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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One “con,” or downside, of the forward stretch occurs when an engine responds with less-than-adequate staffing (for example, one officer, one pump operator and one firefighter.) In this case, the firefighter making the hydrant hookup leaves the pump operator and company officer temporarily shorthanded to do the work of supply line hookup. The officer and pump operator will hook up the supply hose and may stretch an attack hoseline in the initial stages of fire operations by themselves.

Another con concerns a limited-supply water system. Where a community has a water system with small mains, small hydrants, dead-end mains and/or hydrants spaced at long distances, this can severely limit available water from a hydrant. This can be a serious problem where a large fire occurs in a remote setting and few hydrants are available, resulting in long supply hose stretches and excessive friction losses. In such cases, it is prudent to hook a supply engine to the hydrant, pumping into the supply hose pushing water to the attack engine.

In older neighborhoods, when several engines are performing forward stretches, they may experience reduced intake volumes because too many engines are drawing from the same grid source. It may be best to find the largest-volume hydrants and establish relays for maximum volume.

Steps for Implementing A Forward Stretch

1. Know your district or community and its characteristics – This is imperative and is an old axiom of the “job.” Firefighters in the past were always expected to know their districts. The senior firefighters of today should have been taught this by their senior firefighters years ago and should be passing these little tips on to their less-senior members. If you know your community, then you should know where the good water supplies and the bad water supplies are located.

If you work with other fire departments on a regular automatic-response system or mutual aid system, meet with everyone you will work to see how compatible your water systems are. You also want to look at your engines and see what size hose and couplings your neighbors are using. The worst time to find out your hose is different from your neighbors’ and no one has any adapters to overcome differences is when the fire is burning everything in front of you and you are powerless to get an effective attack moving!

2. Know your available water system, including fire hydrant locations, volume and pressure – Some municipalities have hydrants located every couple of hundred feet, while in some localities the spacing is much greater. In any case, it’s hard for everyone to know the water system. Some fire departments have developed hydrant, or “plug,” books that show all hydrant locations and their available water volumes. Departments with mobile data terminals (MDTs) in apparatus cabs entered this information in their data systems and locate hydrants by computer maps while responding. It is important to know your volume and flowing pressure from your system and the distance between your hydrants.

Do you have hilly terrain? If you have limited water availability and a hillside fire, an engine company stretching uphill will encounter the same elevation loss as if the water was going straight up as in a building standpipe. If you have this potential problem in your community, train now to overcome it. It may be as simple as setting an engine “on a hydrant” to push water to the fireground.

3. Use large-diameter hose (LDH) for supply purposes – Not that long ago, many fire departments were using supply lines consisting of 2½-inch hose. Today, LDH is the norm. Four- and five-inch hose appear to be the most popular sizes and are the most efficient at moving large volumes of water over long distances. (Some departments use six-inch hose, but it is not common; it is found in many industrial fire departments because of their particular threat potential.) However, it should be understood that even with LDH on your engines, there is still the factor of friction loss to consider, especially if you must make long stretches.