Water in the Can: Small, but Powerful Firefighting Tool

How much fire can your water can (fire extinguisher) put out? It has always amazed me that fire departments like FDNY have a firefighter dedicated to carrying a 2 1/2-gallon water can with them. Here is the second largest fire department in the world carrying all their equipment and always carrying the can. Why? How much fire can you put out with a can of water? You would think they would carry a hoseline, tools, or something that could knockdown more fire than a water extinguisher.

That was my thinking before I had the chance to really get into live fire conditions with a water can and experience just how much fire you can control or hold back with it. "Wow," was all I could say. Early on in my paid service career I had the chance to attend a live burn. Full of ambition, aggression, and eagerness we set out to doing evolutions with hoselines.  When my captain told me to grab the can and get upstairs, I was pessimistic to say the least. Positioning me outside the burn room, he instructed me to keep the fire inside the room of origin until the hoseline could be stretched. "Umm, OK" was all I could think as I was planning my escape route because I just knew that the can would not hold it.

As the fire began to grow and its fingers went looking for fresh air there I was holding it back. Blast after blast he showed me that, with the proper placement of the stream, we could hold the fire in the room no problem.  I starred in amazement as the hoseline made the corner and knocked down the fire, the fire that we kept contained inside the origin room with 2 1/2 gallons of water. Bam!

Then I thought, maybe these guys are on to something. Being young in the fire service it is important for us to understand the why’s and how’s of what we do.  Maybe I was like many of the new generation of firefighters, those you must show how and why  things are done. You can teach someone the reasons why we do things, but if you are given the chance to show them, it will be ingrained forever in their minds.  

Let’s look at some water can tips:

  • P.A.S.S.: Pull, aim, squeeze and stop the fire 
  • Adding Class A foam or dish detergent can help increase firefighting output
  • Adding a shoulder strap can help with the transportation of the can
  • Practice using the can while spraying vertically to contain the fire inside the fire room
  • Always allow an egress route in case the can has a failure 

A water can does put out a lot of fire and it can hold fire back until you have made your way safely to an escape route. We carry a water can for a reason, but that reason has no meaning unless you train on the use of the can. With only 2 1/2  gallons of water to use knowing how to use it properly is more important. Grab your crew members and review how to use a water extinguisher, you never know when that small amount of water can pay huge dividends like your life.

Thanks for the visit to the Jumpseat!

Bunker up, buckle in, it’s where we all begin!

Blogger Ryan Pennington recently published his first ebook, A Collection of Views From the Jumpseat-riding Firefighter. Learn more about it here.