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Two techniques to be a great backup firefighter

Sometimes frowned upon, the second on the hoseline is key to a good knockdown

How many have seen this act play out? The first-arriving company pulls up to a working house fire. They hop off and start pulling lines, sizing up the building and conditions.

The nozzle firefighter, for one reason or another, is distracted or moves away from the nozzle to flake some hose. When he comes back to grab it and make an attack, the second-due is in position and ready to go.

Many of us want time on the nozzle, as much time as we can get. It gets us close to the flame and heat. That is the primary function of what we were commissioned to do — put out fires.

Best seat in the house
Go to any volunteer department and you may see a mad dash to get that nozzle because a fire may be very rare.

This good-natured ribbing on our selves about getting the nozzle does shed light on the fact that we naturally gravitate to positions of “glory.”

However, one of the most important positions on the hose line is the backup firefighter. Without the backup firefighter the line doesn’t move — or it doesn’t move very fast.

It is a position that is seldom talked about and I have never heard or seen anyone fight over being the backup firefighter. But, maybe they should.

Support structure
Most professional athletic teams have role players who are not the superstars. Without those role players’ contributions the team could never be champions.

They understand this role and embrace it. These players understand that without them filling that role and performing in that capacity, the team fails.

The same is true of the backup firefighter. Without his support, technique and contributions, the team fails and the fire doesn’t go out.

As a member of a hose team, the backup firefighter has to be active and know the job. It is not enough to just hold onto the hose and push with the nozzle man.

There is technique and training that needs to be employed to efficiently and expediently move that line into place so that the nozzle man can put the fire out.

One of the backup firefighter’s most important responsibilities is taking the weight of the line off of the nozzle man. By using good technique, the backup firefighter can easily assist in moving the line while taking the majority of the weight of the line off of the nozzle man.

The backup firefighter wants the nozzle man to concentrate on watching conditions and put water where it needs to be without the worry of getting beat up by the line.

Technique one
There are two techniques that I really like to use and teach. Each allows for easy hose advancement and keeps the weight and pressure off of the nozzle man.

The first technique is for the backup firefighter to put his back into the nozzle man’s back, keeping the hose line close and tucked into his hip. In this position, they will look almost shoulder-to-shoulder.

In this position, the backup firefighter keeps the hose close and leans back a little into the nozzle man to take the nozzle reaction pressure and keep nozzle man steady.

One negative to this technique is that the backup firefighter has a tough time seeing ahead of the team. This is especially critical if you are running at minimum staffing and your company officer is playing dual roles of officer and backup firefighter.

Technique two
The second technique places the backup firefighter sideways on the line. He puts his shoulder into the back of the nozzle man and keeps the hose on his thighs. He stays slightly bent over the hose in order to advance and control it.

This accomplishes the same thing as the first technique, but offers the backup firefighter a view of what the nozzle man is seeing.

The books will show variations of different methods and people like me will show you a few ways, but the bottom line is to use what is effective, safe and practical. Here are a few basic rules to follow no matter what method you use for backing up the nozzle man.

  • Stay on the same side of the hose as the nozzle man. The nozzle man determines which side this will be based on his preference, usually determined by if he is right or left handed.
  • Keep the hose level and at the same height as the nozzle during advancement.
  • When the nozzle man manipulates that nozzle up or down, move the hose in the opposite direction. For example, the nozzle gets pointed up, the backup firefighter should be manipulating the line downward.
  • Don’t push the nozzle man, move with him taking the weight and nozzle reaction pressure off of him.
  • Do most of the work and let the nozzle man worry about finding the fire and putting it out.

The only real way to get proficient is to train on this most basic, but important of skills. You have to stretch lines and deploy them.

You must challenge yourself to manipulate hose lines on a regular basis. If the backup firefighter and nozzle man are not familiar with each other and have different expectations on how the hose should be advanced, a fast, efficient and safe deployment will not happen.

Understand the importance of all of the jobs on the fireground. The backup firefighter plays a crucial role in getting water to the fire.

Train often, train hard and train like it’s for real. Until next month, train hard and do whatever job you have on your department and be the best at it.

Jason Hoevelmann is a deputy chief and fire marshal with the Sullivan (Mo.) Fire Protection District and a career captain and training officer with the Florissant Valley (Mo.) Fire Protection District. His experience spans more than 20 years, with more than 15 years as an instructor. Jason holds an associate’s degree in paramedic science from East Central College and a bachelor’s degree in fire service administration from Eastern Oregon University. He is a state advocate for the Everyone Goes Home initiative and a board member for the International Society of Fire Service Instructors. He is also co-owner of Engine House Training, LLC. He can be reached at