The 4 Phases Of the Stretch: Phase 2

Size-up is all about gathering and evaluating information in order to make good fireground decisions. At the scene of a fire we gather and evaluate information at a rapid pace. Seldom is there time to thoroughly process and evaluate this information before we start making important decisions. Making quick decisions with incomplete information can create gaps in the decision-making process. What can we do to close the gap between making quick decisions and making accurate decisions?

One tried-and-true method we can use to close the gap is pre-planning our district. We can pre-load valuable information and knowledge about our district and the buildings we respond to in a controlled and deliberate manner, which will improve our ability to retain and quickly recall the information during an emergency. On the fireground, we will be able to make quick and accurate decisions with more complete information.

Who conducts the size-up? Everybody on the engine company should be conducting a size-up. Each member of the engine has a specific function or role at the scene of a fire, based on rank or riding position, and as such each has a purpose for conducting a size-up:

• The officer in charge (OIC) conducts a size-up to determine strategy, tactics, line selection and placement

• The driver/operator conducts a size-up to determine the best apparatus position and water-supply needs

• Firefighters conduct a size-up to make a successful stretch and advance to extinguish the fire


Size-up considerations

During the size-up, each member of the engine gathers and evaluates information about the structure in which we will be operating and about the fire within it. The information needed to size-up the structure can be pre-loaded ahead of time:

1. Occupancy (residential, commercial, industrial, etc.)

2. Construction (wood frame, ordinary, non-combustible, etc.)

3. Height (number of floors)

4. Size or area (square feet)

The information needed for the following part of your size-up will be different for each incident:

1. Stage of the fire (incipient, growth, fully developed or decay)

2. Location of the fire (Where is it? Where is it going?)

3. Extent of the fire (What portion or percentage of the structure is on fire – 25%, 50% or fully involved?)

4. Potential of the fire (What types of materials are burning and what is the fire load?)

5. Smoke (If no fire is visible, what is the smoke telling you?)


The size-up process

Size-up begins the moment the box is transmitted with the information heard from the radio dispatcher and the information read on the printout or mobile data terminal. Size-up continues while responding and on arrival:

1. While responding, are we sharing information and trying to paint a picture of what we will face?

2. Once we arrive, what are we seeing compared to what we pictured?

3. What are we hearing from people on scene, radio reports and fireground noise?

Size up is ongoing and takes place throughout the incident:

1. What action are we taking and what effect is it having?

2. Is it getting better or worse? Under control or out of control?

3. Are we applying water at the appropriate rate?

4. Is our stream reaching the seat of the fire?


Sizing-up for the stretch

The most critical portion of the size-up affecting the stretch starts on arrival at the scene:

1. Are you first due, second due, etc.? Your order of arrival on scene will determine your primary responsibility.

• Are you stretching the primary line to the fire floor?

• Are you stretching a backup line to the floor above?

• Or will you be stretching into an exposure to cut off fire extension?

2. What are the occupancy, construction, height and size of the structure? This information will tell you a lot about the fire’s potential:

• Is the fire in the attic of a row of lightweight-constructed, wood-frame dwellings?

• Or in the basement of an ordinary-constructed strip of stores?

3. What is the size or extent of the fire? This information will help you determine your fire flow needs.

• Do you have a small fire contained to one room?

• Or is the first floor fully involved and rapidly extending to the second floor and the exposure?

4. What is your mode of attack – interior/offensive or exterior/defensive? This information will help you determine the knockdown power of your hose and nozzle combination.

• Do you need a 2½-inch attack line with a smooth-bore tip to knock the fire down from outside?

• Or will you need a 1¾-inch line with a combination nozzle for an interior attack?


Selecting a hoseline and nozzle

Once you answer these four questions, you can choose the appropriate-size hoseline and nozzle. The selection should be based on the conditions found during the size-up. Too many times, firefighters deploy attack lines at a fire out of habit or laziness. They stretch the line they always stretch because they cannot think outside of the box or they stretch the line that is lighter and easier to maneuver, regardless of whether it has adequate flow to extinguish this fire.

5. Where and how is the engine positioned? This helps you determine the most efficient place to start your stretch, depending on your engine’s layout and options.

• Did you pull past (stretch off the back step)?

• Or stop short (stretch from the front bumper or a crosslay)?

6. What are your obstacles – fences, cars, dogs, people? This helps you determine the appropriate amount of hose needed to reach the building (travel length).

• The more obstacles to get around, the more travel hose you will need to negotiate each turn. Never use the hose in your working length to help you reach the structure.

7. What floor is the fire on and where will you enter to attack the fire? This helps you determine how much hose you will need to reach the fire (working length).

