Hoseline Placement At Structural Fires

When and where a fireground commander orders the first attack hoseline to be stretched is a critical decision at a building fire.

Most structural fires are extinguished by the first hoseline. If the first hoseline stretched is sent to the right location and it extinguishes the blaze, the second hoseline will not be needed or is stretched only as a precaution.

Photo by Ken Love
Rockford, IL, firefighters stretch a hoseline through a door of a burning home on Christmas Day 1996. For a room and/or content fire in a house or apartment, recommended procedures call for the first attack hoseline to be stretched in a front, rear or side doorway.

A properly positioned first attack hoseline saves most lives at a fire, confines the fire and reduces property damage. If the hoseline goes to the right place and extinguishes the fire, every other firefighting tactic will go smoothly. The searches will proceed quickly, firefighters will get into position and venting to save lives will be effective; sufficient personnel will be available for laddering, examination for fire spread will be performed safely above the fire and rescues of trapped victims will proceed with less danger to firefighters.

There are no hard and fast rules for hoseline placement. A fire chief and company officer must be flexible. However, there are some general guidelines of hoseline placement. The following hose placement procedures have proven effective in the FDNY.

Placement of the first attack hoseline. For a room and/or content fire in a house or apartment, the first attack hoseline is stretched by firefighters through a front, rear or side doorway. The hose stream nozzle is positioned and used to drive heat, flame and smoke from inside to outside through a vented window or other door or through an opening created by an "outside vent firefighter."

The first attack hoseline stream is usually not directed into a flaming window. One of the advantages of advancing the first attack hoseline through a door rather than directing it through a window is that unconscious, trapped victims are often found inside the door or in the hallway leading from the door to the fire. An analysis of fire victims trapped and killed in burning buildings revealed most fire victims are discovered in the fire area. The next location in which fire victims are discovered is in the hallways or corridors leading to an exit. They were trying to escape the flames and were rendered unconscious by smoke, heat or toxic gases in the path to the door. Firefight-ers advancing the first attack line through a doorway often come across these victims on the way to extinguishing the fire.

Placement of the second attack hoseline. Most fire departments in America do not have enough firefighters at a fire scene to stretch a second hose. Mutual aid or a firefighter responding from home must arrive before a backup hose is stretched, so this makes correct placement of the first line even more important. However, when there are enough firefighters to stretch, where should the second line go?

If there is an exposure problem, such as flame spreading to a nearby structure, the second line goes there; flame coming out a window is not an exposure problem if there is no nearby building. At most building fires there are no visible outside exposure. The exposure problem is most often an inside exposure.

What if flames are sweeping up a stair or shaft, or fire is spreading inside a wall or concealed ceiling space? To protect against inside fire spread the second line is needed inside the burning building. The second hoseline stretched follows the path of the first line up the interior stair or to the side door or rear entrance.

The advantage of having a backup second hoseline stretched into the burning building right behind the first line are:

  1. This is a safety action to protect firefighters operating the first attack hoseline in case of explosion, flashover or collapse.
  2. If the first hose suffers a burst length or broken nozzle, the second hose team can move into position and attack the blaze.
  3. If there is too much fire for one hose attack team to extinguish, two hose lines working side by side may be successful.
  4. If there is no need for the second hoseline, and the first hose attack team can handle the room and content fire, it is important to get the second hoseline up to the floor above, the attic or an adjoining room to cut off spreading fire.

Improper hose placement. Once I did not follow the above hose placement guidelines during a fire and it almost became a disaster.

The fire occurred on the second floor of a four-story multiple dwelling of ordinary construction. An inexperienced firefighter was assigned to perform forcible entry. Upon arrival, flames were blowing out one window which led directly to a fire escape on the front of the building. The first hoseline had already been stretched up the interior stairs and charged with water. You could hear the firefighters' tool-pounding attempts to force the door.

