Engine Company Operations: Firefighting Operations

Engine Company Operations


Firefighters operating in today’s fire departments can often lose focus on the historic mission of protecting life and extinguishing fire. We are often pulled in many different directions and wear multiple hats in addition to firefighter. Most departments have to do some sort of EMS response and training, perform fire inspections, conduct hydrant maintenance, perform community education, respond to hazardous materials and technical rescues and training, and public relations activities. After completing all of the added responsibilities, there is little time left to prepare our companies and ourselves for the primary mission of firefighting. Everyone preaches safety first. Science has proven that fires are hotter and more dangerous today and that at times we should consider alternatives to attacking a fire that are different than traditional interior attack. If you let the extra duties monopolize your time in the fire department, you will not be proficient at the historic mission and real reason we’re called the fire department-stretching and operating hoselines to put out fires!

Being Proficient

We have to be proficient and masterful at the basics of our job. There is no point in talking about selecting and placing hoselines if we cannot be masterful at deploying them in the first place. This means every aspect of the hose selection; placement and operation have to be second nature (habit) to handle the fire workload in your area. We can’t tell everyone how to fight fires in every community, as they are all different with different hazards. However, the basic one-, two-, or three-story, single-family residences and one- to five-story multiple dwellings exist everywhere. The personnel working on your engine company should know simple things like which line to use at a certain fire, if it is preconnected or static loaded, if it is 13⁄4- or 21⁄2-inch, and if the firefight is offensive or defensive on arrival. All of this can come from the boss, but wouldn’t it be better if everyone was dialed in and prepared to make these decisions with little or no direction?

The deployment of a four-section 13⁄4-inch preconnect can be broken down as follows:

Remove the hose off the apparatus onto your arm or shoulder. The amount of hose should generally be the lead length of 50 to 75 feet for most standard stretches to the front, side, or rear of a dwelling or entrance stairway, stairway landing, or apartment door to an ordinary multiple dwelling.

Following removal of the lead section, either the rest of the bed needs to be dumped by the nozzleman and dragged behind him or removed by a second firefighter. Generally, one properly trained firefighter can easily deploy a three-, four-, or five-section preconnect without difficulty (if he has become masterful).

The hose needs to be taken to the point of service. This is where we encounter smoke. This needs to be the last known location of safety for the engine crew. For residences, this is more than likely the front door, providing access and protection of the primary means of egress and the stairs. For multiple dwellings, depending on the layouts, this could be the stair landing at or below the fire apartment (those leading directly off the stairs), the hallway door if the apartment door is not controlled, or the door to the apartment in the hallway if the door is controlled.

The hose being taken behind the firefighter needs to be controlled throughout the stretch. Keeping your free hand on the hose allows for control around obstacles, keeps it from being pulled off your arm or shoulder if a snag occurs, and flakes the hose as it’s stretched.

You should always take a little extra time to get spare hose at or past the point of entry. Think of a fire in the basement or first floor of a 21⁄2-story wood frame. You may knock down fire on the lower level and then have to reposition to an upper floor in low-staffing situations. If you only bring enough hose to the entry point to cover the first floor, it’s more difficult to get the charged hose outside if it’s all flaked many feet from the entrance.

The lead length of hose on your arm or shoulder needs to make it to the point of service and be flaked to allow for ease of movement once charged. Generally, this is the nozzle and coupling evolution at the doorway (photo 1).

We’ve just covered six simple steps to deploy a hoseline, and each of those steps requires a level of skill that is parallel to special forces skill in the military-where no thinking, fumbling, or mistakes are made in the heat of battle. Before you start working on moving hoselines; staging hose; moving hose around obstacles, up stairs, down stairs, and getting it through a building; how to “pin and hit” with the line; and other little popular tips and tricks, you have to be proficient in getting the line to the point of service!

