Riding Nozzle

May 28, 2024
Christopher Winstead explains why the nozzle is the most important job on the fireground.

The nozzle position could be referred to as first-line, the knob, riding the “D” seat, “probie” or “rook.” Typically, this is the first job that firefighters learn when they first set foot in the firehouse—after they learn the oh-so-more-important tasks of sweeping, mopping, cleaning toilets and washing dishes. However, in all seriousness, the importance of the nozzleperson shouldn’t be underestimated. It is unequivocally the most positive and influential job/task on the fireground.


The first step to performing efficiently as the nozzleperson at the beginning of every tour or assignment is to ensure that thought process and mental preparedness primarily be focused on fire attack. What hose loads are on this engine? What nozzles are on them? How can they be applied to different types of fires and situations? For example, if the crew makes a car fire, what line should be stretched? How will the vehicle be approached? What if it’s a commercial vehicle? What if victims are trapped? What is the plan of action?

Although we can’t imagine and predict every possible incident and come up with a game plan that will work every time, the idea is that the person who’s on the nozzle should think about these things throughout his/her tour and career, to be better prepared for unexpected or unique situations. Aside from ensuring that all of the equipment on the engine is checked off and in proper working order, the nozzleperson should pay special attention to nozzles, hose loads, connections, bundles and the water can/extinguishers. The nozzleperson is expected to have intimate knowledge of these items.

Inspecting for functionality

Nozzles can be divided into two categories: shutoffs and tips. All tips that are on the engine should be inspected. Check the gasket on the female connection. Check all threads. Check for damage, such as cracks and missing pieces. Check the teeth on all fog tips to make sure that they move freely if applicable. Ensure that the 2½-inch shutoff has a thread protector on its 1⅛-inch tip male threads.

All shutoffs on the engine should be inspected and accounted for. Check the gasket on the female connection. Check all threads. Check the bale for proper operation. Look inside to ensure that the ball valve opens and closes properly. Check for damage, such as cracks, or missing pieces.

All hose loads (speedlays, crosslays, bumper loads and hosebeds) that are on the engine should be inspected. Check that the hose is loaded correctly in its designated area and ready to be deployed. Check the shutoffs and the tips on the hose loads. Check all preconnected lines to ensure that they are connected to the discharge tightly. Inspect the hosebed to ensure that all hose loads that are in the bed are loaded correctly and ready to deploy. Open the cover on the hosebed to ensure that nothing shifted to cause a pinch point in the load that could delay deployment.

All bundles on the engine should be inspected. Check that the bundle is loaded and secured correctly with a strap/harness. Check the shutoffs and the tips on the bundles. Check all connections for tightness.

All of the extinguishers that are on the engine should be inspected. Check all extinguishers for any signs of damage. Ensure that the water can has the appropriate amount of water in it and is charged with the proper level of air.

Water cans should come from the manufacturer with a fill tube. This can be seen in the opening of the water can after removing the hose and nozzle assembly. While slowly filling the can with water, once you reach the proper water level, water will shoot up from the fill tube. This indicates that the can has reached the proper water level. The purpose of the fill tube isn’t only to indicate when the can is at the proper water level but also to help from overfilling the can with water, which reduces the air pocket in the can that’s needed to pressurize the can properly. Unfortunately, the fill tube often is missing from water cans, because it’s misplaced or damaged.

Let’s say that the water can on Engine 3 is supposed to weigh approximately 27 lbs., 8 oz., per the manufacturer. This can help you to determine the proper amount of water to put in the can when it’s missing its fill tube. Always check the can on an engine to verify the proper weight. A fish scale is a helpful tool to measure this weight.

Check the harness and strap for any tears or damage and ensure that the strap was adjusted to fit. Leave extra room when adjusting the strap, so it can fit over a bunker coat.

Check the dry chemical extinguisher’s charge level. Check the CO2 extinguisher for a seal. If the seal is broken or if it feels light, the extinguisher’s charge might be questionable. The only way to determine whether a CO2 extinguisher has a proper charge is to weigh it. Let’s say that the CO2 extinguisher that’s on Engine 3 is supposed to weigh approximately 32.25 lbs. The extinguisher should be recharged if the weight of the extinguisher is 1 lb., 8 oz. less than that per the manufacturer. Again, the easiest way to do this would be to use a fish scale.

