Using Fire Streams

Using Fire Streams

New York Fire Department

Proper direction and use of hose streams is one of the primary requirements of fire extinguishment. The achievement of a successful line operation is the result of conforming to the rules of good stream practice. These rules, simply stated, are:

  1. Use of the proper size stream,
  2. Operation from the most effective position,
  3. Water application for the shortest necessary time.

Failure to embody these three principles in a hose stream operation will result in one or more of the by-products of poor fire tactics. These are:

1. Improper size hose stream

a. Containment with excessive amount of water

b. Noncontainment with consequent spread of fire

2. Ineffective operating position

a. Negation of the use of the proper size stream

b. Containment with excessive amount of water

c. Noncontainment with consequent spread of fire

3. Excessive operational time

a. Excessive water damage

b. Structural weakening

When one considers that these improper tactics have historically been contributory factors in exposing operating units to injury, sometimes ending in a fatality, then it is more readily understood why attention is directed to this basic extinguishment operation.

Performance in accord with good stream practice is achieved in the great majority of fires encountered. It is appropriate therefore, to review some of the fires which present problems in proper stream employment. There is no set or predetermined answer to these problems. However, solutions may be arrived at sooner if the principles of good fire stream practice are diligently observed.

Tenement fires

Hose line operations in tenement fires have been a subject of discussion over the years by two schools of thought. One group advocates the use of only Di-inch hose, declaring that its light weight and mobility have decided advantages. The other group uses 2/2-inch hose when it believes fire conditions require it. Neither group is wrong as long as the end result is achieved within the guidelines of good stream practice. However, to operate under only one method because of dedication to that belief is grossly erroneous.

Relative to the use of different size hose streams in serious tenement fires, it is good practice when 1/2-inch hose is used initially to:

  1. Stretch a 2 1/2-inch back up line
  2. Relieve the 1 1/2-inch line with the larger line if conditions warrant
  3. Reposition the smaller line over the fire or other extension exposures
  4. Finish operations with 1 1/2-inch hose for overhauling

Ladder pipe streams are used in upper floors of tenements when certain serious fire conditions exist. Usually, there is more than one floor involved or the top floor and cockloft are both involved. This is one of the situations where stream operations can easily transgress good stream practice. The reasons are obvious:

Aerial stream penetrates upper floor of a building.

Alex Donchin photo

Elevating platform can put steam into exposed cockloft.

UPI photo

  1. Use of heavy volumes of water
  2. Poor position for control and direction as compared to an interior operation

When ladder pipes are put into operation, it should be realized that they are not expected to extinguish the fire. They are operated only until hand lines can move back inside the fire area and aggressively extinguish the fire.

There are three important rules that apply to ladder pipe streams in tenement fires.

  1. Units operating in interior positions must be withdrawn from areas of application before starting the ladder pipe stream
  2. A member should be positioned to effectively guide the stream application and he should have proper communication facilities with the base control
  3. The use of ladder pipe streams should be of relatively short duration

Taxpayer fires

Taxpayer buildings have always presented a problem in containing a fire. This is due to:

  1. Non-fireproof construction (NFP)
  2. Existence of horizontal and vertical recesses
  3. Combustible nature of stock

The result of this combination of factors is usually a heavy fire and smoke condition which inhibits desirable stream application.

The major arteiy of fire travel is lateral and is known as the cockloft. Good and long-tested practice dictates that the roof should be opened at the point of heaviest fire concentration. This opening will provide a “chimney” for the escape of fire and builtup hot gases within the cockloft itself.

When elevated streams are directed at this opening, they reverse the flow of escaping hot gases. This could result in companies operating inside the building being subjected to an increasingly difficult fire condition. Forced withdrawal from interior operating positions could follow.

It follows then that while companies are operating inside a structure, elevated streams are to be used primarily to prevent extension of the fire to exposures. When conditions require the withdrawal of interior lines and all personnel have moved out, elevated streams can then be directed to operate on the fire structure.

With the advent of elevating platforms new techniques have been used to fight this type fire. Because of their maneuverability, they can be positioned to operate at ceiling level into any exposed cockloft area. The stream from an elevating platform monitor will effectively extinguish most of this hidden fire. After this operation, men reentering the fire area should be aware that any ceiling still intact is apt to collapse from the weight of the water trapped above it.

Master streams

Generally speaking, master streams are used at multiple alarms. These streams must be used with necessary caution. They are usually operated from the outside which requires a basic coordination with companies inside the fire structure.

Prior to starting an outside stream, units operating inside must be backed out of the area where the stream is to be directed. If hand lines are in operation in this area, they must be shut down and the man must be ordered to a safe area. Only after these precautions have been taken should the outside line operation commence. This same precaution should be taken when a hand line stream is prepared to be used across an open space from an adjoining building.

Needless to say, operations of lines from exterior positions are necessary when conditions dictate their use. Because of the distance of stream travel from the nozzle to the point of impact, control and direction are most important. An exterior stream entering a window in line with a stair or elevator shaft is completely ineffective. Again, a stream that enters a fire building but does not hit fire is a complete waste. It has one effect— increased damage to contents, which is undesirable in itself. But it has another more serious effect—weakening the structural integrity of the building.

