Engine Company Emergencies


The operation of hoselines in an offensive manner sometimes doesn’t go as planned or practiced. Multiple things can happen while operating at a fire and the difference between success and failure on the fireground often hinges on how well a crew can recognize and overcome any issue they face. In adversity, a true testament to how well you have prepared and practiced might be the only thing that saves your life; your crew’s lives; and, most importantly, those we raised our right hand to swear to protect.

As we stretch and operate hoseline, success is totally dependent on the officer, crew members, and their ability to function as part of a team. Through proper training and operation of hoselines in training situations, skill mastery can be developed.

What Can Happen

There are a multitude of things that can occur on the fireground that personnel need to prepare for ahead of the fire, some of which could be deadly if not addressed before the fire occurs. Water problems are probably the most important issue or concern we face as we operate hoselines at a fire. We can experience loss of water supply, failure of engine apparatus, failure of engine operators, loss of pressure, total loss of water, burst hose lengths, or having a door or other obstacle stop or reduce flow in the hoseline.

Some other issues of concern that can occur include fire flaring up behind the nozzle team because of unknown circumstance, or wraparound fire situations, previous areas that were knocked down reigniting, and flash fire or rapid fire progression and wind-driven fires.

Additionally, you could stretch short or take too much hose, become lost and disoriented, and operate during a Mayday event. We’ve laid out an extensive list of things that can go bad for the engine company operating on a fire. To be prepared mentally and physically, we must frequently train realistically to ensure we are fully prepared for that “bad day” when one of the above mentioned situations occur.

Water Issues

When we lose a water supply or don’t have the water supply we assumed we would have on arrival, it shouldn’t immediately signal the end of operations and loss of control. If a loss of water supply occurs during operations and booster water levels are low, a true emergency exists. All water issues must be communicated over the radio. It is the responsibility of the engine operator to report water issues in an “urgent/emergency” communications procedure.

The proficient and prepared engine company officer and crew will know exactly how long their water supply will last with standard layouts and flows. If your tank water will last two and a half minutes and you lose your water supply at ½ tank level because of supply hose failure or hydrant failure, then you know you have at least one minute of full flowing water to retreat or seek refuge.

Along the same lines, it’s important to not be afraid to start operations from tank water when water supplies are compromised on arrival. Just be mindful of how much water you have in your tank and know how long it will last using 1¾-inch, 2½-inch, and master stream devices. Loss of supply on the first-due engine with water compromise on the initial attack lines is why we emphasize individual water supply for each arriving engine to facilitate true redundancy in the system. If you are second due with a good water supply and the first due suffers loss of the supply with lines in operation, you have two options: stretch your own lines or, if the first due has lines in service, ensure you give the first due water from your engine to keep those first-due lines operating as you stretch the second line from your engine.

Apparatus Failure

Failure of the engine apparatus is a serious concern. The inability to place into pump or open valves because of mechanical failure does occur, and it is not the fault of the operator. Recognizing and communicating failures in a timely manner are the most appropriate actions. Operating with limited-flow water from a pressurized source running through the pump can be better than nothing until help arrives.

Engine Operator Failure

Failure of the engine operator is a serious concern. Often this is a result of the “crazy” button in one’s head that switches on when responding to a fire. This can be helped by continued training on all aspects of the operator job and ensuring all curveballs that could occur are repeatedly practiced. Gaining confidence and ensuring that the “crazy” drivers are given more attention will help solve this problem. Everyone is human, and mistakes will be made; it’s important to ensure that your personnel operating the apparatus know how to recover.

Another issue that could occur with the operator, one that could occur with any member of your crew, is a medical or traumatic incident prohibiting operations from starting. Your operator could suffer a medical event or simply trip and break his leg. If this happens, what will you and your crew do to ensure water for fire attack? This is something that needs to be prepared for, and all personnel, regardless of if they ever aspire to become an engine operator, should know how the pump works and how to operate the apparatus and pump hoselines. Throw a curveball every now and then to ensure everyone is capable of completing each other’s tasks–especially when they are not expecting it!

Loss of Pressure

Loss of pressure can occur for a variety of reasons and must be recognized by the nozzle firefighter and others on the hoseline. To ensure you know what proper nozzle pressure, reaction, and reach feel like, you must have repeatedly operated your standard hoselines in training. You should also test the nozzle appropriately before beginning the attack. Don’t just do quick bursts to clear air; open the line, assess pullback, and observe the stream. You should know if it’s right.