Lastly, ensure that all extinguishers have some form of a pin in place to protect from accidental discharge. A cotter pin is an excellent replacement for the pins that come standard with most extinguishers, which tend to back out from movement while they are carried or transported on an apparatus. It also is recommended that you secure the cotter pin to the can using a paracord or string, so the cotter pin isn’t lost and can be reused. Anyone who cleaned dry chem out of an apparatus compartment knows the value of a secure pin.

The right stuff

As noted above, the nozzle position often is filled by the new firefighter in the station. Some might view this as a punishment, that new firefighters are considered “not good enough” or “not worthy” to do any other job. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The nozzle is the most important job on the fireground.

It’s important for the nozzleperson to be receptive to ideas, constructive criticism and advice. Many people who are in the department or station served in the role. This is particularly critical when the nozzleperson is on the line. The orders and direction of the officer must be followed. That person is in that position for a reason and, ideally, has experience in mitigating the hazards that might be encountered in a fire. Officers also should have better situational awareness, because they can observe what’s happening around them, while the nozzleperson might be focused on fire attack. That said, the nozzleperson should do his/her best not to fall into the trap of focusing solely on the flames. Things are happening all around. Smoke conditions and the layout of the building should be observed. This individual should look and listen for victims and signs of structural collapse. Yes, it’s imperative for the nozzleperson to follow the orders of the officer, but if something dangerous is seen, the nozzleperson must make sure to make the officer aware. The officer might not see the hazard, and this might trigger a change in tactics.

Courage and aggressiveness

Of course, the fire service is dangerous and could result in death or a life-changing injury. The nozzleperson must have courage, to make that push down a hot hallway to rescue a trapped victim. That doesn’t mean that member should risk life or limb carelessly. A sound risk/benefit analysis of every incident must be made. All firefighters should have the courage to say, “Hey, that doesn’t look safe,” in a high-risk/low-benefit situation.

It is essential for the nozzleperson (and the entire fire company) to perform his/her job aggressively, meaning with determination and intensity, despite when everything in the brain says, “Danger! Stop!” That said, citizens lives might be on the line.

Although it’s easy to say that probies should have all of these things when they show up at the firehouse, it just isn’t a reasonable expectation. Good firefighters are developed through training, experience and mentorship.

First-due building fire: nozzle responsibilities

When arriving at a working building fire, the nozzleperson should size up the building. What type of construction? What is the occupancy? Are victims trapped? Where is the smoke or fire coming from? Is there a vent point? What is the smoke doing, and what does it look like? What is the required flow? How far of a stretch? There are many things to process in a short amount of time.

The No. 1 way to increase the chances of victim survival is by rapidly putting the proper size hose with the correct flow into service and attacking the fire. The nozzleperson should be confident in what line should be pulled. In the city of Pearland, TX, a single-family residential structure often can be extinguished with a 1¾-inch line. However, if conditions merit a higher flow, a 2½-inch line should be pulled (as should be the case on all commercial fires). Remember, when in doubt about the required flow for fire attack, there is nothing wrong with putting the bigger line into service. It always is better to have extra flow than not enough.

Most lines that are on the engine can be deployed solely by the nozzleperson unless it’s a long stretch. The nozzleperson should enlist the help of the control firefighter to make the stretch with the 2½-inch off of the rear with a hose bundle or just straight 2½-inch depending on conditions and tactics if a long stretch is encountered.

Once the proper line is selected for deployment, the nozzleperson should deploy the hose load, ending up with the nozzle and the 50-foot coupling at the entrance of the building, with all hose laying attack over supply. Once the line is deployed and laid out properly, the signal should be given to the driver/operator to charge the line. Once the line is charged, the nozzleperson should look down the hoseline for kinks. If necessary, the nozzleperson can flow the nozzle, allow pressure to build and then slam the bale closed. This will cause pressure to be shot back down the line to knock out most minor or moderate kinks. Any large kinks must be chased down, and any control firefighter worth his or her salt should address these as they occur.

