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When to pull the fire rig’s booster line, assuming it has one

The booster line is as old as motorized apparatus, and during that time it has been the darling and the goat of the fire service


Just where did the booster hose, or redline, originate in the fire service? Three words: The chemical engine.

See, in the early 1900s many fire departments in the U.S. had chemical engines in their fleets. Here’s an example of a chemical engine that saw many years of service with the San Francisco Fire Department.

“Chemical Engine 11 was a 1911 American LaFrance Type-5 Chemical Engine with two 80-gallon soda-acid chemical tanks and one 300-foot reel of 1-inch chemical hose. Like all chemical engines operated by the SFFD at the time, Engine 11 also was equipped with hose and adapters to connect to hydrants for the refilling of the chemical tanks and extra soda-acid charges.”

You read that right. Chemical engines were essentially fire apparatus equipped with large bicarbonate of soda and acid tanks (large soda/acid extinguishers on wheels).

On arrival at a fire, the acid and soda powder – which were stored separately from the water – were added to the water as the chemical reaction is almost instantaneous. That chemical reaction created the necessary pressure in the tank to produce an effective fire stream through the 1-inch chemical hose, which was typically colored red, hence the term “redline.”

As fire engines continued to evolve, one remaining component from the chemical engine days was the chemical line, commonly known as the booster line, or redline in our current vernacular.

When to pull it

Before the introduction of more mobile handlines, first the 1½-inch line and later the 1¾-inch line, the booster hose was the go-to line for small fires where firefighters didn’t see the need to pull the much larger and cumbersome 2½-inch hose line that was the standard at the time.

The limited fire flow from a booster line, generally around 50 to 60 gpm, was usually sufficient for a small fire.

However, the convenience of initially pulling the booster line, coupled with the ease of reloading on to its hose reel, caused many firefighters to fall in love with the booster line even when confronted with a structure fire for which its fire flow was insufficient.

This has moved many fire departments to remove booster lines from their fire apparatus. At the same time, many fire departments have stopped adding a booster hose to their specifications for new fire apparatus.

Yet, there are many fire suppression situations where fire companies need a hose line other than the 200-foot pre-connected 1¾-inch line carried on their apparatus. Just a few examples are:

  • Dumpster fires.
  • Vegetation fires along roadways.
  • Protection for vehicle extrication operations.
  • Automobile fires with limited operating space.

To off-set this loss of the booster hose, many departments have added the trash line to the hose complement. Typically a 100-foot section of 1¾-inch hose with a nozzle, these shorter lines can be found in front-bumper hose trays, affixed to side running boards, or stored in a compartment available for rapid deployment .

Firefighters are frequently the masters of ingenuity when it comes to solving an operational problem or developing a new tool or technique to make their job safer and more effective. This is currently evident as a growing number of fire departments have pumping apparatus with a hose tray or compartment in the front bumper.

Front bumper loads

With the availability of social media video tools, firefighters are sharing their inventiveness when it comes to front bumper hose loads for their trash lines. Here are just a few that I located with my internet search for front bumper hose loads.

I selected these five examples on the criteria that each had 10,000 views or more on YouTube. There are many more available should you feel compelled to look for others that may better fit your operational needs or the size and configuration of your front bumper hose tray or compartment.

Regardless of the hose load you chose for storing and deploying your trash line, here are three keys for success.

First, make sure that before you begin your search for a better hose load for your trash line, you ensure that your actions are going to be compliant with your department’s policy or SOG regarding hose loads for fire apparatus.

Second, get everyone at your station involved in reviewing different hose loads and come to a consensus for the option that best meets your needs. Nothing can start a shift war quicker than one shift or crew making an unilateral change in a hose load on the apparatus.

Third, practice, practice and practice some more. In the words of my former boss, “It’s nothing less than exciting when you try something new for the first time on the scene of an emergency.”

Battalion Chief Robert Avsec (ret.) served with the Chesterfield (Virginia) Fire & EMS Department for 26 years. He was an instructor for fire, EMS and hazardous materials courses at the local, state and federal levels, which included more than 10 years with the National Fire Academy. Chief Avsec earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Cincinnati and his master’s degree in executive fire service leadership from Grand Canyon University. He is a 2001 graduate of the National Fire Academy’s EFO Program. Beyond his writing for and, Avsec authors the blog Talking “Shop” 4 Fire & EMS and has published his first book, “Successful Transformational Change in a Fire and EMS Department: How a Focused Team Created a Revenue Recovery Program in Six Months – From Scratch.” Connect with Avsec on LinkedIn or via email.