‘As the First Line Goes So Does the Fire’

Fireground success can be achieved in a number of ways. The most critical way in my opinion is when the engine company gets the first hose line right. The statement,“As the first line goes so does the fire” is true. If the engine company gets the first hoseline wrong it can potentially have catastrophic results. The simple rule to apply is to have the right number of engine company firefighters placing the first hoseline in the right place with the correct length flowing with the right volume of water. This article will take a look at what is required for the engine company to get the first hoseline right!


Fire Hoseline Purpose

First I feel that it is important to understand the purpose of the first hoseline. The purpose is rather simple, life safety and then property. How does this happen? The first hoseline should be positioned to protect interior exposures and means of egress by placing the hose between the fire and any trapped occupants. The first hoseline is the most important lifesaving tool on the fireground. The first hoseline stops the products of combustion created by the fire and begins to create tenable space for trapped occupants and the firefighters. This equates to a safer environment for all.

Hoseline Placement

Hoseline placement begins with a solid and accurate size up. Size-up is the one common element that all firefighters perform. Even with conducting a size-up, there are engine companies who still do not get it right. Size-up is a multi-faceted item that can be a bit overwhelming. However, when it comes to getting the first hoseline right, engine company firefighters must identify if there are victims, fire volume and location, is it a residential, multi-family or commercial building. By knowing each of these elements the engine company firefighter can make an informed decision by location, size and flow of the initial line.

So, what drives hoseline placement? Engine company firefighters have what I consider four basic locations to place the line; through the front door, unburned to burn, transitional/blitz or attack from the burned side. Victims, fire volume, location, and departmental resources are key factors when positioning the hose line. The engine company should operate the first hose line from the interior of the structure if possible. This will give greatest access to the fire and to potential victims. However, if staffing or fire volume does not allow for that initially, then maybe a blitz/transitional position is the best option with the line then moving to the interior. 

Solid Hoseline Stretch

Once the position has been determined, a solid hoseline stretch sets the engine company up for a successful advance on the fire. The stretch begins with knowing which line to pull and how much. Preconnects have simplified this for the firefighter. The length of the preconnect is largely based on the respective district. Lengths can range from 150 to 250 feet with the most popular being 200.

Firefighters must be able to estimate how much hose is needed so that the correct hose is stretched. Many times, out of habit or routine, a preconnect is stretched and the firefighters come up short. Factors that must be considered when estimating the stretch are; distance from the fire to the entry point, entry point to the rig, fire floor, and any obstacles such as cars, fences, etc. The stretch is finished when the hose is at the entry point in a straight line, if possible, with the nozzle and the first coupling. This will give the firefighter ample hose to begin fire suppression. Lastly, how is the hose loaded on the truck?  The hoseload affects how the firefighter deploys the hose. What drives the hoseload on your department? Staffing? Tradition? Versatility?

Once the first hoseline is charged and is in position, kinks should be addressed prior to the advance to ensure adequate flow. Kinks on the fireground are everyone’s responsibility.  Additionally, slack should be as well. Certainly the firefighter conducting the stretch should take the extra 30 seconds to dress the hose so that when the advance on the fire is made there are no hiccups. But additional firefighters can help the engine company by addressing the problems with the hose that they see on the fireground.

Many times firefighters simply step over and keep on going while the engine struggles to advance on the fire. Any time the advance is slowed the engine company loses. Just prior to advancing, engine company firefighters should look down under the smoke before entering in an effort to see any victims and to help with identifying the layout. High performing engine companies will know when to hit and move or when to advance and flow. This is where experience and knowledge equate to fire extinguishment. When advancing, enter rooms from the hinged side of the door when possible and sweep wide when navigating corners through a structure.

The size of the first hoseline really sets the stage for effective fire extinguishment. Typically fire volume drives the size of the first hoseline. We have all heard big water for big fire. I think we have all seen the results of the wrong choice in the size of the first hoseline. In addition to the fire volume, firefighters should understand the building. Residential and commercial buildings require different size hoselines. Many times, the wrong choice of hose is a result of habit, complacency or even laziness. When speaking of flow, firefighters must know what the target flow is for the one and three-quarter inch, two inch and two and one-half inch hose lines respectfully. Additionally, these lines must be flow tested to ensure that the target flow is being accomplished. Unfortunately, most engine companies are not getting adequate flow out of their hose and nozzle packages. 

The items above are key to getting the first hoseline right. With time for the stages of fire being compressed and tight building syndrome, it is imperative that the engine company get the first hoseline right. The operational priority is the first hoseline. Without it, firefighters lose, but more importantly, the citizen loses. Through continuous, repetitive, and muscle memory training engine company firefighters can reduce the chance of losing on the fireground. The engine company gets one chance to get the first hoseline right! When the engine gets it right everyone wins on the fireground!! 

Stay Safe!!!

Richard Ray, a 25-year veteran of the fire service, has both volunteer and career experience. He is a member of the Creedmoor Vol. Fire Dept. (NC) where he is a captain. He is also a career firefighter with the Durham Fire Dept. (NC) where he is a captain assigned to an engine company and is an adjunct instructor for the training division. He has presented classes at conferences across the country and wrote articles for Fire Engineering Magazine. He is a certified instructor and instructs live fire, officer development, strategy and tactics, and engine company operations.

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