Pros and Cons of The Forward Stretch

The forward stretch is used routinely by many fire departments for getting water from a source (hydrant) to an attack engine. This evolution is especially effective in the early stages of an intense and/or growing incident.


Firefighters are enjoying the quiet of a summer afternoon in their fire station discussing the night’s dinner when the stationhouse speakers crackle. The dispatcher announces “a reported structure fire” with a sense of urgency. Within seconds, firefighters are hustling toward their...


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The forward stretch is used routinely by many fire departments for getting water from a source (hydrant) to an attack engine. When employed properly, it provides an engine company with a quick, secure water supply and flexibility in fire attack operations. This evolution is especially effective in the early stages of an intense and/or growing incident. It lets an engine be positioned with its hose and equipment near a fire building or incident with an established water supply.

This operation is different from a reverse stretch, where an engine company arrives at a working fire and drops its attack hose (and tools) at the fire and then takes off to a nearby hydrant or water source with hose trailing behind the engine. The pump operator in a reverse lay makes all the hookups unless help is available. The “reverse” pumping engine then pumps water back to the fire. The forward stretch is also not like an “attack” engine that responds to a fire and begins the fire attack with water from its booster tank while a supply line is hand-stretched to a nearby hydrant or where a second engine supplies the attack engine with water in a relay.

In its simplest form, the forward stretch involves an engine company locating a hydrant before arriving at a fire scene; having one firefighter get off the engine with a supply hose, a hydrant wrench and any other tools necessary for making the hookup; “wrapping” the hydrant with the supply hose, and then signaling the engine to proceed to the fire or address. When the engine is in its proper or selected fireground position, the supply hose is then broken and hooked into a pump intake. Once that is done, the “call for water” is made to the hydrant firefighter, the line is charged and the water supply is established.

What Works & What May Not

In short, the forward stretch is used to quickly establish a water supply and can help firefighters start a fire attack and keep it going without interruption of water. This procedure has its pros and cons, and we will look at some of each. Maybe your department has a few of its own.

One pro has already been mentioned – that is where the engine stops and secures a water supply before reaching the fire and then finishes responding to the location with the supply hose being laid or “stretched” as the engine moves forward. When the engine stops on the fireground, the pump operator (or another firefighter) breaks the supply hose coupling, hooks it into a pump intake and makes a call for water to the firefighter at the hydrant. That firefighter acknowledges the call and turns on the hydrant fully. When water reaches the pump, the supply is established.

Some fire departments perform the forward stretch with one added feature – after positioning the engine at a fire that is going to be fought using handlines, the initial attack line is stretched into position as quickly as possible and is charged with water from the booster tank. This is an excellent evolution that provides quick water application on the fire while the hydrant supply is being secured. Once the water supply is established, the pump is switched over to hydrant supply. Now, other attack lines can be stretched as needed. Any extra or unused water can be used to refill the engine water tank.

Keep in mind that the volume of an engine’s booster tank water supply must be watched during initial attack operations so as not to run dry before the hydrant supply arrives. A good rule of thumb is to charge only one handline for tank capacities of 750 gallons or less. (Note: That is predicated on the size of attack hoseline used, preferably 1¾ inch, and if a fire department meets or exceeds target flow in their attack lines or if it uses high-volume nozzles.)

If an engine arrives at a large fire that needs to be hit with a big amount of water, as from a deck gun, the engine performing the forward lay should first be positioned (with exposures in mind) for the best possible stream advantage and then supplied from a hydrant. Once the water supply is received, the heavy-stream attack can begin. By this method of supply hose stretch, your engine can start “big water” and keep water flowing without interruption, rather than using booster-tank water, as it would most likely be used up very quickly. However, if your engine is equipped with a large water tank, you can darken down a lot of fire, especially if your stream is well placed. Also consider the size of your solid-stream tips and how many gallons per minute they deliver at 80 psi.