Engine Company Ops - The Attack Line

Last article we discussed water supply. I know some of the brothers and sisters don't have the luxury of having hydrants in their districts and have to rely on creativity in order to get a reliable water supply. Having dinner the other night with a Chief from the Sound Beach Fire Department in Old Greenwich, Ct., I asked how his department deals with rural water supply problems. The Chief stated they had established a program in conjunction with homeowners where the homeowner would make their residential pool available for water supply. To enhance the program the fire department established a dry hydrant system that would use the water from these pools. Good idea.

As I could not cover all contingency plans, I hope you will take a good look at your district and map out your plans on water supply problems.

Photo Courtesy Jay Heath

The next couple of articles will deal with hose line operations at specific fires.

Remember 90% of all working fires are extinguished with one 1.3/4" hose line within 10-15 minutes of arrival. Different structure fires require different hose line techniques. Arriving at a multiple dwelling fire you and your other two firefighters start stretching a 1 3 hose line to the third floor of a four story wood frame dwelling. Fire is showing out of two windows on the third floor and there is a heavy smoke condition on the fourth floor.

As the nozzle man, you pull off the first two lengths of hose and stand to the side as your backup person also removes two lengths of hose giving you four lengths ready to be stretched. The estimated hose stretch is four lengths, one length per floor plus one length for the fire area. You and your backup person begin the stretch into the structure, being the first to enter the fire building you chock the front entrance door and proceed up the stairs to the third floor carrying your length of hose. The backup person drops his lengths at the base of the interior stairs and helps stretch the additional lengths up the stairs. Reaching the fire floor the backup person helps get rid of the kinks and teams up with the nozzle person.

With the officer, nozzle man and backup man in position the officer will call for water. Being the nozzle man had crack open the nozzle a little a hiss of air will be heard before the water reaches the nozzle letting know water is on its way.

At this point in time the ladder company members should have arrived and force the fire apartment door and performed their primary search. The engine officer should have the nozzle team against the wall alongside the entrance door not in front of the fire door. When all truckies have exited the fire apartment the officer will start the advance momentarily letting the smoke and heat escape the apartment. This will hopefully prevent the nozzle team from getting burnt. As you enter the fire area move to the side of the door this way the nozzle team will be out of the path of exiting heat and smoke. Aim the nozzle upward rotating it counterclockwise and advance slowly staying low.

Stay low, Stay Low, Stay Low!!!!

Photo Courtesy John Keenan
Photo shows how low the fire's heat line can get, and the importance of staying low to avoid serious injury.

I can't say that enough times. I don't know where we are going in the fire service when it comes to engine techniques. While I might not be popular with the statement "Stay down on your knees" I will tell you from experience that most burn injuries to engine firefighters are concentrated to their ears and neck. This occurs when the engine company is advancing their attack line and they place themselves in the heat zone.

Stay on your knees, if the water is starting to burn your knees then get up on your feet, but be careful the heat line is going to be right above your head and if you are not careful you are going to get burnt. Sweep the floor in front of you and then get back down. As you get closer to the seat of the fire the heat line will be lower. If you duck walk or extend your legs in front of you, you are placing yourself in the heat zone and are very unstable.

I have to make a point here.

I take my engine operations seriously. Nothing bothers me more then when one of my firefighters comes to me and says "Chief I'm going to transfer to the truck, I've put in a good year in the engine and have learned all there is to learn!"

First, how many actual first due fires has this individual been at and how many of them had he been the nozzle man, I assume not many. Second, nothing could be further from the truth. I have spent the last 33 years honing my engine and truck techniques. I still don't know everything, but I due claim to have the fortune of working in the south Bronx, and Harlem during the war years and have gained a lot of respect for the little person on the nozzle putting out the fire. It is said, "As the first line goes, so does the fire." So pay attention.


  • Hook up to a reliable water source
  • Stretch enough hose don't stretch short
  • Chock the front door to the building so uncharged line will not get caught under the door
  • Remember what nozzle you are using
  • Don't enter fire area without a charged line
  • Stay to the side not in front of the entrance to the fire area
  • Wait a few seconds before entering fire area this will let heat and smoke escape
  • Once move to one side of the doorway, this will keep you away from escaping heat and smoke
  • Keep stream operating upward and in front of you using the reach of the stream to extinguish as much fire as possible before advancing the line
  • Stay low
  • If your knees are getting hot slow down the advance and sweep the floor in front of you
  • If you have to stand up do so slowly but stay as low as possible you will be placing yourself in the heat zone
  • Remember to listen to the sound of the stream this will give and indication in which direction to proceed

I could keep the list going on and on but I will save them for future articles. So until next article stay safe, move with caution and keep low.

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