Loss of pressure commonly occurs because of kinks that develop in the line, especially when too much hose is stretched or you have deployed the hose a great distance inside of a building around multiple obstacles. Hose can also get pinched and kinked around obstacles inside or outside, valves can be partially closed accidentally, water supply can be interrupted, objects can fall on the hose, and doors can be wedged against the hose. This can cause a loss of pressure or a total loss of water. The main takeaway from the issue with loss of pressure is that it’s not an immediate retreat situation. It’s important to recognize the issue, determine what’s causing it, and proceed with caution. The nozzle firefighter should always recognize and notify the company officer of the situation.

Total Water Loss

Total loss of water is a more serious concern. That usually means something catastrophic has happened in the water system. The line could be completely severed or blocked by collapse or there could be mechanical failure of the apparatus. It’s important that these issues are recognized and communicated and orders to retreat are started by the company officer immediately. The line should be withdrawn so if water is restored in the system then streams can be operated for protection from fire progression. Unless a competent engine operator determines the issue and appropriately communicates it to the nozzle team, the nozzle team should continue to exit, ensuring safety of the crew until final resolution of the issue can be determined.

Burst Hose Section

Often a burst section won’t stop flow of water completely in small hoselines. The nozzle operator should recognize a reduction in pressure and communicate that to the officer. The orders to retreat to a last known safe area should be undertaken and the damaged section of hose replaced. Sometimes, it might be best to have a backup line take the position of the first hoseline if in position while the burst line is fixed.

If your line is deployed, it is probably a good idea to replace one bad section with two sections so you don’t come up short as long hoselays sometimes stretch out the hose and make connections with water in the remaining hose more difficult. This should be something you practice as well, and it’s a good idea to have some hose ready to be deployed as replacement in a donut roll so when rolled out you have both ends of the hose available for connection.

Door or Obstacle Stopping Water Flow

This is no different than the loss of pressure or total loss of water issue. A door or other obstacle, such as an open stair riser where the hose falls between the stair and the wall during deployment, a well hole that is too small, or a nonchocked door, can cause major problems.

Often the hose has to be shut down, broken at a coupling back toward the apparatus, and then drained to remove the hose from the obstacle. In stairs, it’s easier to remove the hose by simply shutting it down.

A door is much more difficult to open when the hose is holding it shut. If you are in a perilous situation and the door has stopped water flow, then do whatever you need to do to get water to the nozzle. The best method to attack the situation is to begin prying up from the bottom of the door with a halligan to try to create a gap, letting water pass through the hose. This is a true emergency on the fireground and, if in a dire situation, should be reason for transmission of a Mayday.

Fire Issues
Wraparound Fire

This situation can occur in certain types of occupancies where construction features lead to fire moving around rooms or other openings that aren’t contained with doors, especially in newer open construction residential dwellings. It’s important to recognize what is occurring, communicate within the crew, stop or slow your advance, and deal with the issue.

You can alternate streams between spaces, attempt to shut doors or close openings if possible, or just call for an additional line to attack from the other area. It’s important to control ventilation in this circumstance and ensure good, adequate gpm hoselines are operating. Additionally, the nozzle team should know how to rapidly redirect streams to areas directly behind them through practice in confined areas.

Areas Reigniting

This situation is similar to the wraparound fire issue; however, sometimes it isn’t as big of an issue as some would think. As you advance on a well-involved fire that has overtaken a few compartments within the structure and your crew has knocked down several rooms before moving forward, sometimes small areas of fire will reignite or flare up. Often an overzealous additional crew or crew member will not recognize that it’s just a small smoldering fire.

If the fire in front of you isn’t extinguished, then efforts need to be maintained on still controlling that fire. If that fire is knocked down, the nozzle can be rapidly repositioned to further knock down the previous area. If the main hoseline must still combat active fire ahead of the team, then the backup or secondary hoseline should be called to the area previously knocked down.

Flash Fire or Imminent Flashover

When encountering very rapid fire changes, you must take immediate action. The best defense in this situation is to recognize it will occur from the onset of the incident. Signs of rapid fire progression are high heat, dark pressurized smoke from openings, free burning fire remote from the entrance, and visible fire that might appear over your head. Additionally, there may not be any fire that is visible.