Selecting Hoselines

Selection of the right size and type of hoseline is a decision that has to be mastered so it can be made in a split second on arrival at a fire. You should be proficient in all hoseline operations and capabilities on your engine company and flawlessly execute the particular type or size of hoseline selected (13⁄4-, two-, 21⁄2-inch, or master stream). Most of the fires we combat in our communities are controlled with a single 13⁄4-inch hoseline. We have a lot of success with this size line, and it has become our “go-to” at most operations. This comfort level can lead to some bad choices at certain times. Our success, and sometimes luck (maybe using the primary and backup line to control a fire or being able to transition or retreat without injury), allows us to develop a habit-based operation on the fireground. We tend to use the line we always use, and our good luck sometimes reinforces bad behaviors. It seems we don’t use the 21⁄2-inch line because we feel we don’t have the staffing, it’s too difficult to deploy and operate, or we are simply afraid of it because of lack of use. (Lack of use = lack of training.)

There are a couple of systems that exist in helping to remember when to use a line bigger than a 13⁄4-inch that have been around for a while. Generally, the 13⁄4-inch line is used for fires in compartmentalized areas (such as single and multifamily occupancies) and areas with low fire loads where the speed and mobility of the 13⁄4-inch is more beneficial over the 21⁄2-inch. The 13⁄4-inch properly operated and pumped can deliver between 150 and 200 gpm, depending on hose and nozzle combinations. This weapon will allow for control of most single and multiroom fires in residential occupancies. We’ve had success extinguishing fires overtaking the majority of a standard size residence with a single 13⁄4-inch line.


The ADULTS system, from the Fire Department of New York, is used by many firefighters to help remember when to use a larger line. This system is good to review and practice for the types of fires and occupancies that require the bigger line. Hopefully, you have practiced making decisions on arrival so you don’t need to recite “ADULTS” in your head to make decisions at the scene. ADULTS stands for Advanced fire, Defensive operations, Unable to determine extent or location, Large open fire areas, Tons of fire, and Standpipe operations.

Advanced fire: This is a fire that has engulfed a large majority of a structure and requires a high-gpm stream for quick knockdown to stop fire spread. Some of these fires could involve a large residence with fire overtaking an entire floor, a lightweight wood-frame multiple dwelling with fire extending to the attic space, or an attached garage fire. You will always need to think about where the fire is and where it’s going when making line decisions on the fireground. In some of these fires, a quick knockdown with a 21⁄2-inch or master stream and movement interior with a 13⁄4-inch to finish off the fire works well. Obviously, these operations need to be practiced and choreographed ahead of time for success at actual incidents.

Defensive operations: These should be obvious fires where interior operations won’t be undertaken either initially or ever because of the extent and location of the fire and integrity of the structure. Additionally, the operation of exposure lines to protect fires exposing other structures should be a 21⁄2-inch line. This line can be stretched and operated by a single well-trained firefighter while an adequately staffed engine company stretches other lines.

Unable to determine extent or location: This generally occurs when the exact area and size of the fire cannot be determined from the exterior of the building. This occurs in larger commercial occupancies when smoke conditions don’t allow for rapid identification of what is burning or how advanced the actual fire is. The 21⁄2-inch in these circumstances allows for more reach, penetration, and gpm to the fire area by the engine company. Some might think two 13⁄4-inch lines will do better than a single 21⁄2-inch line. While it may move faster and easier and flow the same amount of water, the reach and penetration with water on target can’t be equaled.

Large open fire areas: This is very similar to the reasoning behind the “U” portion of the system. These occupancies generally have large open spaces and the reach, penetration, and high-gpm flow are likely to be needed. These occupancies can include supermarkets, industrial, general commercial, auto repair shops, churches, and warehouses.

Tons of fire: This option is obvious and likely will require more than a 21⁄2-inch hoseline, such as a master stream device.