Once all of the major kinks are worked out, the nozzleperson should flow the nozzle wide open (always) to allow the driver/operator to set the proper pump discharge pressure (PDP). Once the driver/operator sets the PDP, that individual should signal for the nozzleperson to shut the nozzle (honk of the air horn, hand signals, etc.). The nozzleperson now is at the point to advance the line into the building once the line is deployed fully under the direction of the officer.

Gaining access/forcible entry

Generally speaking, on most residential structures, the control firefighter is capable of forcing entry into the occupancy with no assistance. However, after putting the first line into service and taking the nozzle to the door, the nozzleperson might need to assist the control firefighter with forcing entry into the occupancy. Once the door is forced, the control firefighter will observe conditions and do a quick search if safe. If the door is forced and the attack crew is immediately met with very poor conditions, such as heavy turbulent black smoke that’s chugging out of an opening, fire or “black fire,” it’s time for the nozzleperson to go to work to apply water into this atmosphere. The nozzleperson should work the nozzle at a moderate speed in a controlled circular motion, applying water evenly to all structure surfaces: floors, walls, ceilings, etc. Water damage is the least of the occupant’s worries if met with extreme fire and smoke conditions. The structure and, more importantly, any life inside of the structure are at extreme risk. Applying water to all surfaces helps to cool down the environment inside of the building (fire, smoke, etc.). It also saturates the materials and furnishings that are inside of the structure, which helps to reduce or eliminate those items’ capability to ignite, which reduces the chance of flashover or other dangerous fire events.

Once the officer returns from his/her 360-degree size-up, the attack crew should make entry into the structure at the direction of the officer. When the nozzleperson enters the structure or a room, he/she wants to take the path with the least resistance and pinch points as possible. For example, say the nozzleperson enters a room in which the door swings inward to the right. The nozzle should be advanced to the left to reduce the chance of the hose getting hung up on the door, which would slow advance. However, if the fire or victims warrant going that direction, the nozzleperson should take the most effective path to reach them. Conversely, if the door swings outward or toward the nozzleperson to the left, the path of least resistance would be to advance into the room on the right, to avoid bending the hose around that door, which would cause another pinch point. Some pinch points (corners, furniture, appliances, etc.) are unavoidable and must be mitigated with coordinated hose advancement with the assistance of the control firefighter.

Once the nozzle is advanced into the structure, after encountering several pinch points, the control firefighter will move up and down the line to ensure an efficient hose advancement. If at any point the nozzleperson doesn’t get the hose that’s required to advance the line, and it appears that hose no longer is being fed, this must be communicated to the control firefighter immediately. The line might have encountered another pinch point that the control firefighter didn’t identify. It also is possible that debris or furniture shifted on top of the hose or that hose has run out. If this is the case, a good control firefighter will notify the nozzleperson of the situation. In any case, the nozzleperson should notify the company officer, who will contact the control firefighter to assess the situation. This allows the nozzleperson to focus on the fire attack.

Observing conditions

While on the fireground or any incident scene, every crew member is responsible for monitoring conditions and being safe. At a building fire, on the initial attack crew, the driver/operator essentially serves as exterior safety, monitoring conditions and notifying the attack crew of any significant changes in conditions.

The control firefighter brings up the rear and monitors conditions from the point of ingress all of the way up the hoseline.

The company officer watches conditions all around the nozzleperson and helps to guide that member’s attack.

However, it’s imperative that the nozzleperson doesn’t get tunnel vision. The nozzleperson typically is the first to see what the fire is doing inside of the structure before a fire attack. This can provide an idea of the general area of origin, what’s feeding it, where it’s going and what must be done to prevent it from advancing to unburned areas. (This information—for example, a gasoline can in the living room or arcing, popping or oddly colored flames—also is important post-incident, once fire investigators begin their investigation. It paints a picture for investigators of how the fire or the building presented prior to intervention by firefighters.)


Once the nozzle reaches the seat of the fire and/or more hose doesn’t need to be fed, the company officer calls up the control firefighter to assist the nozzleperson during fire attack to help to maneuver the line, to make the nozzleperson’s job of fire attack much easier. Engine companies must be well versed in hose handling and working together. This allows for a smooth hose advancement that requires little communication between members. This typically is developed over time through experience and training together.