The nozzle team should immediately flow water, fully open, at the ceiling to cool the environment and alternate between the ceiling and the main fire area as the nozzle team retreats or regroups. It’s important to be able to operate the nozzle fully open while moving forward and in reverse.

Wind-Driven Fires

These fires are nearly impossible to combat from an interior position. They can occur in any type of building, anywhere. Several well-known fire progression injuries and deaths have occurred in private dwellings where wind conditions played a factor in the outcomes. It’s important to recognize the situation, seek refuge, and attempt extinguishment and knockdown from flanking positions with exterior streams or from adjacent spaces (small hole in a wall).

If you suspect a fire may be wind driven, especially in a large building where a door is controlling the fire area, then you can make a small hole in the door leading to the fire area to see the effects of fire and smoke coming from that hole. Smoke or fire coming out under pressure signifies a wind-driven condition and flanking actions need to be taken for fire control. (Underwriters Laboratories and the National Institute of Standards and Technology have a lot of in-depth information on wind-driven fires on their Web sites.)

Too Much Hose

If you are stretching to an area and have taken too much hose, you must know how to deal with that extra hose through advance practice. Too much hose in piles or attempted to be flaked out in confined areas will lead to kinks and loss of adequate water. Breaking hose and removing sections may be an option but could take some time.

Stage extra hose on the exterior, in open spaces on floors below, or in adjacent rooms. Discipline and practice ahead of the fire in various occupancies will help to ensure that your crews are better prepared to estimate stretches and only deploy the hose they need for the fire situation.

Not Enough Hose

Often companies come up short with their stretch and can’t actually reach the fire area. Sometimes this occurs and is recognized long before water is put into the hose; other times it is only realized when you cannot make it to the fire area. Before water is put in the hose, it’s a relatively easy fix, assuming you are in a nonhostile environment. It is usually best to add hose closer to the nozzle so you don’t have to restretch the entire length of hose.

Once water is in the hose and you can’t reach the fire area, your actions require a little more practice and preparation for success. You should first call for more hose. It’s important to keep more hose on your apparatus ready for rapid deployment. This could be from another hosebed or often a donut roll in a compartment. Unless you are going to shut down the line at the apparatus or you have break-apart nozzles, you should also call for a spare nozzle. You can attempt to isolate the fire area by shutting a door or removing a door remotely to cover the opening to the fire area. The repurposed door can also be used to bank water into the fire area. If you can keep the fire in check, then keep applying water until the extra hose is ready. Once you have the additional hose, retreat to a safe refuge area, shut down the nozzle, remove the tip, add the needed lengths of hose and new nozzle, and redeploy the line to combat the fire.

Other Situations
Becoming Lost or Disoriented

You probably shouldn’t become lost with a hoseline in your hand. However, if you haven’t maintained orientation to where you are going inside a building, then you could technically be “lost.” It seems common for people to get turned around in occupancies and think they are going in a direction they aren’t because of a lack of preparation and training in these environments. If this occurred and you were separated from the line, you should know simple survival techniques such as air conservation, navigation and search techniques, forcible exit techniques, and how to call a Mayday.

If you happen to be on the hoseline or find the hoseline, begin crawling until you locate a coupling. Once you locate the coupling, simply identify the direction of travel to the apparatus and crawl in that direction. You should be crawling toward the “male” coupling for exit. Make sure you feel each subsequent coupling to ensure you are still going in the right direction.

Mayday Events

These events are truly chaotic and require some of the greatest preparation and discipline on the fireground. Unless the engine company’s line is involved in the Mayday event, they should continue to focus their efforts on confining and extinguishing the fire. Lack of discipline will lead to engine company firefighters focusing on rescue operations and losing sight of the big picture–keeping the fire away from rescue efforts for the down firefighter. This should always be the case, unless the Mayday directly involves a member of the nozzle team; then actions to immediately rectify the nozzle team emergency should be attempted. Everything gets better when the fire goes out!

Numerous Threats

As you can see, we have given a brief introduction to a great deal of circumstances that the engine company can encounter on the fireground, affecting their ability to combat the fire. Most of these situations are preventable with proper training, discipline, and focus on basic engine company skills.

In an unfortunate situation, the officer and firefighters must be prepared to deal with the circumstance immediately to ensure the successful outcome and limit injury, death, and further property damage. Step out of your comfort zone, develop scenarios, practice “what if” situations, and throw a curveball at your crews periodically to keep them focused, disciplined, and on their toes.

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