Stretching line and making the push: Know the key roles on the attack team
Pick your load and practice to achieve flawless execution of an essential fireground function
What type of hose load do you prefer? On second thought, no one cares about that answer or whether it comes from a cross-lay or off the rear hosebed.
Here are the questions that matter: Does it work for you? Is it effective for your organization or your specific district? Do you train regularly with it? Did you have to retrain an entire organization to make it effective?
That being said, the stretch is our most basic and fundamental task on the fireground. “Put the wet stuff on the red stuff” has been our saying for decades. You must make the stretch before you can do this, yet it often remains one of the most frequently fouled-up operations on the fireground.
Why is this the case, though?
Have you practiced lately?
My observation is that most firefighters feel over-confident about what they are doing without actually practicing the maneuver. Further, company officers can assume way too much of their firefighters as well.
A professional baseball pitcher throws thousands of balls a year in preparation for the season. He does this in advance of being under the pressure of the big lights or on the 50-inch big screen that many firefighters watch from their recliners while on duty.
Have you practiced a stretch and advancing with the crew you’re on duty with today? Have you practiced advancing a handline throughout a house and up a flight of stairs and then into the attic of a two-floor single-family dwelling in zero visibility? As is the case with the pitcher, regular practice is essential – regular practice on the tried-and-true stretching and advancing tactics.
With this in mind, let’s review some of the responsibilities associated with a function that should be our most flawless on the fireground.
3 positions and functions on the attack line
First things first, there are three positions on the attack line to carry out key functions.
1. Officer: The officer’s first priority – well before any fire attack is made – is to train their crew with whatever hose load they will be utilizing.
If the officer is working with a mixed crew, they should never assume that everyone is on the same page, using the same game plan or is even trained to deploy the hose load that’s currently on the apparatus. Simply put, the officer should make sure the crew is trained and familiar with the load as well as the duties and expectations of the nozzleman and doorman.
When deploying the attack line, the officer should observe as much as possible the deployment itself, perform a 360 of the structure, if possible, and then, before making entry with the nozzleman, quickly look at how the attack line was flaked out and delegating any corrections to the doorman.
Just prior to entering a smoke-filled structure, the officer should take a moment to get on the floor at the door’s threshold and try to look under the smoke. Sometimes, depending where the fire is located, the officer may be able to see the glow of the fire reflecting off the floor or furniture and appliances at the floor level. This will give the officer a direction upon entry.
Once inside the structure, the officer is responsible for the direction and speed of the advancement of the attack lines. The officer will use their experience, senses and thermal imager to help guide the nozzleman to the seat of the fire while maintaining orientation, crew integrity and situational awareness.
2. Nozzleman: The nozzleman is responsible for pulling the attack line from the cross-lay or rear-loaded hose tray. They are also responsible for carrying the nozzle and first coupling to the front door (or wherever the attack will be initiated) while flaking out the hose load in an orderly manner.
Once the point of entry has been reached, the nozzleman will drop the first coupling and call for water.
A good nozzleman will think ahead and pay attention to what they see while walking toward the structure. They will look for obstacles that could snag the hoseline or create unwanted kinks before the hoseline is flaked out or charged. Carrying enough slack around parked vehicles, through gates or around the back of the structure, and then flacking out the hose load is critical in the first few minutes of the attack.
Again, nozzleman is also responsible for keeping the hose load relatively organized while the hose load is being deployed on the way to the point of entry. This is where things typically start to go bad for those firefighters who do not practice frequently. Problems include hang-ups, kinks or even entangled hoselines. The nozzleman should never assume that someone else will take care of the snags and kinks.
The nozzleman is also responsible for extinguishment, ideally being aggressive their push and using the nozzle in a controlled and targeted manner, not lazily moving it around the room.
Note: I often see firefighters come bailing out of the structure because they experienced a significant heat exposure while going interior. It is vital to stay low when you’re making the interior push so that you can finish the job.
3. Doorman: The doorman, as it was known for many years, is the assignment of the backup firefighter or plugman, serving a critical function of the initial stretch and advance inside the structure. Using a doorman will typically allow the officer and nozzleman to travel almost unimpeded throughout an entire one story SFO.
A key point: The doorman must realize that they are not the nozzleman. The doorman’s primary function is to feed hoseline into doorway, help limit the number of kinks and watch for any hang-ups the nozzleman could have overlooked as the attack line was being deployed. The doorman also can remind the nozzleman that they want to have the nozzle in one hand and the first coupling in the other hand once they reach the point of entry.
As the line is advanced into the structure, the doorman’s primary function shifts to feeding the attack line into the doorway and watching, just under the smoke line, how the advance is going.
The doorman will feed hoseline into the doorway and simply watch the hoseline to see when the officer and nozzleman need more line. This is accomplished by keeping a small bend in the hoseline just inside the doorway. When the bend goes straight, that means the officer and nozzleman is on the move and you need to feed hose into the doorway until you see that bend in the line again. The doorman will repeat this process until the nozzleman and officer reach the seat of the fire or the number of turns inside the structure become too much for the officer and nozzleman to overcome on their own. The doorman will then move into the structure with as much hoseline as possible and becomes part of the interior attack by pulling and moving the additional hose around any corners so that the nozzleman and officer can advance further into the structure or up to the next floor.
Once the seat of the fire is reached, the doorman can move up and assist with opening ceilings, void spaces or backing up the nozzleman.
In a short-staffed engine company, the engineer is more than just a driver/pump operator. They should as safely as possibly assume the role of the doorman for as long as practically possible.
The backup crew
As residential occupancies continue to get taller, combining crews onto the initial attack line will be required. A single crew trying to move a hoseline up past the third floor in zero visibility is nearly impossible for a single-engine company.
On occasion, a backup crew, or a second engine company, will become necessary to advance the attack line. This function is not to be confused with a backup attack line. Assigning a second crew to the initial attack line in multi-story occupancies simply to assist in its advancement can be the difference between a successful attack or complete failure to achieve the goal.
The first thing the backup crew needs to understand is that they are not the attack team. They are the support team. The backup crew is there to help the attack team advance the line deeper into larger structures or up stairwells on multi-story structures. They are simply there to help move the hoseline around the many obstacles and corners encountered in larger structures.
If you have any doubts about the need for a second company on larger or multi-story structures in zero visibility, you’re simply not physically training for the bigger fires. Do not plan and train for simple attack line deployments. Plan and train for all deployment potentials, especially the tough ones. Once you realize how much quicker and efficient a backup crew can make your attack line deployment, the more you’ll wish you had one on every incident.
Hose load preference, knowledge and training
Let’s reiterate that most people simply don’t care about which hose load you use. Your preferred hose load is simply that, something you and your company prefer. Nobody cares what hose load you’re using, only how well you and your crew can deploy it. I promise, if you are aggressive and train regularly with your hose loads to achieve proficiency, the fire will get put out just the same.
I watch every morning as my shift changes out the previous shift’s hose load. Every morning! I have filled in at many other stations and seen the same activity. I have also been to those houses where the crew most likely doesn’t even know what type of hose load is in the cross-lay or rear preconnect. Those are the crews that should be reading articles like this.
When it comes to hose loads, what really matters is your training routine and how well the hose load gets deployed when it’s actually needed. Sure, train on other hose loads as well; you may find something you like. It is also perfectly acceptable to have two or even three different types of hose loads in your cross-lay trays. You should only be concerned about the one you’re actually going to pull anyway. It’s not stupid if it works.
So, get out and train with whatever hose load you and your crew prefer, but train with the actual stretch and push.