Effective Use of Master Streams

Part 1 – Operating Aerial and Ground-Based Master Streams


In 1963, the aerial platform was assigned to the sections of New York City where there were vacant buildings and century-old loft buildings and the danger of collapse. Here, the need for the quick setup of an aerial master stream for defensive strategy was critical. Once incident commanders learned to safely use this new powerful firefighting tool, it saved many firefighters’ lives. No longer were firefighters stretching five or six handlines into burning vacant and century-old buildings in danger of collapse.

A guideline in the FDNY passed down by veteran chiefs says, “When fire involves two or more floors and the operating hoselines do not have any immediate extinguishing effect, the incident commanders should consider a change in strategy to defensive, using outside master streams.” Today, firefighters can be ordered to withdraw and aerial platforms quickly moved into position. Some other advantages of the aerial platform are:

  • 1. It is much safer for firefighters performing complex operations at heights when securely standing in the bucket of an aerial platform, instead of balancing on an aerial ladder’s upper rungs. When working around overhead wires or collapsing cornices, removing large plate-glass windows or responding to window-washer scaffolding collapses, the aerial platform is preferred. Firefighters are securely standing on a flat platform inside the bucket when working with tools.
  • 2. Maneuverability and vertical and horizontal movement of the aerial platform is superior to the aerial ladder.
  • 3. The aerial platform is a much safer evacuation method for elderly persons and children trapped on upper floors. The aerial platform is an elevator, the aerial ladder is a stair.
  • 4. The use of a large-diameter master steam is more effective with a firefighter in the bucket to closely observe stream direction, penetration and extinguishing effect.

Every innovation has its disadvantage. The one drawback to the telescopic boom and bucket aerial platform used in New York City is the “rake”-like configuration of a bucket on top of a boom. The boom and bucket are like a modified garden rake. This “rake” can pull down parts of a building. Firefighters must be trained to prevent this misuse. When withdrawing an aerial platform from a building, the firefighter-operator must ensure there is clearance beneath the bucket before retracting the boom or the bucket. The bucket may snag on some part of the building and pull it down. When the bucket is resting on a parapet, cornice or fire escape, the operator must first raise the bucket to ensure clearance with objects below, then retract the boom. The standard operating procedure is to first “raise,” then “retract.”