The Probie's Guide to the Engine Company: Lines, Lines, Lines - Part II

From the street to the fire door
"Engine 7 to Engine 7 Pump, charge the line." As the barman of Ladder 3 slips the Hydra-Ram in to force the apartment door open, the probie takes the nozzle and kneels down on it on the floor. While slipping his facepiece and hood on, his lieutenant tells him water is on the way. He can see through the narrow opening as the door is forced, a dull orange glow. Smoke begins to collect at the top of the second floor landing. "Suit up" the lieutenant tells him, as he puts his own facepiece on. With his regulator in place he grips ahold of the nozzle and inches up close to Ladder 3's interior team.

"Aw man, it's just the kitchen off, that's all" says the can man. The probie can hear he is breathing fast and tries to calm himself down. The line is charged and he opens the nozzle slightly to bleed the air. "Open it all the way." the lieutenant tells him. As he does the stream bounces off the floor. "Okay, good. Shut it down." More smoke banks down on them and the barman checks to see if the engine company is ready. The probie and lieutenant move up to the door and the barman opens it fully. The probie can feel the heat and sees flames rolling partly across the living room. "Let's go" the lieutenant tells him, moving him into the room.

He stops and starts to kneel down in the middle of the room and is pushed forward by the lieutenant. "No, a little closer. It's just a kitchen, come on, get up on it!" As he creeps forward he sees the barman, can man and captain of Ladder 3 move around him, left, right and down the apartment hallway. "Okay, up at the ceiling over the fire and open it all the way and keep your hand off the bale." Pointing the nozzle up at the top of the kitchen ceiling, he pulls hard on the bale, adjusts his stance, and remembering his training, moves the stream left and right at the top of the kitchen.

"Get up off of both knees." "Okay, get up, walk it in" says the lieutenant. Instantly visibility has gone to seeing nothing but black and the heat has dropped. They move up a bit more and the probie can see embers and debris flying around. "Drop it down some" the lieutenant says, and the probie moves the stream down, playing it across the cabinetry. He can hear the water knocking stuff off the counter, out of the cabinets.

To his right he notices a soft glow, and on his left he hears the truckies moving around, the captain of Ladder 3 telling the lieutenant the primary search is negative. "Okay, shut it down and let this lift a little bit and we'll see what we got" the lieutenant tells him. As he shuts the line down he can feel the tension in his arms and shoulders, notices his heavy breathing, is hearing transmissions on his radio and he feels the slap of something on his back as the can man moves him aside to start opening up.

"Good job kid," the backup firefighter tells him through his mask, "good job."

From the Street to the Fire Door
Part I of this series presented the need to have the hose racked properly and how to size-up and estimate a stretch. In Part II we will go over stretching the line to the fire room and some common problems. Note: all photographs are illustrative of the subject and not necessarily actual firefighter/fireground errors. The terms are either department-specific or are from my own experience.

"The control firefighter's primary function is to assure that the correct amount of hose is stretched in order that the nozzle reaches the seat of the fire...The success of an engine company hoseline operation relies greatly upon the actions of the control firefighter...A hoseline that is stretched quickly but in an uncontrolled fashion may result in excess hose and kinks or insufficient hose and a short stretch."* Emphasis mine.

No matter if your attack lines come off the bumper, the crosslay or the backstep, someone in your engine company is supposed to insure that the hose stretch is done correctly. Some departments have in their engine company riding assignments, a position that is responsible for this task. In the FDNY, the position is called the "control" position. This firefighter is responsible for judging the situation and estimating the number of lengths to use, chasing kinks, assist the engine company chauffer with the hydrant connection, chocking doors and feeding the line, as well as other duties specific to the engine company's position due. Your own engine company should have someone working in a role similar to the control so that your hoseline stretch is done correctly. Not for the fact that it is because they do it like that in New York, but that most problems with the hoseline stretch occur in the street.

Problem No.1: "Rip and Run"
As was presented in Part I, there is a specific reason as to why we rack the hose the way we do. It is to make sure that the hoseline selected can be quickly and properly taken to the seat of the fire. In order to do this your engine company has decided to rack your attack lines in a way that should be the easiest for the majority of your members. Having a firefighter grab the nozzle only (see photo 2), or the nozzle and one fold of hose, and then running to the fire building causes the hoseline to not come off your engine correctly, leaving a pile of kinked hose in the street.

Most shoulder loads, or any load for that matter, are arranged so that the firefighter can either take off the whole amount (depending on the total number of lengths and arrangement) or an amount sufficient for him to work with as he enters the fire building.