• Is the attack entrance the main entrance of a dwelling with a fire on the first floor?

• Or the apartment entrance for a fire on the third floor of a garden apartment building?

8. Are we operating in the main fire building or an exposure? This helps you determine the length of the stretch.

• Is it a relatively short stretch within the reach of your attack line lengths?

• Or is it a long stretch that will force you to extend the attack line?

Answer questions five to eight and you can estimate your stretch.


Estimating the stretch

What is a stretch estimate and why is it necessary? A stretch estimate is conducted as part of your size-up to make sure you deploy enough hose to not only reach the building, but to make sure you have enough hose to reach the fire. One of the most common fireground errors to occur when making the stretch is focusing solely on reaching the building’s entrance and giving no thought to having enough hose to reach the fire inside the building, causing a short stretch.

This error stems from the fire service’s dependence on pre-connected attack lines. In the 1970s, fire equipment manufacturers introduced the concept of piping a discharge into the hosebed to allow a pre-designated length of hose and nozzle combination to be pre-connected for rapid deployment. The success of the stretch was now all about speed, not efficiency. Firefighters were no longer concerned with conducting a size-up or stretch estimate; they simply deployed all of the hose in the pre-connect whether they needed or not.

Stretching short – when the attack line and nozzle are unable to reach the fire – is not always about not having enough hose. Usually, it is about soft skills, poor techniques and a lack of planning by the firefighters making the stretch. You have deployed the amount of hose necessary to reach the fire, but because you did not take the time to properly deploy and stage the hose, it will become tangled and snagged and stop the advance. Final extinguishment will be delayed until the line can advance into the occupancy or room of origin. Any delay in extinguishing the fire lets the fire grow and possibly extend. It also delays the search and reduces the survival chances for trapped occupants.

Another common fireground error is the overstretch, when you deploy more hose than is needed. Just because you are stretching a pre-connected attack line does not mean you must deploy all of the hose in the hosebed. This is not one long, continuous piece of hose; there are couplings every 50 feet allowing you some flexibility. Why deploy all 200 feet of hose when you only need 100 or 150 feet? Stretch just the hose you need, disconnect the hose and hook it to a different discharge.

Avoid overstretching. Every section of hose deployed must be flaked out and staged. If you don’t need the extra hose, why create more work for yourself? The extra hose makes it harder to advance, maneuver and operate, which will only slow your advance. Having unnecessary hose lying around increases the chance for kinks to develop and reduce fire flow. Performed correctly, the stretch estimate keeps you from committing two common fireground errors and lets you master the stretch.


How much hose do you need?

A correct stretch estimate must be conducted in two parts:

Part 1 – How much hose is needed to get from the engine to the entrance (travel hose or length)?

• You need this hose to get around cars, trees, fences and other obstacles

• You need this hose to get around turns, change direction and navigate alleys and stairs

The building entrance and your attack entrance may not be the same. If you are stretching to a garden apartment building for a fire in a third-floor apartment, you must factor in the stairs and landing inside the building during your stretch estimate. If you only bring enough travel hose to reach the building entrance, you will stretch short of your attack entrance on the third floor.

Basement fires also present a challenge, since access to the basement in residential and commercial structures is in the rear. Many fire departments still stretch through the building over the fire, but if you have a door in the rear close to the basement stairs or, even better, exterior basement access, then you must adjust your stretch estimate to accommodate the extra travel length needed to get you to the rear.

Part 2 – How much hose will you need to get from the entrance to the fire (working hose or length)?

• You need this hose to get around furniture and debris to advance through the occupancy

• You need this hose to change direction and navigate doorways and stairs so you can reach the fire

In most cases, your working length will be a pre-determined amount of hose based on the buildings in your district. But what happens when your stretch estimate reveals it is not enough? Conducting a stretch estimate lets you identify occupancies that require more working length than the pre-determined amount so you can deploy enough hose to reach the fire and avoid stretching short. A little trick to make sure you have enough working length at your attack entrance is to stage the first coupling at the door. This guarantees you 50 feet of hose from your entrance. If you need more, place the next coupling as close to the door as you can to guarantee that you have 100 feet from your entrance.

Imagine you are dispatched for a dwelling fire in your first-due district to a neighborhood and on a street that you have detailed knowledge of through your training and experience. While responding, your crew members and you start your size-up by sharing your knowledge and experience and talking about the best route of travel so you can get a good position and not block the truck. The nozzle firefighter can picture it and already knows how much working length will be needed. The backup firefighter is anticipating how much travel hose will be needed to reach the building’s entrance. You arrive and conduct a size-up and stretch estimate, and now you are ready to make an efficient stretch and accomplish your primary mission: to put out the fire! n


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