Considerations of the First-Due Engine Company Nozzleman

From reporting for work to taking up

Training, discipline, and attention to detail begin here. (author photo)

By Greg Sellers

You report for duty, early and ready to go. You find out you’re the nozzleman for the shift, so now you start thinking, “What do I need to do and consider for this tour of duty?” Following are some of the “pregame” thoughts to consider to get the first line in operation.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

First and foremost, have your PPE ready to go at your assigned seat and set up for rapid donning. Make sure all your equipment is accounted for. We’ve all been in the situation where someone doesn’t have both gloves, a hood, or even a helmet on the rig; don’t be that firefighter. Make sure you have a good working flashlight, preferably two. If you have zipper-type enclosures, make sure they work properly.

As always, your next priority is to completely check off your self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA). Finding out there is an issue at the front door with the first line is a very bad time to find out, so prevent it now. Check your cylinder; be sure it’s full. Check your harness. Make sure the cylinder is secure in the harness. Be sure the connection from the harness to the bottle is secured and hand tight. Check your chest and waist straps; they should be out to length for easy donning. Most fire departments issue personal face pieces. Put yours on. Preadjust the temple straps to facilitate rapid donning. Check for a seal. Check the straps and webbing to make sure they are in good condition. Check for any mask or lens damage. Remember, SCBA lenses can fail between 300°F and 500°F, so make sure they are in good condition, secure, with no glazing.

Next, charge the cylinder. Make sure there are no leaks at the cylinder/harness connection. Connect your mask-mounted regulator to the mask, and make sure you’re getting adequate air. Also, make sure your emergency bypass works. Check your heads-up display; make sure you can see the lights or other indicators. Cycle your integrated personal alert safety system (PASS) alarm through its cycle; be sure it alarms at the designated time (between 15 and 25 seconds). Check the battery level to be sure batteries are fully charged.

Once this inspection is complete, shut off the SCBA, bleed the air, and deactivate your PASS. Place the SCBA back into your seat and place the straps so that you can rapidly don the SCBA and you know exactly where the straps are located.

Check Your Hoselines

The next step is to check the gun in the gunfight. Most departments use the preconnected crosslays as the setup for the initial attack line. Check if they are packed correctly. Are there any hangups in the hosebed tray that will delay deploying the line? If so, now is the time to pull the line and repack it properly. There are several ways to pack crosslay handlines. They all have their advantages and disadvantages. An example would be the triple layer pack. If you don’t pull the loop out of the bail before it gets charged, it is a dead line, and you’ll have to stretch another. Don’t be caught off guard at the front door; check them now and fix whatever issue you may see.

Checking your nozzles is extremely important, because if they aren’t operating properly, you may never get water or the proper water to the seat of the fire. If you have adjustable gallon fog nozzles, check the teeth–be sure they are not broken and can spin freely (if designed). Be sure the gallon adjustment works and moves without issue. Make sure the bail doesn’t stick and moves forward and backward with ease. The important part of adjustable pattern nozzles is the tip of the nozzle where you adjust the pattern. This should spin freely and without hangup–left for fog and right for straight stream. Disconnect the nozzle from the hose and be sure the rubber gasket is in good condition and there is no debris in the nozzle.

If you have smooth bore nozzles, make sure you know what tip size is on the nozzle. Maybe even carry an additional tip in your pocket if the need arises to change tips out. Smooth bore nozzles are generally maintenance free aside from the rubber gasket and bail, as they are just straight pipes.

Next, know how long the attack lines are and what size they are. This holds true more so if you are a detailed firefighter to another company and not familiar with the hose layout. Most departments standardize their setup, but sometimes there are differences. Make sure you know them before that alarm is transmitted.

The Stretch

The alarm is transmitted. You know its work based on radio reports and the column of dark brown smoke pushing in the air. The chauffeur stops the engine and engages the parking brake and you get out of the engine. Before you even touch the hose, you need to do a quick size-up. What type of structure (residential vs. commercial, single story vs. multiple story, vacant vs. occupied)? Where is the fire located or where is the heaviest amount of smoke? Do you see any obstacles to the entrance point of the structure such as vehicles, fences, obstructions in the yard, other buildings? As far as obstacles, how the line is packed will either help you or hurt you as far as stretching. A minuteman or flat type pack works well with longer distances and going around obstacles. The triple layer pack works well with short direct stretches in close proximity to the engine. What mode of operation are you ordered to do–transitional, interior, or exterior attack? One of the biggest questions you have to ask is, “What entrance is going to be my most direct route to the seat of the fire?” Typically, it is the front door, which generally has the interior stairs directly near it. If it’s a basement fire or a smaller apartment building, it could be the side door.