Problem No.2: "The Off the Shoulder Load"
One area that I still see when new members work on pulling hoselines is that they are in such a rush that they fail to get the complete load on their shoulder. What usually happens is that the lineman grabs the hose, pulls it out approximately a foot or so and then, with both hands, drapes it over his shoulder while stepping down from the engine (see photo 3). This leaves the lineman looking as if he has ahold of a bag over his shoulder and as he advances to the fire building, the folds begin to slip out of his grasp, hose catches on obstructions, and the entire load is dropped at the front door.

To make sure you can have your hose properly deployed, you need to have it (if it is a shoulder load) draped across your shoulder at its middle point. The nozzle should be somewhere in the area of your waist or your knees. This helps keep the hose on your shoulder without its own weight pulling it off. It also allows you to keep the opposite side hand somewhat free, since you won't need both hands to hold the hose on your shoulder.

Problem No.3: "Not Clearing the Bed"
Depending upon how your hose loads are arranged and apparatus staffing, you may have a length or more left in the bed as the majority of the hose is stretched (see photo 4). Two problems occur when it is not communicated beforehand who will be responsible for making sure that all of the selected hose is out of its bed. One problem is that everyone thinks someone else will do it. The other problem is that a rush to clear the bed results with a pile of spaghetti at the pump panel or back step, by some firefighter simply yanking the remaining hose off (see photo 5).

The solution to the first problem is to determine who is responsible for clearing the bed. Some departments will state that it is the driver's responsibility, some say the firefighter assigned to the nozzle. Some say it is the responsibility of the last firefighter on the hoseline. And some hoselines are arranged so that the bed is completely cleared when the line is pulled. As part of your guide to your engine company, you need to work with your other firefighters and officer to have a solution.

A good rule of thumb would be to have the last firefighter to assist with stretching the hoseline go back to the engine and check the bed. It would only take a second or two. The solution to the second problem is found in having an understood and teachable manner in how your company will stretch each line depending upon staffing. I have always said, and it is proven, that a hoseline that requires four or more firefighters to properly stretch can also be properly stretched by three or even two. The only difference is in the speed of the stretch.

Rushing around, grabbing folds of hoseline, tossing them here and there, accomplishes nothing, tires out the firefighter needlessly and does not eliminate common hoseline problems.

Problem No.4: "The Missing or Left Behind Backup Firefighter"
Two additional problems with hose stretches are caused by the missing or left behind backup firefighter. This firefighter is quickly right behind you when attacking the fire, but while you are stretching the line, he is nowhere to be found. Whether you have a specific backup position or not, this position is equally responsible for how the hoseline is deployed.

Depending upon the line length, the backup firefighter may have to simply make sure the bed is cleared, or he may have to properly shoulder his own sections of hose. The most common problem I have experienced is that the backup firefighter is left behind because the lineman has grabbed his section of hoseline and has made a "run for the hills". This leaves the backup firefighter trying to grab ahold of hose as it is being yanked and jerked out of the bed. Rather than take his sections properly, or stopping the lineman, the backup firefighter resorts to grabbing ahold of whatever amount of hose he can and trying to catch up with the lineman.

The second problem is when the backup firefighter simply abandons his company and heads into the fire building. Solutions to that problem are addressed by training and discipline. The backup firefighter, just like the lineman, needs to make sure he has ahold of his sections of hose properly (see photo 6). Depending on how the hoselines are packed, his sections will usually be the first to properly fall out during the stretch. As he and the line move towards the fire building and the fire room, he needs to be mindful of obstructions, pinch points, and chase kinks as well. Like any quality engineman, he should have a few chocks, either in his helmet band or pockets, and should be ensuring that the doors his company passes through are properly chocked open,

Problems with the stretch begin in the mind of every firefighter assigned to the engine company and if not corrected before the alarm, will continue out in the street. Regardless of whether your department is a large municipal department or a rural volunteer company, if you are assigned to the engine company you are responsible for a quick and efficient hoseline stretch, no matter your position on the hose. Take the time to practice stretching hoselines, experimenting with new loads to see what will work best for you overall situation. In the next article, the actions of the lineman, or nozzleman, will be presented, with a focus on sizeup of the fire room, operating the nozzle and making important decisions. Until then I leave you with what I consider the best quote about engine work.

"Good engine companies are aggressive but also disciplined. Disciplined engine companies 'take the time to make the time.' They take an extra 30 seconds to properly position the rig and estimate the handline stretch. They chock doors. They chase kinks. They see the big picture. Disciplined engine companies are deliberate, patient and professional. Is your engine company disciplined?" Andrew Fredericks, Firefighter. Squad Company 18, FDNY

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  • FDNY Engine Company Operations, Chapter 5. The Control Position

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