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It has been said a thousand times, but it still rings true – the most important life-saving tactic performed at the scene of a fire is stretching and operating an attack line to extinguish the fire. But this basic fireground operation often is taken lightly and performed poorly.
Do you know of an engine company with a solid reputation for making a good stretch and a tough push to quickly extinguish a fire? The members of that company didn’t get that reputation by accident. They earned it by training over and over until they mastered the stretch. They know that success on the fireground doesn’t happen by chance; it happens through preparation.
The purpose of this article is to reinforce the importance of stretching and operating attack lines. It is a tactic like many others on the fireground that deserves our focus and commitment to be understood and performed proficiently. This article breaks the stretch down into four phases. Each phase features a detailed explanation of the steps and the pitfalls associated with the stretch.
The first phase is all about preparation; this first and most important phase starts at the beginning of our career during basic training when the foundation is laid for our future success. We are taught the fundamentals of hose, nozzles, appliances and extinguishment. Our training continues when we are assigned to an engine company. The officers and senior firefighters must ensure that our training continues. Being proficient at stretching and operating attack lines also requires you to be intimately familiar with the apparatus you respond on. And it is critical that you master the stretch.
How familiar are you with the attack lines on your engine?
1. How many attack hoselines are on your engine?
2. What are the hoseline diameters and lengths?
3. What types of nozzles?
4. What are the gpm settings and tip sizes?
5. What is the type of hose load – flat/minuteman/bundle load?
6. Are they pre-connected or static?
7. Are they crosslays or do the lines come off the back step?
8. What is your role when making the stretch?
9. Does your department have standard operating procedures (SOPs) for attack lines?
How many of these questions can you answer? Unless it was all nine, you’re not as prepared as you think! The more knowledge you have of the attack lines on your engine, the better prepared you will be to deploy the appropriate line. The more you drill and train on how to stretch attack lines, the more proficient you will be on the fireground.
Another important part of preparation has to do with your knowledge of the structures in your response area. Do you size-up the structures in your district when you are on calls other than fires? How about when you are doing inspections or getting the meal? The more knowledge you have about your first-due district and the structures you respond to, the easier it will be to anticipate potential challenges that will affect the stretch.
The second phase is about size-up. Size-up begins as soon as information is received from the dispatcher. It continues while responding and is ongoing once you arrive on scene. The most critical portion of the size-up affecting the stretch starts once you arrive on scene:
1. Are you first due, second due, third due, etc.?
2. What are the occupancy, construction, height and size of the structure?
3. What is the size or extent of the fire?
4. What is your mode of attack – interior/offensive or exterior/defensive?
Once you answer the first four questions, you can choose the appropriate line and nozzle.
5. Where and how is the engine positioned, in the front or rear, did you pull past or stop short?
6. What are your obstacles – fences, cars, dogs, people, etc.?
7. What floor is the fire on and where will we enter to attack the fire?