Firefighting With Booster Reels

I am often asked by US Firefighters why the UK Fire Service uses boosters (or Hosereels as we call them).

Photo By Steve Dudeney
A typical UK pumper with 200ft of high pressure hosereel (bottom left) constantly connected each side of the appliance.

Photo By Steve Dudeney
1190gpm rear mounted pump.

Photo By Steve Dudeney
This fire in a 3rd floor apartment in poplar, East London was controlled using a high pressure hosereel, a second hosereel was placed from the ground floor to protect the exposure above.

Photo By Steve Dudeney
Dividing walls within the apartment were constructed of brick, preventing fire spread beyond the compartment of origin.

Photo By Steve Dudeney
By comparison, larger diameter hose and an aerial stream was used on this severe house fire in Poplar. Note how brick construction limited the spread of fire to adjoining houses, even the roof spaces are separated by a brick wall. Extension of fire was allowed by internal spread through open doors and a loft hatch that was left open at the head of the stairs.

I am often asked by US firefighters why the UK fire service uses booster lines.(or Hosereels as we call them). I have watched massive debate for and against their use on many forums including the forums.

The principal reason is construction. Most buildings in the UK are of what we call "traditional construction," in short they are made of brick and concrete. Many single occupancy houses are made of brick with wooden floors and roof members, although every wall (including internal walls) are made of brick. Due to strict building codes all commercial and apartment buildings are made of brick and/or concrete with wood and other materials reserved for fittings and roof structure if the building has a pitched roof. The exception to this are; modern buildings of lightweight truss construction such as factories and warehouses

The UK fire service utilizes high pressure hosereels on approximately 80% of its firefighting applications. They operate at 500psi flowing 35gpm. The hosereels are used in thousands upon thousands of rubbish, vehicle and small structural fires per year throughout the UK without loss or the need to change to higher flow handlines. The London Fire Brigade alone tackles 50,000 fires per year; around 40,000 of these are dealt with using the hosereel.

I don't want you to run away with the idea that this method is the be all and end all of firefighting within the UK; Let us take an average domestic fire. If crews roll up to a regular UK brick built house with moderate fire conditions on the upper floor then a hosereel with be pulled off and placed in service using the tank supply within a few seconds. General good practice follows with a 1 &3/4 inch line (120gpm @ 100psi) laid out to back up the 'reel' in case of emergency; while the supply is being augmented from the hydrant. A regular UK fire truck has a 1190GPM multistage (high & low pressure) pump and a 475 Gallon on board water supply. This means a single hosereel will last just under 14 minutes or two will last 7 minutes.

If a fire starts in a room and the door is open, the fire will tend to burn in the room with fire damage spreading from the open door into a hallway and possibly into other rooms via open doors. Fire spread through walls and ceilings is a very rare occurrence, allowing an effective knock down with a high pressure hosereel.

On the other hand, if we roll up to a small commercial or domestic building that is well involved, the hosereel may be placed in a defensive manner for a couple of minutes by a single member while a larger 1 &3/4" or 2 &1/2" inch lines are laid out. High rise fires are the same, even if we were able to pull a reel all the way up the stairs. The higher fire loading and effects of wind, could easily overcome the limited ability of the reel. Standard practice in all such operations is to lay out large diameter hose that will ensure a higher flow of water is available if required.

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