Engine Co Ops — Water Supply

In previous articles we covered some important aspects of the engine company. Topics included the first line, the second line and understanding fire ground flow. The next element to discuss is the water supply. Failing to have a positive supply of water on the fireground equates to poor fireground performance and potential embarrassment. Additionally, the property owners and occupants are on the losing end. In many instances establishing a positive water supply can be as difficult as the fireground operation.

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Factors That Drive Water Supply

Firefighters must understand the factors that drive water supply. Some of these factors include:

  • Operating on tank water
  • Hydrant operations
  • Overcoming problems in non-hydranted areas
  • What resources are needed to establish and maintain the water supply

Obviously, fire volume and the type of district — hydrant or non-hydrant — plays a significant role in identifying which water supply will be needed on the fireground. To keep it simple, remember that your water supply must meet your fireground demand. If the supply doesn’t meet the demand we lose and can potentially cause injury and further damage.

Water Supply SOPs

In your organization what are your SOPs for conducting a water supply operation? Are these SOPs updated and changed as the fire district changes? Do the mutual aid agreements reflect the amount and types of resources needed to conduct a water supply operation? Do the run cards for your fire district reflect the appropriate response for water supply? These are just a few of the questions that must be addressed prior to the call coming in.

For the engine company the firegound operation begins by utilizing tank water. Engine company firefighters should know how long they can operate working off of tank water. Training evolutions should revolve around how long the tank water will last with the department’s hose and nozzle set-up. Tank water provides the firefighters an opportunity to get quick water on the fire. Line and placement and accurate stretches are critical to getting the most out of tank water. When operating on tank water make sure you get the right amount of water on the fire at the right place and right time.

In the urban setting, engine companies move from tank water to hydrants. Hydrant locations can range from 300 to 500 feet in the urban setting. Some departments will catch the hydrant and lay-in to the fire. For some departments this will work because of the accessibility of hydrants but what happens when the hydrant doesn’t work or maybe staffing affects the company’s ability to do this? How do you overcome these challenges? Has your department trained on the various scenarios? Do you build redundancy in hydrant operations to increase fireground flow and help maintain the supply? In addition to using the steamer discharge on the hydrant be sure to add a gate valve to either side of the hydrant. It can provide you with another avenue for accessing more water from the hydrant.

In non-hydranted areas establishing a water supply can potentially be a bit more difficult depending on resources and personnel. What options are available to you in the non-hydranted area? Does your department utilize drop tanks or nurse feed or both? Where are the tankers coming from and what are their response times? How many tankers are required to achieve and sustain the desired flow? The only way to achieve proficiency is through training. Without prior training in establishing a water supply in a non-hydranted area the engine company will not be successful. When was the last time that you trained on establishing a water supply that involves drop tanks and tanker shuttles? These are things that must be done and known prior to the incident happening if the department wants a successful operation.

There are numerous external factors that can have an effect on a successful water supply operation. In my corner of the fire service supply hoseline kinks are a problem. We discuss the importance of addressing kinks in our attack line but we don’t when it comes to the supply line. Kinks on the intake side of the pump are of equal importance as they are on the discharge side. Kinks affect flow. The hard part of addressing kinks in the supply line is that once it fills with water the supply line becomes heavy and hard to move. Take the extra 30 seconds to make sure the supply line has been addressed prior to charging it to avoid potential kinks and limited flow.

Maintaining a positive water supply is just as important as the initial line. Without the appropriate amount of water supply we can’t effectively extinguish the fire. Training is the cornerstone that improves our skill set. The ability to understand and perform the different methodologies for conducting the appropriate water supply is critical to the fire suppression efforts. Work hard, train often and stay safe!

Richard Ray, a 26-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 Battalion Chief 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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