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Why firefighters grab the wrong hose for the fire

It’s common for firefighters to grab a small hand line in the face of a raging fire; here’s why


We default to what we know best and use and in this case, we use the smaller hand line more than we use a larger hand line.

Photo/Flickr via Dereks Key

We have heard the expression “small fire, small water; big fire, big water” used many times within the fire service as it relates to selecting the correct size of hose line for an initial attack.

How true this saying is. Although this saying is not definitive in terms of exactly what size of hose line to pull — a 1½-, 1¾- or a 2½-inch — it does steer us in the right direction to pull the right one first.

Many times we have been on the first-arriving unit at a working fire. When we go to pull the hand line off to mount an offensive or defensive attack, we default to pulling the same line that we always pull, which will be the smaller hand line — the 1½- or the 1¾-inch hose.

Why is this?

It is because of muscle memory. We default to what we know best and use and in this case, we use the smaller hand line more than we use a larger hand line.

In our corresponding video, we can see an example of how we default to our regular routine of operations with hand line selection. Although the fire is at an advanced stage of growth and development, the hand line selected is the smaller one.

Now we do not know the entire situation such as how many more firefighters were on scene or how many trucks responded and what are the trucks equipped with in terms of hose lines and master streams.

All we know is what we can see, and in this case we can see muscle memory being exercised once again.

Signs of trouble

So what are the dominoes lining up here with the wrong selection of hose line? Well first off, we are letting the fire get the upper hand.

By not quickly applying large amounts of water in a timely fashion, we are letting the fire grow and develop in its own way.

This situation would be a perfect example of when to use a blitz attack with a deck mounted master stream or even a ground monitor to apply a vast amount of water in a short period of time to stem the growth.

Another domino lining up is with the exposures. The radiant heat being produced by the original fire is now going to cause other buildings to also ignite and burn.

If the decision was made to apply the water to the exposures first due to the extent of the fire within the original building, then large amounts of water are still going to be needed based upon the radiant heat being produced.

All in all, the size up will determine what size of hose line to pull from the very start.

Hopefully we will rely upon recognizing the need for large hand lines at times when there is large fire and not default to our usual operational practice.

This article, originally published on Aug. 29, 2016, has been updated

Mark van der Feyst has been in the fire service since 1998, currently serving as a firefighter with the Fort Gratiot Fire Department in Michigan. He is an international instructor teaching in Canada, the United States and India. He graduated from Seneca College of Applied and Technologies as a fire protection engineering technologist, and received his bachelor’s degree in fire and life safety studies from the Justice Institute of British Columbia and his master’s degree in safety, security and emergency management from Eastern Kentucky University. van der Feyst is the lead author of the book “Residential Fire Rescue” and “The Tactical Firefighter.” Connect with van der Feyst via email.