After I ordered a second hoseline, flames broke out a second window and began to spread into an open window on the floor above. An unusual radio report from inside stated they could not force open the heavily padlocked apartment door. As firefighters stretching the second hose passed in front of me, I redirected them to stretch up the fire escape and advance in on the fire through the fire escape window. I also ordered the hose team inside to bring the hose up to the apartment above to stop the "auto exposure fire spread."

As the firefighters advanced through the burning apartment from the fire escape, disaster struck! The forcible entry team suddenly forced open the door to the second-floor apartment. The firefighters advancing the hose from the fire escape drove flames out into the public hall and up the interior stairs. Now I had fire spreading up the interior stairs and a fire company with a hoseline trapped on the floor above the fire.

After several "Maydays," the firefighters with the initial hoseline up the interior stair fought their way back down the stair with the hose, and the firefighters advancing the hose from the fire escape window extinguished the fire in the second-floor apartment.

After the fire was out, I realized what an error of hose placement I had made. The lessons learned were:

  1. The importance of forcible entry.
  2. The first hoseline goes to the seat of the fire and attacks the fire from a door and pushes the fire outward and protects the interior stairs.
  3. The second hoseline should back up the first hoseline and if necessary goes to the floor above.
  4. If necessary, the third hoseline should be stretched and advanced from the fire escape window.
  5. A hoseline should not pass fire.
  6. When forcing open a door, it is important to control the door and not let it swing open into the flaming apartment. A gloved hand or six-foot hook can sometimes reach in and close a door or a rope tied to the door knob during forcible entry can control the door.

Get water in the first hoseline before you stretch a second hoseline. A wise old pump operator told me "hoselines should be stretched in series, not parallel."

During the initial attack on a burning building, flame and smoke may be visible at several locations. Fire may show at the front door, rear windows and side alleys. People in the street will call for help from several locations and urge you to stretch hoselines to several different places at the same time. If three or four hoselines are stretched at the same time to different locations, this can create a disorganized operation and actually delay water being delivered into the fire. Firefighting resources well be fragmented and ineffective.

Generally, it is more effective for all firefighters on the scene to stretch one hoseline at a time. Get water in this first hoseline before you start another. All the firefighters are needed to connect the pumper to the hydrant, choose the nozzle and hose, stretch the hose from the pumper to the fire and charge the hose with water. After this is completed, start the second line after the second hoseline is stretched and charged, start the third line if necessary. There is a saying in the fire service: "Stretch the first hoseline right and you may not need another."

Size-up the hose stretch. A veteran fire chief told me that one of the most important size-ups to make at a fire is to size-up the hose stretch of the first attack hoseline.

The first line stretch is a critically important task. It determines the outcome of the entire fire. If there are any problems with the first hoseline stretch, the chief must take action to solve the problem. After you size-up the fire, then size-up the hose stretch.

An experienced fire chief will usually stay in the street and observe the first line stretch before going inside to supervise the interior firefighting attack. A quick glance at the pump operator, the hydrant hookup, the flow of the hose layout and stretch will tell a lot about how things are going. Watching the hose jump and straighten out while being supplied with water and listening to the radio messages between the hose team officer and pump operator will tell of low pressure or kink problems.

A good predictor of how the firefighting effort will proceed is the success or failure of the first attack team's hose stretch. A frozen or broken hydrant, rubbish in the hydrant that may clog the strainer on the pumper inlet, centrifugal pump failure, a hose length bursting from overpressure, kinks or bends in the hose, or broken nozzles can indicate failure unless action is taken by the fireground commander.

Stretch a hoseline to the front of a building. After one, two or three hoselines have been stretched into a burning building and firefighters are advancing them toward the fire, sometimes there is no obvious need for another hoseline. This is the time to have firefighters stretch a hoseline to the front of the building and "stand fast" until there is another call for a line.

When you order a fire company to stretch a hoseline to the front of the burning building and stand by, you are being proactive with your hoseline placement. If there is a sudden need for a hoseline to cut off spreading fire in a building, the firefighters standing fast with the line nearby can quickly take it inside the building.

