefighters choose the proper size of attack.

Confine. After locating the fire, try to determine its boundaries. By identifying the fire area and estimating the volume of fire, you can choose the proper size of attack, one that will enable you to confine the fire to as small an area as possible. Sometimes, in our haste to get a working hoseline on a fire, we select a line that is easy to put in service but has no extinguishing capability because it is undersized. User-friendly hosebeds and hose loads common to the firefighter will help you get the necessary flow whatever the size of the fire.

Extinguish. Put out the fire! Regardless of the size or type of the fire department, all firefighters should be taught about the extinguishment process. When it comes to fire attack, size does matter. Minimum “target flows” for 134– and 212-inch attack handlines need to be established and trained on; you must know your department’s extinguishment capabilities. The fireground is not the place to find out what it is like to use a large-diameter handline at a big fire. Quick extinguishment, not playing the fire-like game, should be the goal of attack personnel. This process will save property; make firefighters safer; and, most importantly, give anyone trapped in a burning building a better chance for survival.


In some areas there seems to be some confusion about when and where firefighters should don their face pieces. One of the more common misconceptions is that firefighters need to have their face pieces on their face, ready to go, as they step out of the cab at a fire. Some departments want their people to have the face piece donned but not “on air” at that point. (Fire departments that don’t monitor this practice may find their members breathing from their air supply as they are responding.) In some situations, we have observed firefighters with their face pieces donned, trying to see their way through the regulator hole where their mask-mounted regulator hooks up. In some cases, firefighters have tripped over things because they were excited or told to hurry up. In other cases, their face pieces fogged over on the inside. All of this can create an atmosphere of excitement and chaos. This is where fireground injuries can manifest themselves, and you haven’t gotten into the fire yet.

Another situation I have witnessed is firefighters’ from the same company “going on air” at different times. For example, one firefighter starts breathing his air supply as he steps from the cab, another firefighter goes on air while carrying hose to the fire building, and a third company member waits to get to the fire threshold to go on air. Our firefighters (all from the same company) are using their air at different times on the fireground so that we should expect each member to run out of air at different times. This could lead to the breakup of the company (or team) or the breakdown of accountability for that particular unit.

Generally, engine company firefighters “stretching in” should not don their face pieces until they have reached the drop point. If there is a large amount of smoke or toxicity, or if the fire is rapidly gaining in size, the danger of the situation will define where the drop point should be.

The officer or acting officer should be responsible for calling the pump operator/chauffeur by portable radio asking that the attack line be charged while the hose is being flaked out and straightened. This call should be made without a face piece on so that the radio transmissions are clear and easy to understand.

Another reason is that the attack crew should receive an acknowledgement/reply from the pump operator/chauffeur that water is “on the way.” If no reply is received, there may be a pumping or water supply problem, and that message should be transmitted to the attack crew. Save your air when you can.

After acknowledgement that water is on the way, don your face piece. While doing this, observe the immediate area of your location, study any details of importance, look back at the hoseline, check each team member to see if the team is ready, and so on. These last-second observations should slow down the crew and help them to control their breathing rate-they know they are moving in together, as a team.

When all company members go “on air” together, it can be assumed that they will have nearly the same consumption rates. In a serious fire situation, the incident commander can have another company or crew ready to replace the whole crew if it is important to keep the line working. This will improve company accountability in that individual crew members will not have to leave by themselves.

This all takes just a few seconds to accomplish, but it helps to slow down that “rush” to barge right in. Many firefighters have a thing about hurrying as much as possible to get in quickly. That’s good. However, many firefighters have had the fire overpower them or have gone through a hole in the floor or had something else they might have prevented happen if they had taken a moment or two to slow down, collect their minds, and observe the conditions of the fire and the building.


The role of the first-due engine company at a typical bread-and-butter fire operation should be to get the initial attack line in service within an acceptable time frame-preferably under 90 seconds. Regardless of the type or kind of fire department working at a fire, this is an achievable goal, but it does require training, education, and discipline.

Fire departments should do their homework and look at their operations to see if they can meet certain goals on the fireground. In today’s fire service, it is common to work with fewer resources than in the past, as many cities and towns are taking fire companies out of service or reducing company staffing because of budget constraints. Because of these and other problems, it is more important than ever that fire departments make training their number-one goal and ensure that every member understands the basics of engine company work and what is required of each assigned position. Many departments have researched their operations and improved their procedures, which have paid big dividends in how they now perform on the fireground.

Things like company position assignments and classroom training involving strategy, tactics, and company operations give fire officers and firefighters a better knowledge of fireground operations, accountability, communications, and personal responsibility for completing the jobs on the fireground.

Simple things like changing the way hose is packed and finished can increase personnel’s efficiency and speed and dramatically improve a company’s time for getting water on the fire. Training is the most important component for developing the caliber of teamwork necessary for successful fire department operations.

JEFF SHUPE is a career firefighter with more than 30 years of service. He is a firefighter in Cleveland, Ohio, and a former volunteer firefighter. He is a certified fire instructor for the State of Ohio and has served as training coordinator for volunteer and full-time fire departments. He has an associate’s degree in fire technology from a local community college and attended the University of Cincinnati fire protection engineering program. He is an FDIC H.O.T. team member for Engine Company Operations and an FDIC classroom presenter.

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