Engine Companies Must Establish their own Water Supply

Just about any firefighter will admit that you can’t put out much fire without water (OK, there are a few unusual exceptions to this). Water is generally readily available, inexpensive even in larger quantities and works well to extinguish most types of fire. Of course, you’ve got to have good access to it to be a good engine company.

But many initial-arriving companies get so focused on arriving first at a working incident that they neglect to provide themselves with an adequate, uninterrupted water supply to allow them to get the job done. They drive past hydrants or don’t properly equip themselves with the tools needed to obtain a water supply from alternative sources. They then go into service with either a small line to “conserve water” or a large line (a little better), hoping to knock down the fire before they run out of water. Essentially, they hang themselves out to dry, hoping that, if needed, the next-due company will bail them out. This just isn’t good planning.

Preplanning: It’s Your Job
One of the primary jobs of any engine company at a fire scene is getting water on the fire. Whether your engine is large or small, you’ll be limited by your water tank size unless you do something (lay a line, call for tender support, etc.) to establish a supply. Remember: It’s your job–not the incident commander’s–to  secure a water supply for yourself, so you need to be thinking about it both en route to and as you arrive at the scene, not after you get there and realize you need more water.

Preplanning how you’ll establish a water supply might not matter if you’re handling a car fire, a dumpster fire or some other type of small contained fire situation, but it will matter in a house or building when firefighters are on the interior and at risk. It will also matter when the fire has the immediate potential to spread to exposures.

And if you’re given an assignment to attack the fire, it should go without saying that you need to “grab your own plug.” You might think you have the fire knocked down, but fire has a habit of taking some unexpected turns, so engine company officers and personnel need to anticipate this. This is a key part of engine company size-up, which we covered in “Double Duty: First-in engine companies are often tasked with both size-up & initial fireground operations,” May 2010 issue, p. 32.

Hydrants vs. No Hydrants
For years, I ran with companies in almost fully hydranted areas. Quite often, we did aggressive forward-lays, dropping in on almost any house or building fire assignment. It was a mark of pride to radio to the next-due engine to “pick up my line.”

When possible, we’d run a “wagon pumper” arrangement, with a single driver bringing the second engine (pumper) from our station right behind us to pick up the wagon’s lay at the hydrant. This allowed the engine company to be self-sufficient on the fireground. We were confident that we could make an aggressive fire attack, knowing that our supply line was in the street and an additional water supply was only moments away when needed.

Now, I live and respond in a largely rural area, where 80—90 percent of our coverage area is without hydrants. My firefighters rely heavily on our tender (tanker) to arrive right behind the engine with an additional 3,500 gallons of water.

On working incidents, as the crew enters the fire station responding to the call, they assign one of the drivers the task of making sure the tender follows the engine so that we have a water supply to rely on upon arrival.

Again, the crew can confidently initiate a fire attack knowing that the water supply is right there with them.

Water via Other Apparatus
It’s also important to know how to properly utilize your supply line because if you don’t, you may have to rely on other apparatus, which can be risky when the apparatus has to maneuver into position in a crowded scene to reverse-lay a supply line out.

But if you plan to use the second-due (or later) engine to establish a water supply, consider having them stand by at the initial-arriving apparatus to reverse-lay from it, instead of having them stand by at the hydrant to lay into what may already be a crowded scene.

If the first-due ladder is a quint and equipped with supply hose, the first-in engine can pull up past the fire building, assess the situation and advise the quint about where to lay in to the building, giving them an optimal position and a reliable water supply.

Mutual-Aid Considerations
In today’s fire service, using additional apparatus to secure your water supply often means using a mutual-aid company that may or may not have the same water supply set-up as your company. If they carry a four-way hydrant valve or some other hydrant appliance, but you don’t, you better spend some time training with them so that your firefighters know how to use it.

If you need a special fitting, adapter or wrench to hook to your hydrants, be sure your mutual-aid companies have this tool. If you use dry hydrants, use a female thread at the connection point to the hydrant so apparatus that hook to it can do so without the need for an adapter (many dry hydrants are installed with a male thread on them). This will help speed up the connection process.

It’s the job of every engine company to anticipate long-term fireground water-supply needs as they arrive on scene. Failing to recognize a working incident can cause an engine company to miss an opportunity to “lay out” or secure a water supply that may be key to controlling an incident. This can be even more critical down a long driveway or in some other limited-access area where only a single piece of apparatus can enter.

To make a rescue, apparatus may need to drive right into the scene to avoid delay–but someone still needs to ensure that the engine has an established water supply. Performing water-supply evolutions can help speed up the process, which allows apparatus to make a brief stop at the hydrant, and ensures that firefighters entering a dangerous environment will have the water they need to protect themselves and the victim(s).

Remember: Water puts most fires out, but you must “catch” your own supply going in. Following this simple philosophy will ensure your safety and success.

Know Your Hose

Of course, firefighters need hose to do their job properly and safely, so whether you like it or not, you have to use it and pick it up when you’re done with it. (For years, I’ve been trying to figure out how to move large volumes of water via fiber-optic lines, and as soon as I patent that, you’ll be the first to know so you don’t have to pick up big, wet hose. But until then, we need to go with what we’ve got.)

How often do you take your supply hose out of the bed anyway? It’s probably not a bad idea to dust it off and practice making a lay for those smoke-in-the-house calls. At the very least, it’s a great drill for firefighters who probably don’t get the chance to practice that particular skill very often.

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