When arriving as the first-due engine company at a working fire, the priorities are pretty cut and dry: Secure a water supply, place the apparatus out of the truck’s way, and stretch the attack line. Once the initial attack line is placed between the occupants and the fire, advance onto the fire to extinguish it at its origin.
Those are the basics of engine company operations—but what are our responsibilities when we’re the second-due engine at a working fire?
The first question you must ask yourself is whether to secure a water supply. This will depend largely on your department’s standard operating procedures (SOPs) and how your first-due engine went to work. As we’ve stated in previous articles, we’re firm believers that every engine company should establish their own source of water, because it provides an additional water supply to the fireground, as well as an added measure of safety in the event that the first-due engine’s water supply is interrupted. Plus, an engine without water is really just an expensive taxi.
Once you’ve established a water supply, place your apparatus as close to the scene as possible—but without blocking the truck companies. We’ll discuss why this is important later.
After appropriately positioning the second-due engine, take a minute to evaluate the hose stretch of the first-due engine. Most of the fires we respond to are extinguished using the initial attack line from the first-due engine, but if the placement of the initial attack line is going to be a difficult or long stretch, your company should help the first-due engine get their line in place. Remember: Make sure the line is stretched and flaked out to avoid any kinking issues.
It will be tempting to try to beat the first-due to the fire with your line, but you must resist the urge! Putting the first line on the fire in the shortest amount of time is in the best interest of the occupants and firefighters (especially those searching), so help the first-due engine get their line in place; they will return the favor someday.
Once the first-due line is stretched, the second engine needs to stretch a back-up line to support the initial attack line and to protect the first-due hose team from fire moving behind them as they enter the structure. This line also serves as a safety line in the event that the initial hoseline loses water.
But from which engine should you stretch the back-up line? The answer: It depends. Ideally, you should advance the back-up line from the second-due engine with its own water supply, because doing so provides you with 1) two completely independent hoselines operating within the structure and 2) the best safety measure in the event that one of the engines loses water.
The challenge comes when the second engine isn’t close enough to reasonably stretch the back-up line. This is why it’s important to position the second-due engine as close to the fire building as possible. If the placement of the second-due engine is nowhere near the fire building, then the back-up line will need to come off the first-due engine.
Hoseline Size & Length
After determining which engine will stretch the back-up line, you must then decide what size and length of hoseline you’ll need. The general rule of thumb: The back-up line should be the same size line, or greater, than the initial attack line; however, this rule only applies to residential structures. If the first-due engine made the mistake of pulling a 1¾” hoseline on a commercial structure, don’t compound the problem by stretching another! Use 2½” hose for commercial occupancies.
With regard to hose length, keep in mind that the back-up line needs to be at least as long as the initial hoseline if stretching from the first-due engine and longer if stretching from your engine. Hoseline placement within the structure should also be considered when estimating hose length.
When advancing into the structure, the back-up line must follow the initial hoseline into the building through the same entrance and remain a short distance behind the initial team. The back-up line should be charged and ready to be put into operation in the event that the first line loses water or the fire overpowers the initial line.
If the back-up line is needed to control the fire, it’s no longer a back-up line—it’s an additional attack line. When this happens, notify command immediately, as a new back-up line will need to be deployed.
In multiple-story buildings, the back-up line should be deployed as discussed above; however, if the initial attack line is controlling and extinguishing the fire, the officer of the second-due engine should reposition the back-up line above the fire to stop fire extension. In this instance, you must estimate extra hose into your stretch to cover the floor above the fire.
A Final Note
Operating as a second-due engine requires fire officers to make some crucial decisions in a short amount of time, but it also requires you to have a mindset that’s different from that of the first-due crew. Although you’re not going to be first-in, your tasks are equally as important to the success of the operation. Remember and train on the back-up line basics, and you’ll have a solid foundation for both your mindset and your attack strategy.
- Secure a water supply.
- Place the apparatus close to the structure without blocking the truck.
- Assist the first-due engine with initial hoseline placement.
- Stretch a hoseline of equal or larger size from the second engine.
- Enter the same entrance as the initial attack line with equal or longer hose.
- Support the initial line if needed or reposition to the floor above.