Engine Company Ops - Tools

I would like to express my deepest sympathy to the members of the Porter, Texas fire department on the loss of their brother firefighter Gary Stately. As reported, FF. Stately and the rest of his crew responded to a working fire located in a commercial dwelling. Heavy fire and smoke was issuing from the rear of the 100x 100 wood and sheet metal building. The first engine in, stretched an attack line thru the front door. Advancing no more than three feet inside the building, there was a sudden flashover that enveloped the engine attack team. All four members inside did what they were trained to due and got on their bellies and proceeded to exit the building as fast as possible. Three firefighters were able to exit the building. Tragically FF.Stately was unable to the exit the building.

This profession we choose is a dangerous one, where in a matter of minutes we could be fighting for our lives. I know, I have been there. So how can we gain an edge that might help us make the right decisions? Let's discuss basic engine company operations.

Photo Courtesey FDNY Archives


First arriving Engine Company firefighters at a structural fire must make a quick but comprehensive size-up. I'm not talking about the thirteen point size-up (who can honestly remember all of those acronyms) I'm talking about a shorter version that anyone can remember.



U - Units (do we have enough help to safely extinguish this fire?)

After you have done your size-up ask yourself the following questions

  • What size hose line should I stretch 1 3/4 " or 2 1/2" hose?
  • What nozzle should I use, adjustable fog nozzle or smooth bore?
  • Should we enter the structure from the burned side or the unburned side?
  • How long has the fire been cooking?
  • Has the truck performed any ventilation?
  • Is the roof open?
  • Is the second engine on the scene?
  • Is the structure occupied or vacant?

These are just a few of the questions that must be decided upon by the attack team before entering the structure.

I would like to discuss a few of the points above and explain why I feel they should be part of every "Engine Company's Tool Box."


1. What Size Hose Line to Use 1 3/4" or 2 1/2"

"Little Fire- Little Hose, Big Fire- Big Hose."
While it is much easier to handle an 1 3/4" hose line, in no way would you get the knock down power of a 2 1/2" line. I know what you are saying "my department doesn't carry 2 1/2" hose line," well maybe they should.

Photo Courtesey FDNY Archives

Some of you may be too young to remember when most companies carried 2 1/2" hose. Did you ever wonder what happened to make such a dramatic changeover to 1 3/4" hose lines? Well, who can remember "Rapid Water or Slippery Water? Allegedly this was the solution that was going to revolutionize the way we put out fire. This solution gave us a 2 1/2" water flow out of an 1 3/4 " line.

The only problem was the price. Many fire departments found it was cheaper and required less manpower to use the smaller diameter attack hose. Rather than to use a 2 1/2" line or the use of an additive. So many departments reduced their manpower and they were not going to go back to the way it was. So today some departments still refused to carry atleast one bed of 2 1/2" hose, if you were to ask them why, you will be surprised at their answers.

Also, I would like someone to tell me how you can possibly extinguish a large building fire using one 1 3/4" attack line. The old gpm formula was at least 1 to 3 gpm of water was needed to extinguish 100 cu.ft of fire area.

2. "Smooth Bore Nozzle - Adjustable Fog Nozzle"

Personally, after I had the fire knock down I would shut down the nozzle and remove the smooth bore tip and replace it with a small booster fog tip that I carried in my pocket. This would assist in ventilation and reduce water damage. Remember if using an adjustable nozzle you have to determine what position the tip is in, whether fog or straight stream.

3. "The Burned Area or the Unburned Area"
I was never an advocate of deciding whether to enter the burned area or unburned area. You are starting to make an easy decision difficult. Keep it simple, keep it safe. The easier and safest method is thru the front door.

The number one rule in interior firefighting is to position the first line to protect the primary means of egress. This will give you the most immediate and quickest access to the interior of the structure and will protect the integrity of the interior stairs. For instance, if fire is showing out of the front door and you decide that you are going to attack the fire from the unburned side, (the rear of the building) you have now doubled the length of your stretch and if you are short handed this could present a problem. Not to mention, going over fences, being attacked by dogs and when finally getting to the rear door, you find it has been sealed up and the second engine has knock down the fire thru the front door.

In 33 years of doing battle against the red devil, I have never pushed the fire thru out a structure because I entered the burning structure thru the front door using a smooth bore nozzle. The quickest way to extinguish a fire is to quickly apply water to the seat of the fire.

So until next month stay safe, keep training and keep asking questions.

In my last article "Attack Line" I received a few E-Mails on a certain statement I made. I would like to clarify what I said. I stated that upon entering the fire area aim the nozzle upward and rotate it counter-clockwise.

Please allow me to explain. When we did testing at our training center many years ago, on the proper way to rotate a nozzle during advancement, we found out that when using a smooth bore nozzle there was no difference between clockwise and counterclockwise. When we used a fog tip we did notice a difference, clockwise would push the products of combustion away from the nozzle team. So it is a matter of what nozzle you are using and what feels comfortable.

John Keenan is a 33 year veteran of the FDNY and currently holds the position of Battalion Chief 15 in the Bronx. Chief Keenan is a frequent lecture and instructor on fire service topics with a specific interest in Engine Company Operations. You may contact Chief Keenan at FDPD@AOL.com