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Power and precision: Comparing the master stream and handline

Video of Detroit Fire battling a storefront fire highlights the effectiveness of the master stream

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Last month, we saw the effects of a master stream being applied at a building and striking a firefighter working on the inside. We considered that while master streams are an amazingly effective tool on the fireground, as they can deliver large volumes of water in a short time frame, they also pose serious dangers to firefighters in their path.

This month, we see a great example of the varying power of water – specifically, the difference between a handline and a master stream – at a commercial fire.

In the accompanying video, the Detroit Fire Department responds to a storefront fire with advanced fire conditions. The fire is self-venting out the Alpha side windows with exposures to the Bravo side.

As you watch the short video unfold, take note of the master stream’s power versus that of the handline – and the resulting effectiveness.

Play-by-play water power

The first-arriving officer will determine whether to use the deck gun for the initial knockdown during their initial size-up.

We see this in the video as the first-arriving engine approaches the building on the Delta side, slows down a bit, then turns right onto the main street, driving past the Alpha side. It stops just past the fire building. This gives the officer and the crew a good chance to view at least three sides – the rear of the building, the Delta side and the Alpha side. By pulling past the building, the engine also opens the Alpha side for aerial ladder access should it be required.

With the size-up complete, the decision is made to use the master deck gun for achieving a quick knockdown before going interior. The first-arriving engine pulls off a preconnected handline from off the rear hosebed.

As this line is being stretched, the second engine positions itself in front of the building but out of the way enough that the master stream can be utilized. If the engine is too close to the building, it will be harder for the master stream to hit inside the building all that well – a little distance back provides the right angle for the master stream to be effective for interior water application.

The second engine has secured its water supply to sustain the flow demands for the master stream along with the first engine delivering water to the preconnected handline. The handline starts to apply water onto the fire, and you will notice that not much effect is being made or accomplished.

Moments later, the master stream strikes, and there is a noticeable difference with the effectiveness of the water being applied. The master stream lessens the flames, giving the firefighter on the handline the chance to move in with a more precise attack. Crews can then go interior to finish off the rest or they can stay defensive to keep applying water from the exterior. Either way, the large volume of water applied is what is needed to overcome the large volume of fire being produced by the fire.

Bottom line: Do not be afraid to use the master stream as that first line of defense or offense!

Training time

After watching this video with your company, take time to integrate the following steps into your fire attack training:

  • Research your department’s standard operating procedures and guidelines (SOPs/SOGs) to see if there are any tactical provisions for using master streams as offensive tools;
  • Conduct a training session where the engine arrives on scene, secures the water source (hydrant), deploys the master deck gun and flows water; and
  • Conduct the same scenario without securing a water to see how much time it takes to drain the onboard water tank while securing a water source.

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.