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Why we attack fire with too little water

Getting the right amount of water to the fire quickly may mean not doing what's always been done


I recently attended a tactics conference and was reminded of the important role tactics play in getting water on the fire. One of our primary goals when arriving on the scene of a structure fire is to get water on the fire.

Where this falls in the sequence of operations will be dictated by the conditions present and the presence of life within the structure. Regardless of whether we are initiating a rescue first, an aggressive offensive attack or a defensive attack, it is critical to get water on the fire quickly.

So how can we best accomplish this?

We can do this by drawing upon different tactics that we have available to us for different situations. The number of tactics is too exhaustive to cover in one article. Instead, it is important to consider the questions how do we get water quickly on the fire and how much do we need.

The amount of water needed for a fire is a big question to answer. That answer will be derived from the conditions seen during size up. The general rule of thumb is “big fire, big water; small fire, small water.”

Fire departments often default to the smaller handlines as the initial line to be pulled. This is a common problem within the fire service.

Smaller handlines only deliver small quantities of water, which are not affective on bigger fires that require a larger amount of water. 

Conditioned response

Why do we pull the smaller handlines as opposed to larger handlines?

Usually the answer is because of our muscle memory. We pull the smaller handlines most of the time because the majority of our fire calls only require smaller amounts of water.

Can we fix this? Absolutely we can – it is a matter of training and recalibrating our memories to recognize the need for larger water.

So how do we get water quickly on the fire? This is accomplished by using different tactics that use different pieces of equipment.

These items can include deck-mounted guns or ground monitors, larger handlines, elevated master streams or whatever else we have at our disposal. The tactic needed to accomplish this will be decided based upon the size up of the structure and what equipment is at our disposal.

By getting water quickly on the fire, we are removing the domino that may prevent us from having a successful outcome.

When we do not get water quickly on the fire, we are setting up many other dominoes that will eventually start to collapse and lead to a not so successful outcome. 

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