The Fire Scene: Attack Line Variables

Nov. 10, 2023
John Salka Jr. removes any possible confusion for first-in engine officers at a structure fire regarding pulling hose to attack the fire based on diameter and length.

Of the many topics that firefighters like to talk and read about, the attack hoseline certainly is one of the most popular. Yes, the truck guys like to talk forcible entry and roof cutting, but a majority of firefighters like to talk about fighting fire.

If you are going to talk fighting fire, you are going to be talking about the attack hoseline. It seems fairly simple when you stand there and look at the typical engine apparatus, but when you actually must pull a line at a structural fire, numerous variables must be considered before that line is pulled to select the best hoseline for the job.

Size/diameter
So, you are the first-in officer on the first-arriving engine company. You roll up to a 2½-story, wood-frame, private dwelling. Visible fire is showing from two windows that are on the second floor of the house. A medium smoke condition is showing from a number of the other second-floor and attic windows. You turn to your crew and say, “Start a line.”

Now, I don’t know what members are on the apparatus with you for this fire, but you better give them a little more information than that.

The first question: What size line is called for here or what diameter works best for residential structures?

This is a simple question to address, because it almost always is what I like to call the “small line,” or the 1¾-inch handline. Maybe your small line is 2 inches or maybe even 1½ inches. All of those lines work well in extinguishing a room or two in a private dwelling or other residential occupancy. Many departments have several loads of 1¾-inch hose of varying lengths. Which of the two or even three 1¾-inch lines on your apparatus do you choose?

Well, that leads us to the next question that applies here: How far is it from the apparatus to the fire? This is another piece of the puzzle that the officer must determine instantaneously.

Let’s say that you immediately figure that the four-length line will get there easily. However, your apparatus has two lines. One is four lengths, and one is five lengths. Why should you absolutely pull the four-length line? Because it will reach the fire, and that leaves the longer line, the one that has five lengths, available to be stretched to the attic if there is any extension.

Additionally, and more importantly, is the fact that access to the stairway almost always is direct and visual from the front door entry point. Remember, you have a fire on the second floor, and that’s where you want to get as quickly as possible.

Available water
So, you stretched a 200-foot, 1¾-inch attack hoseline through the front door of a 2½-story, wood-frame, private dwelling. The water capacity that’s carried by your apparatus is 500 gallons. You have a bed of 3½-inch supply line off of the back step, but you didn’t lay in, and you are sitting in front of this burning house with 500 gallons of water. Is this enough water to initiate an interior attack at this fire? The answer is, yes, of course.

If you ordered or purchased an engine apparatus lately, you must know that the size of the tank is important—so important, in fact, that tanks that wrap around other apparatus components are being constructed to increase the number of gallons that are on board. Why is that? That’s the water that’s immediately available on arrival, and that’s the water that absolutely should be used to mount that interior attack. Yes, interior! Yes, you have limited water, but it’s 500 gallons, and 500 gallons of water in the hands of experienced and well-trained firefighters is enough to get that attack underway.

Sum and substance
Remember, when you first arrived, you chose to pull the 1¾-inch line. That line not only delivers adequate water to fight this fire but also is small enough to allow the crew to use the water without wasting water.