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Taking the nozzle: Keys to success

Teamwork, communication, experience and constant training make nozzle firefighters most effective

So, we’ve come to the guy who actually puts the fire out. Of all articles I’ve written regarding to the attack team, this position will likely be the shortest. That’s not because it is less important or there is less to do; it is due to the simple fact that this person has one primary responsibility: put the fire out.

This position, depending on your resources, should be focused on getting to the fire as quickly as possible and putting an effective fire stream on it for extinguishment. With the supporting cast in place (the backup firefighter, the officer and the door man), the firefighter on the nozzle should direct all of his efforts at following the heat and flame to the seat of the fire.

The tools to succeed
Ideally, the nozzle firefighter will be an experienced firefighter with a thorough knowledge of fire behavior and building construction. This is the guy who has been in fires and has been the backup guy and the door guy as a young firefighter, and who knows what to expect. He has a good working and practical relationship with his equipment.

What does that mean?

When he gets on his apparatus in the morning he checks his hose bed to ensure the lays are correct. He checks his nozzles to ensure that they are fit and ready for combat. These are his weapons and they must be clean, maintained and in good working order.

Recently we came on duty and found the teeth of a combination nozzle just hanging from the nozzle. This can cause serious problems for us if we were in a building fighting fire and our nozzle is not operating appropriately.

Checking his equipment is a habit and something that the nozzle firefighter’s company officer expects of him on a daily basis.

As we discussed, the other positions play a vital role in the advancement and quick knock down of the fire. If these roles are lost or reduced, the efficiency of the line is severely limited and the fire is enabled to grow and increase the hazard to any trapped occupants and firefighters. It is no different for the nozzle firefighter.

Fire attack
From the beginning of the call, the nozzle firefighter must be in step with the company officer and, if not told, must pick the right weapon to attack the fire. The nozzle firefighter needs to see and recognize the conditions and understand what is needed.

A company officer with a strong, experienced nozzle firefighter will not need to tell him what line to deploy, he will already know based on training, experience and past incidents. This limits time delays in getting lines deployed and allows the company officer to concentrate on evaluating the scene and conditions.

The nozzle firefighter should make sure his team is ready before making entry. He can’t be a loose cannon who just takes off with the line.

Doing so makes more work for himself, rushes his crew and doesn’t use each team member’s contributions to the line. Instead, he is aware and is preparing for the attack.

Again, a good nozzle firefighter will communicate with the company officer to order water and when to advance.

Inside the fire room
While making the advance, the line should be out in front of the nozzle firefighter. Whether it’s a pistol grip or not, the nozzle should never be at the chest or under an arm.

You will lose the flexibility to move the nozzle from side to side and it creates a more difficult position to control the stream and the hoseline effectively. A good rule of thumb is to have the nozzle out in front far enough so that when you reach out to it you can still operate bale.

As you are advancing, look for fire, changing conditions of smoke and heat and any immediate hazards that you can identify. Sound floors with the front foot or tool.

Low-level fires and multiple fires, for example, may indicate a set fire and extra care must be taken. Sweep the floor with your stream to remove hazardous objects in your path.

Look for signs of roll over and cool those gases and flames with a continuous stream of water. My theory is that if you need to cool it down, use a continuous flow of water; I’m not a big fan of penciling.

Good communication
There should be constant communication about any change of conditions by anyone on the team. Identify hot floors, change in smoke behavior, feeling heat and anything that doesn’t seem right.

The nozzle firefighter will be the first to approach the fire. He will feel the initial heat and the team needs to take care not to push him into the fire room. Let him dictate the pace and depth of the attack.

As he gets to the fire room or area, he will direct his stream to extinguish the fire. The nozzle firefighter will determine the best pattern to use based on conditions and the type of fire encountered.

The attack team must operate as such to be successful. Each cog in the wheel is important and must be proficient and ready during the attack. This comes from training together and practicing the basics over and over again. Work with each other and master your craft together.

Be sure to follow your department’s operational guidelines and train accordingly.

Take few extra moments to remember those who were murdered on Sept. 11, 2001 and the families they left behind. They made the ultimate sacrifice and we owe it to them to carry on their legacies by being the best we can be everyday.

Train hard and I’ll see you next month from the fireground.

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