Once the main body of the fire is knocked down, the control firefighter likely moves up and brings hooks to pull the ceiling to reveal any fire or hot spots that hide behind interior coverings. If a drop ceiling is in place, a smooth bore nozzle can knock ceiling tiles out of their frames quickly, to reveal fire and hot spots in the void space. The nozzleperson should work closely with the TIC-equipped company officer and the control firefighter to pull the ceiling to mop up any remaining fire.

Immediate rescue

There might come a time as a first-due engine that an immediate rescue is imminent and action must be taken quickly. It’s easy and common to get tunnel vision when “victims reported to be trapped” is heard. However, the nozzleperson must be disciplined and focus on putting the initial attack line in place to facilitate the rapid rescue of a victim who is being threatened by rapidly deteriorating fire conditions. While the nozzleperson is putting the first line into service, the company officer and the control firefighter can focus on how to make the rescue. The nozzleperson’s job is to protect the company officer, the control firefighter and, most importantly, the victim. Although multiple examples likely prove this point, one incident is the Legends on Lake Highlands Apartments fire in Dallas on Oct. 5, 2021. A fire company arrived at a two-story, multifamily, residential structure with fire coming from the first division patio and victims trapped on the second division balcony that was above the fire apartment. Firefighters threw a ladder to rescue the victims. One firefighter ascended the ladder to facilitate the rescue. The firefighters and victims quickly were overcome by fire that extended from the first division and were forced to bail off of the ladder. If an initial attack line was deployed simultaneously, and fire suppression was started, this might have helped protect crews and victims while the rescue was. Note: This is an opinion based on limited information and in no way is meant to take away from or demean the actions of the firefighters who were involved in this incident.

Second-due building fire: nozzle responsibilities

Second-due engine companies are assigned to establish a water supply and nurse the initial attack pumper as well as do one of four things: deploy a secondary line, deploy a backup line, assist the initial attack crew or primary search.

Secondary line

When an engine company arrives for a second-due assignment and is given the order to pull a secondary line, the engine company pulls a second line off of the initial attack pumper or, if the engine company is deployed in a different geographic location (such as on a large commercial structure), off of its own engine. This typically is ordered when there appears to be multiple points of origin in a structure in which the initial attack crew can’t put a stop on quickly, because the fire is growing and moving in multiple areas of the structure; the fire area is so large; or an exposure must be protected. The key thing to remember about the secondary line is that it’s going in a different location than the initial attack line.

Backup line

When an engine company arrives for a second-due assignment and is given the order to pull a backup line, the engine company pulls a line of flow that’s equal to or greater than the initial attack pumper. This backup line is deployed to the same location as the initial attack line. The second-due engine company assists with fire attack because of inadequate flow of the initial attack line. In another scenario, it might be deployed to help to protect the initial attack crew from being cut off from behind by rapidly developing fire conditions.

Assist initial attack crew

If the initial attack crew is faced with a long stretch and/or is attempting to advance a 2½-inch line inside of a commercial building, the second-due engine company might be ordered to assist the initial attack crew to maneuver the line inside of the building to make an attack on the fire. Typically, this happens when the initial attack crew has adequate flow but needs help to maneuver the larger, heavier hose inside of a complicated floor plan. Assisting with the advancement of this hoseline in this situation is much more effective than attempting to deploy an additional line. The sooner that the initial attack crew makes it to the seat of the fire, the sooner a positive effect can be made on the fire.

Primary search

If none of these tasks that are noted above are ordered to be completed, the engine company might be assigned to perform a primary search for victims. That said, a proactive engine company can begin performing primary search when it advances a line or assists the initial attack crew on the interior, particularly on smaller residential structures.

About the Author

Christopher Winstead

Christopher H. Winstead has been in the fire service for 13 years. He started out as a volunteer firefighter in northwest Harris County, TX. He now is a firefighter/EMT Pearland, TX, Fire Department. Winstead is assigned to Engine Co. 3. He also serves as an instructor with the department’s training division during new hire academies and live fire training.

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