The Probie's Guide to the Engine Company: Lines, Lines, Lines - Part I

April 20, 2007
The probie is beat. In addition to the day's runs, he has washed dishes, cleaned the kitchen, vacuumed the bunkroom, and made another pot of coffee. He muddled through a first due address drill and is studying from his rookie book, slowly nodding off to sleep. He's been given the lineman spot tonight and aside from an earlier car fire the most hose time he has had has been washing the engine. The intercom wakes him up with a shout, "first due box!

The probie is beat. In addition to the day's runs, he has washed dishes, cleaned the kitchen, vacuumed the bunkroom, and made another pot of coffee. He muddled through a first due address drill and is studying from his rookie book, slowly nodding off to sleep. He's been given the lineman spot tonight and aside from an earlier car fire the most hose time he has had has been washing the engine.

The intercom wakes him up with a shout, "first due box! 7701 Congress Street!" As they pull out, he remembers going there for a medic local earlier and he remembers the lieutenant telling him about sizing up how many lengths of hose it would take to reach the apartment they were in. He listens as the radio rebroadcasts "7701 Congress Street, smoke coming from apartment 2 Baker on the second floor. Engine 7, Ladder 3..."

Remembering his lesson he thinks, one length from the wagon to the door, one from the door to the floor, and he hears the wagon driver yell "layout!" In a few seconds they are in front of an apartment building with its occupants coming out. He moves to the backstep and grabs the first shoulder load of the 250' line, drapes it over his shoulder and steps aside. The lieutenant glances at him and the backup firefighter as they start the initial stretch. "Watch around those cars!' the lieutenant yells as they move past parked cars in front of the building and up the walk to the front door. The probie knows the lieutenant is telling them to mind the hose that it doesn't become snagged up under a tire or on a bumper. He sees his officer taking a chock off his helmet to wedge the door open, and then sees him bound up the steps and up the stairway.

The backup firefighter yells to the probie that he's flaking out his shoulder load and to keep going. As he makes his way inside and up the stairs, he's jostled by the occupants leaving the second and third floors on the way down and the forcible entry team of Ladder 3 on the way up. He keeps a hold on his shoulder load as he makes the turn up to the second floor landing. He can smell the fire, a good wood burning smell and not that acrid food on the stove odor that stays with you all night. As he gets on the second floor, he sees the lieutenant chocking open the apartment door next to where the truckies from 3 are beginning to force entry. "Start flaking some of that hose in here" the lieutenant tells him. And as he does he hear his handie talkie report "Engine 7 to Engine 7 pump, charge the line" (see photo 1).

Make your Bed Right Every Time

While at Hyattsville, there was a member who is a smart firefighter, driver and operator. He would get ribbed by the guys sometimes and called a 'hose Nazi'. Whenever this member came in and saw hose in the bed not racked right, he'd make a few brief, mild comments to those in the station, never in a rage, and then pull the engine out and take the hose off and rack it correctly. His simple retort to the nickname was "if you pack it right, it will come out right, no matter who you are."

The reason why lines have to be packed "just so" isn't so the back end of your engine looks nice, although that is a benefit, but it is so it comes off quick and easy. This is especially important in combination and volunteer departments. Having an agreed upon hose bed setup and way to pack the hose will eliminate discovering any changes on the fireground.

Imagine if you will that your engine has always carried 150 feet of 1-3/4-inch in a crosslay in a minuteman load. Captain Jimmy and a few guys one afternoon decide that it should be 100-foot flat loaded and they change it. You go to a fire before the company meeting, reach up and expect to see a shoulder load of 100 feet, the nozzle below the folds, and a pull off 50 feet. You're surprised as you stretch in a length short and with a pile of spaghetti at the base of the pump panel. This has happened in the real world. Hose loads need to be repacked properly, in a department wide agreed upon manner, to make the next stretch to the seat of the fire quick, efficient and to eliminate problems such as kinks and snags on obstructions (see photo 2).

Where does the Initial Stretch Begin?