The advantage of stretching a hose to the front of the building and standing by is that the most time-consuming part of the hose stretch is completed. The firefighters must find a nearby pumper, select the proper nozzle and hose size, and stretch the hose to the front of the building with excess hose folded nearby. If the hoseline is not needed, however, you can order the fire company to "take it up."

Hose stretching from a standpipe outlet. The initial attack hoseline stretched from a standpipe system during a serious fire in a commercial building should be connected to the outlet on the floor below the fire, not to the outlet on the same floor as the fire. The advantages to connecting the hose to the standpipe outlet on the floor below the fire are:

  1. It prevents overcrowding. The forcible entry team has space to use tools, control the door and make preliminary searches from the stair landing on the fire floor, while the hose team on the floor below can stretch out and connect the hose and nozzle on the stair landing out of the way.
  2. If flame and heat explode out the door to the fire floor, that could prevent a firefighter from operating the nearby standpipe outlet valve controlling water pressure. Also, firefighters operating the hoseline could temporarily back down the stairs several steps to avoid heat and direct the stream through the open door.
  3. Excess hose can be played out in the hall and stairs safely on the floor below the fire. FDNY Firefighter John King was killed at a fire in which he was laying out excess hose being connected to a standpipe on the same floor as the fire. As he played the uncharged hose folds up the stairs, the door was forced open. So much fire, heat and smoke burst out of the doorway that King was trapped on the stairs above the fire.

Hose stretching to supply a standpipe and sprinkler. A fireground commander must always size-up the front of a burning building to determine if it has a sprinkler system siamese. If it does, the system must be supplied with water. Fire departments have been sued for considerable sums of money to compensate for fire damage when a sprinkler system was not supplied or the water supply to a sprinkler from a water main was diverted to pumpers.

A sprinkler system can extinguish a fire quicker and more effectively then firefighters. The sprinkler head is already in position directly over the fire, and water supplied to the sprinkler is not impeded or slowed by locked doors, blinding smoke or failure to locate the fire. However, when a building has both a sprinkler system and a standpipe system and firefighters enter the building to fight the fire, the first supply line to the siamese should go to the standpipe system. This is to protect the firefighters. The second supply line should be connected to and supply the sprinkler system.

Stairway or shaft fires. When a radio report from firefighters inside a multi-story building states fire is spreading up a stairway or shaft, the fireground commander must order a hoseline stretched to the top floor. This line can be stretched up a ladder or fire escape to cut off the flames spreading up the stair or shaft.

A stair or shaft fire means heat, flame and smoke will accumulate on the top floor and spread to the cockloft, attic space and mushroom out to adjoining spaces on the top floor. The first hose may have already been stretched to the fire origin on a lower floor but once fire is discovered spreading up a stair or shaft, the life hazard and fire spread danger on the top floor must be considered. Stretch a hose to the top floor. In addition to the hose placement, the fireground commander must insure all skylights, scuttle covers and roof bulkhead stair doors are vented to release flame and smoke and prevent mushrooming.

The FDNY conducted scientific full-scale tests with New York Polytechnic Institute on shaft fires in multiple dwellings. Tests revealed fire spreading up an open shaft will spread into the top floor through a window first at the top floor before it will spread into any of the lower floors. As the flames and combustible gases rise up the shaft they increase in temperature. The hottest temperatures were recorded at the shaft opening at roof level. So when fire spreads up a stair or shaft, get a hoseline to the top floor, vent the top floor and search this area for trapped victims and fire spread.


One of the first lessons a fireground commander learns is that the hose stretch from the pumper to the fire is the most important action carried out at a successful firefighting operation.

Vincent Dunn, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is a deputy chief with the FDNY and a member of the New York City Fire Chiefs Association. He is the author of the books and videos Safety And Survival On The Fireground and Collapse Of Burning Buildings. For information call 800-231-3388.