Effective Handline Deployment

Having just passed the seventh anniversary of the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center that resulted in the deaths of 343 New York Fire Department members, I would like to dedicate this month’s Quick Drills to one special firefighter, who was the inspiration for this month’s column.

Lt. Andy Fredericks had a real passion for writing and teaching other firefighters the art of stretching a handline into structure fires. He understood how important it is to stick with the basics. He knew that no matter what the color or type of fire apparatus you ride on, knowing how to effectively stretch handlines will save civilian and firefighter lives and will reduce property damage.

Adult Education
The problem: Teaching the new-generation firefighter can be a real challenge–but so too can teaching our veteran members.

When we teach experienced firefighters, we must remember that we’re not teaching elementary school children or new recruit firefighters. Our drills should be focused on important fireground and emergency incident skills that will make us safer and get the job done more efficiently. If you’re teaching about higbee cuts or how fire hose is made, you’re missing the point.

To really reach adult learners, you must be focused on timely subjects that are well organized and to the point. By “to the point,” I mean that most drills shouldn’t cover more than five major points. Why? Most fire department training schedules and activity levels prevent us from conducting long, drawn-out training programs.

This month’s drill is designed to follow these guidelines. When teaching, Andy would say, “The fire goes as the first line goes,” meaning that if the first handline does its job, the fire will go well.

And for the first line to perform well, its crew must train on the basics. This month’s drill focuses on a few points that will improve your handline deployment.

Choose the Correct Line
The good news: Most American fire apparatus offer plenty of options when it comes to size and length of hoselines. The bad news: Almost all of them are preconnected.

As I’ve noted in past Quick Drills, we have a “residential mentality” when choosing our handlines. We pick the good ole 1 ¾” handline time and time again, no matter what, because that’s what has worked for us at our most common fire, the residential house fire. So spend some time working to develop sound decisions when it comes to proper handline selection. Try to match the needs of the incident to the right size line.

The same thing can be said about estimating the length of line you need to reach the seat of the fire. We create a routine by having preconnected lines of only a few different lengths. Most of the time, preconnected handlines work great, but every once in a while you show up at a commercial building or apartment or simply get a bad apparatus spot, and your preconnects are too short to do the job.

There are lots of ways to overcome this problem, such as a dead-loaded hosebed, wyed lines and hose packs. Whatever your department prefers, ensure you have a way to deploy an extra long line and take the time to practice it before you need to use it at a real incident.

Work as a Team
Stretching hose to a fire is really a team sport that requires coordination. Everyone wants to be on the nozzle because that’s where all the fun is. But for a handline to be effective, it must be mobile, which means the crew must spread out over the lengths they need to advance.

After the section of hose is advanced and the nozzleman is ready to open the nozzle, the backup members must move back into position to assist the nozzleman. This back-and-forth process should continue until the fire is out.

Advance More Than the Nozzle
When deploying a handline to the point of entry for a structure fire, always lay out a working length of hose before the line is charged.

If you leave the hose in a pile at the street and advance only the nozzle to the entry point, you must advance the hose–now fully charged–for every foot you need to move. Instead, take a few extra seconds to lay out the hose in a nice sweeping S pattern at the entry point. This will make the attack go much easier.

Check Your Line Before Attacking
Before you start your fire attack, ensure your line is ready for an effective attack. Responsibilities include:

  • One member should check that all of the hose has been cleared from the hosebed. In preconnected hosebeds, extra hose can kink where it’s folded, causing a water restriction that could affect fire attack.
  • The pump operator should ensure any hose remaining in the bed is cleared before charging.
  • Everyone on the attack line should check for kinks along the line and look for potential areas that could restrict flows and cause kinks, like car tires or doorways.
  • The nozzleman should bleed the line off before entering any area where conditions are dangerous, ensuring sufficient pressure and flow to start the attack.

Practice Where You’ll Play
If you really want to improve your hose deployment skills, go out into your own response area and practice.

Timing is the key to drilling at local structures. You probably don’t want to practice at businesses during their busy hours of operation. Choose times that allow you to position your apparatus like you would during a real incident. And look for buildings under construction that will allow you to practice handline deployment at their sites.

When stretching lines, experiment to determine if your handlines will reach the back areas of the building without having to take them inside. Plan for the worst-case incidents where your handlines are too short due to poor apparatus spotting. Now is the time to see if you can extend your standard hoseline setup or deploy longer lines from existing beds.

Get out and work on the little things that will make your next handline deployment a success before you face the real deal.

Drill 1: How Long Can You Go?
Equipment: Pumping apparatus with your department’s standard hose complement.

Step 1: Find a location in your response area that will require long or unusual hose stretches, such as schools, strip malls, warehouses and big-box type stores.

Step 2: Go to those locations during times that will not affect their normal operations (e.g., at night, after closing or on Sunday mornings).

Step 3: Practice different hoselays that allow you to cover all areas of the building.

Step 4: Review your department’s current hose loads. Determine if they are sufficient to meet the current needs of your response area.

Drill 2: The Best Tool for the Job
Equipment: Pumping apparatus with your department’s standard hose complement.

Step 1: Select a location where your apparatus and crew can position and deploy different types of hose loads.

Step 2: Based on a scenario you provide, make sure your crews deploy the correct handline size and length to meet the needs of the scenario.

Step 3: At half speed, deploy different handlines from the apparatus. Once you have the basics down, work up to full speed.

Step 4: Evaluate your crew’s performance in choosing the correct handline, working as a team, providing for an extra length of hose at the entry point and ensuring all the hose is cleared from the hosebed and there are no kinks.

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