Some think it begins off the engine. Others think it begins with the sizeup. Actually, it begins with the mapbook. Take a look at the neighborhood of your first-due area. What type of neighborhood is it? Is it a bedroom community? Is it row after row of rowhouses? Is it made up of highrise projects? Are you rural with mini-mansions and very long driveways? Your department should have its hose loads composed with some thought given to the structures they respond to.

My former first due area and battalion is a good mix. Mostly, it is a bedroom community, with some stand alone apartments. In some parts we have garden style apartments alongside other apartments and a few highrises. Retail structures are quite normal, and we have some light manufacturing. When learning the lines, I learned where they apply and how to determine the amount needed. Too often I have heard new firefighters try to define hose lengths by the type of structure. This is impractical.

While the 150-foot bumper line will cover all floors in my home, I can go up two blocks and down the street from where I live and find a private dwelling where the same 150-foot bumper line will be very short. Likewise, your response sequence and SOPs will have a say about what length and size hoseline you stretch. In Prince George's County, the third and fourth due engine companies, on multiple dwellings, are directed to run their lines to the exposure floor/apartment/building over ladders to avoid stairway congestion. These hose stretches are impacted by rear access and operating location. What might be a simple hose stretch for the first-due engine company may be a real task for the third due engine company (see photo 3).

When I became an officer, one of the first things I told others was that I will not tell the lineman what line to pull. We used to have a practice of the officer telling the lineman what to stretch. I expected the lineman to know this without me telling him. I will always check to make sure it is the right length and size line, and I may change it, but I wanted the lineman to be proactive, thinking of where we are going, what type of structure is at the address. This way, if another officer or a senior firefighter were up front, this main function of the engine company, determining the correct size and length line, would not be lost.

  • __ lengths from the engine to the front door.
  • __ lengths from the front door to the fire floor.
  • __ lengths to work the fire floor.
This is a basic formula, and yes there are many variables. What if you're 150 feet down the sidewalk in the parking lot? What if it's on the third floor and you're in the rear? This is a basic formula. If you can learn the basics, you can adapt to the variables.

Example 1:
You are the lineman of the first-due engine at a fire on the second floor of a two-story private dwelling. How much hose do you need? At a minimum, 150 feet

  • One length from the engine to the front door.
  • One from the first floor to the second floor.
  • One to work the second floor.

Example 2:
You are the lineman of the third-due engine at a fire in a three-story private dwelling. The fire is on the third floor. Your department SOP states your line must come in over a ladder to prevent stairway congestion. Your engine is approximately 100 feet from the front of the house. How much hose do you need? At a minimum, 200 feet

  • At least two lengths to get from the engine and up to the house.
  • One length to go over the ladder.
  • One length to cover the third floor.

Your own answers should be based on what your hoseline lengths are. In my experience the engines have:

  • 150-foot 1-3/4-inch bumper line
  • 150-foot 1-3/4-inch crosslays
  • 200-foot 2-1/2-inch non-preconnected.
  • 250-foot 1-3/4-inch
  • 300-foot 2-inch
  • 400-foot 1-3/4-inch
So, I would have selected the 250-foot hoseline.

You might not have bumper lines. You might have 200-foot crosslays. You might have 200 feet of 2-1/2-inch with a gated wye and another 200 feet of 1-3/4-inch hoseline. If that's the case, what are your answers? The point is, unless you can quickly and correctly determine the number of lengths you need when you arrive, or when you hear that familiar address, you will stretch short, or too long, and delay getting water on the fire and delay other fireground operations as well (see photos 4 and 4a).


To determine how much hose to stretch you must be proficient in sizing up the distance and you must be knowledgeable of what size and length hose your engine carries. To make a successful stretch, you must know how and why your hoseloads are packed the way they are and how they are pulled.

To learn all of this you need to learn your area and you must get outside and pull hose. It can't be done on the chalkboard or in front of the TV.

In the next article we'll discuss a bit more on stretching the line, our places on the line and our focus on being at the door to the fire room.

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