One of the most important, if not the most important aspect of structural firefighting is getting a sufficient amount of water for an attack on the seat of the fire. The initial arriving engine company must select the correct attack line for this task. All too often, we see the results of an incorrect choice in initial attack lines. Lately, there has been quite a stir within the fire service about different sized handlines, and which to use when. So, which is the right choice? Well, quite clearly…that depends.
From a response standpoint, there is an old saying that I learned when I was riding the right front seat in the early part of my career that goes, “As the first line goes, so goes the operation.” All too often, we search for the standard, fail safe, one-size-fits-all solution to decision-making on today’s fire scene, and some try to find this when it comes to water on the fire. Simply put, initial attack lines will wind up in one of two places: between the fire and the occupants/victims; or stretched into place to locate, confine and extinguish the seat of the fire. Beyond that, there are a few considerations that have to be weighed before embracing a conclusion as to which line is the one for the task at hand; solutions will vary from incident to incident, and must be part of the initial Incident Commander’s (IC) size-up. Let’s take a look at a few of these critical points, as they can be applied to most any incident, regardless of the type of incident.
As the first engine arrives at the incident, consider your department’s procedure for apparatus placement: where does the first-due apparatus position? Many departments have operational guidelines that identify the front of the building as belonging to the first-in truck company, however, we still need to put water on the fire (photo 1). That being said, having the first-due engine pull just past the front of the building allows the truck company to set up and gives the engine company access to stretch in through the front, should that be the place to enter. Sounds simple, right? Not so much. Look at the front of the building: how is the building set back from the street? How much hose is needed to get to the door and then to the seat of the fire? Many officers use the “One to the door, one per floor” approach, meaning that one length should get you to the front door, and then add a length for each floor you have to traverse. For example, a residential dwelling with a fire on the second floor would get a minimum of three lengths of attack hose to get to the seat of the fire, providing that the floor area can be covered with one single length of hose. What about the multiple dwelling that is set back from the street, with entrances to units from the center courtyard? That 200 foot pre-connected line is not a viable solution for this location.
The Fire Building
Identifying structural characteristics of the fire building can help determine the mode of attack and ultimately attack line selection:
CONSTRUCTION CONCERNS – We are seeing an era of “disposable buildings” being built in our communities, which may limit the time we have to get water on the fire. Be aware of clues that the building is beginning to fail and collapse (photo 2).
HEIGHT – How many floors to we need to travel (above and below grade) to reach the seat of the fire? We have to make sure we bring enough to make it to the seat of the fire.
BUILDING USAGE – Handline applications that work for residential settings do not always work for commercial occupancies. What is the building being used for, and is it designed to do so? Many times renovations can overpower any protective systems that were in place for the last usage by the previous occupant.