You take the nozzle and first loops, which are the 50-foot mark of the 200-foot crosslay, and stretch. As you stretch toward the entrance point that has been determined, you flake out the line so that it’s parallel or inline to your entry point. This allows for an easier stretch in the building with less chance of kinks and pinch points. Also, the first coupling should be at or just inside the door. This prevents the coupling from getting caught up in the doorway and provides the first 50 feet followed by the second 50 feet and easy pull into the building and up the stairs if needed. Once the line is stretched out in line, without kinks, first coupling and nozzle at entry point, you call for water.

At the Door

So, you’ve called for water. Did you mask up with gloves on or off? Typically, masking up should never take you more than 30 seconds with gloves off, even less time with gloves on, as

long as you train on it. I see personnel masking up with gloves off and once they get the mask on they have issues finding their gloves. A little trick is to put the right glove under the right knee, left glove under the left knee; this seems to help with locating gloves.

Also, no one wants the nozzle stolen from them, which I know shouldn’t happen but does. So, another little trick is put a knee on the line. Most of us mask up on our knees, so put one on the line. This serves two purposes: It keeps someone from stealing your line and keeps it under control when being charged.

Once you have water, open the nozzle, bleed the air, adjust your pattern if you have an adjustable fog nozzle, and shut it down. If you need to wait for your officer or backup man, then wait. Never enter a fire building alone except in rare cases.

The Attack

As you advance, keep the line close to your body, underneath your arm. This allows control of the line and helps with some of the backpressure. Also, which is vital, get the nozzle out in front of you. Keep the nozzle within reach of your hands but enough in front of you that you have full movement and mobility of the line. A lot of people with “pistol grip nozzles” hold the nozzle but have no mobility because the nozzle is right up against their body. Getting the nozzle out in front of you will give you that range of motion to go high, left, and right without moving your body.

Before you enter the fire building, if conditions dictate (heavy smoke), take the stream and give it a shot at the ceiling. This gives you an idea of the temperature. If it’s extremely hot, the stream will turn to steam or you will have hot water come back down on you. This will also start cooling the upper level gases to help prevent the rapid fire event. If you have heavy smoke with no fire as you advance, keep doing this to keep those gases from igniting and make the advance safer.

It’s also good to give the floor a shot. This will help you determine if the floor is intact. It may also move away any debris that may hamper your advance. We’ve heard the term “penciling.” If you just keep water at the ceiling level as you advance, this may be a better tactic, as it keeps the gases cool and prevents the fire from lighting up.

There is a big discussion about fog stream vs. solid stream. Whichever you have found works in your experience and training, use that. A solid stream reaches the seat of the fire better and prevents a thermal imbalance, which can cause steam burns and visibility issues. A fog stream is a good indirect attack stream where you want the steam to extinguish the fire without really reaching the seat of the fire. Both methods are valid, so go with your training and your departmental standard operating procedures.

Another thing to keep in mind is to never, ever pass fire. Passing fire and letting it burn unchecked is a recipe for disaster, so if you see fire, extinguish it. You don’t want to let it get behind you and possibly block your means of egress, burn your hoseline, or extend to other parts of the building.

Take Up

Once the fire is extinguished, if possible, be involved in packing or directly pack the line or lines used. This will ensure that the lines are packed properly. Also, be sure to clean the nozzles with warm soap and water and check their operation and condition prior to putting them back in service.

As you can see, there are several considerations for a nozzleman. It takes training, discipline, and attention to detail, but when all this is accomplished, you are set up for success in one of the best spots on the fireground.

Greg Sellers is a firefighter with the Chesapeake (VA) Fire Department assigned to Engine 11/C shift. He is also a volunteer firefighter for the Smithfield (VA) Volunteer Fire Department. He is an instructor in engine and truck operations and a 28-year veteran of the fire service.

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