Standpipe operations: Operations of hoselines from standpipe discharges were designed to operate 21⁄2-inch handlines. Prior to 1993, the systems were designed to have a pressure of 65 psi at the highest outlet. This pressure didn’t come arbitrarily; it was based on flowing 250 gpm from a 21⁄2-inch line (50 psi nozzle pressure with five psi per section friction loss × three sections). The low pressures that can be present in the system because of flaws, age, and restriction devices generally won’t support pressure to adequately deliver gpm from smaller 13⁄4-inch and two-inch hoselines. There are a multitude of other reasons to choose 21⁄2-inch hoselines for standpipe operations, such as reflex time, pressure-reducing valves, pressure-restricting devices, wind-driven fires, large open areas in commercial standpipe-equipped buildings, high British thermal unit fire loads, and flaws in the system or piping.

The ADULTS system works to give you baseline knowledge to make decisions on arrival at a fire as long as you have practiced and trained ahead of time in making decisions based on these principles prior to the fire.

To keep things simpler, select the 21⁄2-inch line over the 13⁄4-inch line in any building or occupancy with a fire or fire potential that will exceed the capabilities of the smaller 13⁄4-inch line. (Think of the 13⁄4-inch line as a residential line and the 21⁄2-inch line as the commercial line).

Placement of Hoselines

Generally, the first line should always go between the fire and victims to help confine the fire and allow for rescue of any occupants. Usually the front door is the best route to put the line between the fire and victims in residential buildings (single or multifamily). By protecting the interior stairs, we provide protection for egress of occupants and access for those firefighters performing rescue operations. For fires on lower floors, the stairs are the most dangerous vertical extension hazard and by protecting the interior stairs we limit fire spread potential.

On arrival at the scene, it’s imperative to see at least three sides of the building if possible. For most residential-type occupancies, this can usually be accomplished. You are typically able to tell the location and extent of the fire from a three-sided view. If people meet you or you see people exiting, ask them where the fire is and if everyone is out. While this information can be inaccurate, it at least provides a baseline to help find a fire not readily visible on arrival. In addition, the information gathered in a brief conversation can save time during the placement of the hoseline and the advance toward the fire. If there are multiple entrances to a building or occupancy, the correct entrance must be found before committing lines to a certain location. This is true in some multiple dwellings and other subdivided previously single-family dwellings. Ask the occupants for the most direct route to the fire!

Offensive Hoseline Placement:

When placing lines for offensive fire attack, consider the following:

First line: It is placed between occupants and the fire, usually through the front door and in residential occupancies. Use the 13⁄4-inch for speed and ease of movement during interior operations.

Second line: It should back up the first line. If the first line is having difficulty advancing or being placed, consider helping the first line. This might be necessary in multiple dwellings or when the first engine is low on staffing. If the first line is in operation and controlling the fire, then consider placing the second line above the fire to search for fire extension in internal exposed areas. (Placement of the first line is paramount! Most fires are extinguished with the first line!)

Third line and subsequent lines: These protect secondary means of egress and are backup lines if primary lines are fighting fire, other internal exposed areas, and exterior exposures.

Defensive Hoseline Placement:

When placing lines for defensive fire attack, consider the following:

First line: It should usually be 21⁄2-inch or master stream and should be placed to protect the greatest life hazard first. If no life hazard exists, protect the property of greatest value. If no life or value is present, protect the most severe exposure. When placing water on exposures, focus on the exposed building first and alternate between the fire and exposed buildings.

Second and subsequent lines: These lines can be used to stretch into exposed buildings to fight extension, control the main fire building, or protect other exposures.

Careful Selection

As we have shown, there are multiple considerations to be made in the selection and placement of lines at a fire. As we have stressed, mastery of basic engine company functions is essential for success on the fireground. To select and place the appropriate hoseline, you need to be able to perform the hands-on functions to achieve your goal. Your training can’t rely only on making such decisions from watching videos on the Internet or studying scenarios. You have to put hose on the ground and perform the skills necessary to succeed when it matters. Get out and put some hose on the ground and master the skills necessary to perform once you select and decide where to place a line at a fire!