The continued use of an exterior stream beyond the point for which it was intended is to be guarded against. A stream may be shut down too soon, but this error of judgment can quickly be rectified by restarting the stream. On the other hand, a stream that has been allowed to continue in operation beyond its point of effectiveness produces a hazardous condition and the results of which may be irrevocable.


One of the basics of good stream practice is an effective operating position. This can mean more than the ability to project an effective stream to a specific area. It means the ability to project an effective stream to a specific area from the safest operational location. Due consideration of the full concept of position must be given at the time a company is committed.

When an elevating platform, a deck gun or a ladder pipe is ordered into an operation, fire is usually well in command of the involved structure. The question of containment and continued structural stability may not be answerable at the time these units are ordered to prepare to operate. Reason dictates that if effective stream penetration could be achieved by positioning apparatus and men where they will be safe if a wall suddenly collapses, then this is where they should be positioned.

Too often, we in the fire service have not taken full advantage of a comparatively safe operating position which offered the same stream effectiveness as the one to which a unit was committed. Elevating platforms, because of their advantage of boom manipulation, are ideally suited for proper positioning. An example of the use of elevating platform positioning is the standard procedures employed in Chicago. When there is a fire in a one-story building of wood truss construction, an elevating platform is positioned close to, or immediately beyond, the comer of the building.

Sometimes the ftnly practical position for attaining the required stream penetration is not the safest plan. The company taking this position, knowing that it may become untenable, must stretch sufficient excess hose so that it can withdraw or shift its position without delay.

Ship fires

Safe positioning of apparatus is a vital consideration. This engine was demolished by a falling wall

—James Heffeman photo.

Ship fires may require large streams from a fireboat. Note the master streams from the shore—Wide World photo.

A ship fire presents several complex problems simultaneously. These are:

1. Area: In length, a ship may rim to over 1,000 feet.

2. Height: Actually, this is depth, as most ship fires originate below the main deck. This depth can be equal to a 10 to 15-story subcellar.

3. Extension: Vertical in hold areas; horizontal and vertical in cabin areas.

4. Fire Loads: Heavy and diversified, consisting of:

a. Fuel

b. Cargo

c. Furnishings

d. Combustible interior decorations

5. Water used in extinguishment has to be used judiciously to assure maintenance of stability.

Procedure for the extinguishment of ship fires are as follows:

  1. If the base fire emanates from the engine room and has involved fuel oil, foam application is desirable, both for its extinguishing characteristics and the relatively small amount of water it includes.
  2. When the fire involves large areas of a ship, such as holds, dining rooms, ballrooms or theater areas, good stream practice calls for an adequate number of sufficiently large streams to contain and extinguish the fire from the most advantageous position without using an excessive amount of water.
  3. Fire extension through vertical channels behind wall panels and horizontal channels for electric cables is common. In most cases, this extension can be controlled and extinguished with the use of a bent tip.
  4. Large streams from fireboats are used to:

a. Prevent extension from the ship to exposures.

b. Attempt extinguishment by mass water deluging when interior line operations are no longer feasible.

The application of these procedures to the complex problems that exist in ship fires requires refinement in their employment by operating units. This is achieved by making use of the guidelines of good stream practice. Specifically, the areas to be considered are:

  1. Fuel oil involvement: When conditions warrant it, consideration should be given to using high expansion foam. The limited amount of water needed plus increased extinguishment capabilities bring its use into the desired role of proper stream application.
  2. Recessed channel extension: Repeated use of a limited stream is made. The operation of larger streams are no more effective and are far less practical.
  3. Position: This can be a major problem because of the point of entry above the fire area. It may be achieved by descending away from the fire area and then approaching the area at the fire level.

The operations which have been discussed are preliminary to and lay the foundation for overhauling. Ilow well the extinguishment of the basicfire was conducted will contribute to a quick, efficient overhaul. It follows then that if excessive water is used the overhaul operation may have to be conducted under relatively difficult conditions.

When one reviews the record of fire injuries, it becomes apparent that a large percentage occur during overhaul. The reasons for the high incident of injury are obvious, for the operations are conducted in areas where fire has pitted a structure, raising the possibility of wall, floor or ceiling collapse.

It is therefore necessary that the approach to overhaul be made with these procedures in mind:

  1. Limited use of water
  2. Safe operating position
  3. Limited number of personnel in area

The use of small tips with 2M-inch hose or the insertion of a gate or wye and the use of L’l-inch hose is standard practice. Limited use of water lends itself to good practical operating procedures. The overhaul line should be positioned with the safety of the men in mind. If possible, avoid entering the immediate area where fire has caused apparent structural weakness. Many times the stream can be projected from a comparatively safe operating position into the area requiring wash-down. The number of members operating in tha area should be limited to the number who can work efficiently at any one time.

The profession of fire fighting is fraught with danger. It is imperative that we do not add to the risks by failing to follow safe operating procedures. Their use must start at the very beginning of an operation and must be carried over into every phase of a fire fighting operation. The final procedures outlined here are as important as the ones used in the initial attack.

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