In the fire service, we do so many things on a daily basis, both emergency and non-emergency, that we’ve become creatures of habit. Our habits are learned and passed on from the senior guys to the younger guys or from officers to firefighters each day. Although some of these habits won’t affect your safety or your ability to combat a fire successfully, there are several that will directly affect how we go to work.
A bad habit can be as simple as not being completely dressed for system alarms or not taking proper tools and equipment with you on each call. Although we often get lucky, that doesn’t make our bad habits smart or safe. We may think nothing adverse ever happens because we make it back to the station in one piece, but actually, getting lucky lulls us into a false sense of security, making us think bad things won’t happen because they never have before. So we just keep preserving the status quo because we think these actions always work.
In this article, the bad habit we’ll discuss deals with the selection and use of the 2½" line. In our experience in the fire service, we often see engine companies rely on the same old 1¾" line for initial attack on all fires. Engine companies use this line with success on the majority of fires, but on larger fires they should be making a different choice. In other words, they should use a bigger attack line from the start of operations.
When to Use the Big Line
There are several instances in which the 2½" line should be the first choice of a well-trained engine company. Although the situations below aren’t absolutes, they should serve as a guideline to assist you in selecting the proper tool for the job.
You and your crew should first train with a 2½" line, deploying it in realistic situations, pumping it at appropriate pressures and operating and advancing it properly. By doing this, you’ll determine any issues you may have with operating the line, as well as where firefighters should be placed on the line. This training will allow you to fine-tune your skills and, depending on the needs of your department and community, may also lead to adjustments in procedures that mandate engine companies work together when 2½" lines are deployed in an offensive mode.
When operating in a defensive mode, the 2½" line should be deployed so that you can easily apply high gpms to the fire. Using a smoothbore 1⅛" or 1¼" tip, the 2½" line can easily deliver 300–400 gpm and can provide adequate reach and penetration to keep firefighters out of the collapse zone for a large majority of buildings.
In our system, we have a 1⅜" tip that supplies 450 gpm through a single 2½" line for defensive operations. For us, this is easy to handle when delivering water in the stationary defensive mode. As an alternative, there are several small 2½" portable master-stream devices on the market that would allow you to deliver 400–500 gpm from a single 2½" with limited personnel.
Large Volumes of Fire
This should be obvious. As the old saying goes, “big fire equals big water.” No matter the building, if you have a very large volume of fire you should use, or consider using, a 2½" line. The increased gpm will give you a better chance of overcoming the energy being produced by the fire.
Note: Fire from two to three windows in a compartmentalized, single- or multi-family residence doesn’t usually indicate a large volume of fire that requires the use of a 2½"; however, fire from two to three windows of a commercial occupancy or fire showing from all orifices of a residential occupied building should require the use of a 2½".
Fires in commercial occupancies should require the use of a 2½" line. These types of occupancies are similar to those above, with large, open spaces and high ceilings, which require increased reach and gpm. But they can also have extremely high fire loads because they house a variety of commodities and items being processed. Due to the fact that we may not know what’s being stored or manufactured inside these types of buildings, we don’t always know the specific fire load, which increases our safety risk upon entering. This is why using a 2½" line can be so important. Using the 2½" will allow you to deliver more gpm from a greater distance and with greater penetration.
When protecting exposures, the use of 2½" fire lines is important because you must continuously apply large quantities of water to the exposed surface but you must also have enough reach for the water to cover as much of the exposed surface as possible.
When faced with low staffing situations, one firefighter can easily manage a 2½" exposure line by pinning the hose to the ground 2–3 feet behind the nozzle with their knee and using their hands to move the end of the hose and nozzle around to apply water to the exposure. As with defensive ops, remember, there are also several lightweight, portable, 2½" master-stream devices available that can rapidly apply high gpm with limited staffing.
The reasons for using the 2½" during standpipe operations could fill another article, so we’ll just mention a few of them here: 1) the unknown size of the fire when arriving at the fire floor due to reflex time; 2) the presence of pressure-reducing valves or pressure-restricting devices; 3) large open spaces in standpipe-equipped commercial buildings; 4) the narrowing of the system over years due to sediments in the piping; and 5) generally poor pressure and gpm from the riser.
Handling & Maneuvering
When you ask firefighters if they know when to use the 2½" fire line, they often say yes; however, the line doesn’t seem to be selected when it should. It may be that engine companies know they should be using a 2½" fire line, but due to staffing constraints, they resort to using a smaller one.
Everyone would probably agree that in a perfect world, you’d have a nozzle firefighter, a back-up firefighter, a door or control firefighter and, if the stretch is difficult, firefighters spaced at various locations to facilitate movement around corners and up stairs. In reality, you may only have a nozzle firefighter, a back-up firefighter and one additional firefighter to start operations. So how do you operate a 2½" with three people? Simple: Train on handling and maneuvering the line. Doing this will help any engine company increase their confidence and skill levels when using the line, and if done enough, will make using it almost second nature, thus removing any fear or anxiety they may have.
One Simple Technique
Here’s one simple technique for handling the 2½" in the offensive mode with limited personnel: The nozzle firefighter should take a position that allows for maximum control and movement of the line. Ideally, this firefighter should raise the knee closest to the hose, so that the hose rests on their thigh and can be pinned against the body by the arm on the same side as the raised leg, with the same hand firmly grasping the hose. The nozzle firefighter should then keep the nozzle out in front at arm’s length and control the shut-off with the other hand. This position allows the firefighter to maintain control of the hose and allows full movement in all directions.
The back-up firefighter should take a position directly behind the nozzle firefighter on the same side of the hose. The back-up has the most important job, because they take on the majority of the reaction force for the nozzle firefighter and assist in monitoring conditions around the hose team. They are also crucial when moving and advancing the line.
When using the big line, the flow, weight of the hose/water and reaction force will be much greater than that experienced with a smaller line. To ease the reaction forces on both the nozzle and back-up firefighters, and to make the operation of the nozzle easier for the nozzle firefighter, the back-up firefighter should use the knee closest to the hose to pin the hose against the ground directly behind the nozzle firefighter. As the nozzle is pinned, the back-up should keep their hand on the hose directly behind the nozzle firefighter, keeping the hose in line as they lean into the nozzle firefighter.
This simple action does a few things: First, it directs a majority of the reaction force into the ground. Second, it allows the easy upward movement of the nozzle without creating any resistance for the back-up firefighter, who may be holding the hose up, thus creating a difficult bend in the hose directly behind the nozzle firefighter. Third, it allows the back-up firefighter to keep their head up so they can help survey conditions. And finally, it reduces stress on the nozzle and back-up firefighters, allowing them to stay in the fight longer.
Putting It All Together
Although we’ve reviewed when to use the 2½" fire line and some simple handling techniques for crews with limited staffing, you can’t just read this information and expect to perform perfectly on the fireground. You must take this information and put it into practice with your firefighters. The only way to be successful is to train frequently on using the 2½" fire line and to have a can-do attitude about it.
Don’t fall into the “bad-habit trap.” Don’t continue to use the 1¾" on every single fire because it’s what you’ve always done and it’s worked so far. Don’t use a smaller line when you know you should be using the 2½". The results can be deadly for your firefighters or occupants of the building on fire.