Don’t forget the preconnect!
Speedlays provide quick deployment of attack lines to the fire, which is what we need as the fire grows faster and faster on today’s modern fireground
Once every 2 minutes, per USFA data, a fire engine responds with their alarm complement to a residential dwelling fire to suppress the flames that threaten the lives of occupants and the destruction of property. After all, it is the engine’s job to put the fire out.
How we manage the tactical steps to fire suppression is beyond the scope of this piece; however, no matter whether we go offensive, defensive or transitional, any attack mounted by the engine company starts with stretching the appropriate lines for fire control. How we stretch those lines depends on our individual response areas, our staffing and the hose loads that are utilized for fire protection in our areas.
Engine company work has garnered a lot of attention over the last few years with a resurgence of attention on hoseline management, nozzle reaction and target flows. There are many excellent firefighters out there teaching moving and flowing handlines, nozzle forward and water mapping – training that is having a direct impact on the reduction in property loss and, more importantly, a decrease in the number of civilian fire fatalities.
Some of the spinoff conversations around engine company work shifts to engine company specifications, with some departments opting to have all their attack lines come off the rear of the apparatus. Each department must spec their apparatus for their unique hazards and running areas, but I would caution prospective spec committees to not completely abandon the preconnected hoseline.
The preconnected speedlay
Preconnected hoselines were first introduced to fire apparatus in the late 1960s and quickly became a mainstay in many apparatus designs – until recently.
The advantage of the preconnect is simple – it reduces time. If time is our enemy because of significantly faster fire growth, then the preconnected speedlay, also called a crosslay in my area, can help to reduce that time by improving our time to water on fire. Of course, training here is key, and a dialed-in crew that can quickly stretch a static load will often outperform a crew that is not as well trained that must pull a crosslay.
Two keys to the successful deployment of a preconnected line are the hose load selected and the length of the line needed.
My organization chooses 200 feet. This works well for our setbacks and to cover the area of our homes, which can range from 1,200 square feet to easily 3,500 square feet of more. Our crosslays also work well for some of our apartments and condominiums depending on the location of the fire.
What works for one organization, though, may not necessarily work for another, and I am by no means advocating that static stretches are bad. However, we should be cautious in omitting speedlays from our apparatus simply because time is such a factor. There have been cases where speedlays come up short on the stretch. There have also been cases where the line selected was too small for the fire presented (or what the fire became). Omitting the speedlay is a shotgun solution to a scalpel problem. There are several great classes on estimating the stretch and knowing how much hose you need to effectively combat the fire (queue Lt. Steve Robertson’s Stretching for Success). There are also great classes on fire behavior and dynamics, and engine company officers should know what their hoselines are effectively able to deliver.
There is a case to be made for rear preconnects. Stretching from the rear forces an engine company to pull past the building and view three sides (as they should), angle their hosebed toward the fire, and then stretch quickly to the fire. Speedlays call for slightly different positioning in that an engine should still angle the middle of the apparatus toward the fire by kicking their rear bed outward, or stay parallel to the street. Speedlays also allow an apparatus to nose in to a fire, which is especially useful in cul-de-sacs, dead end streets or long lays. When you get boxed out of a fire due to tight access, parking lots or other apparatus, the speedlay can provide some advantage as you don’t have to stretch from the rear.
Hose loads matter in the design of speedlay systems and implementation onto our engine companies. Some of the more popular hose loads are the minuteman and the flat load. Of course, there are variations and modifications to each one, as each type is used for specific areas. My organization uses a flat load that, when deployed, can get be charged and ready for advancement in under 60 seconds. The flat load works for us when appropriately trained on and understood.
The advantage of the minuteman is that the hose can also be deployed and charged in under 60 seconds, often under 30. The minuteman also allows hose to flake from the top of the hose stacked on the firefighters’ shoulder, which prevents the potential for kinks and twists in the hoseline.
In either case, the benefit of the speedlay is rapid deployment of attack lines to the fire area in under 60 seconds. Whether minuteman, flat load or your own version of attack load, as the line is stretched, ensure that it is appropriately flaked and that the working length (the 50 feet of hoseline between the nozzle and the first coupling) is pulled to the entry point for easier advancement.
The length of hose on the preconnected line depends on what your community’s hazards. As stated, my organization chooses 200 feet so we can cover a majority of our homes in our subdivisions as well as some of our condos and apartments. A variety of hose lengths can make the engine company more versatile and tactically more advantageous. For anything over 200 feet, we stretch our bundled hose packs (high rise, mid-rise, large commercial buildings, etc.).
With today’s improved nozzles and pumps, our hose lengths can go well beyond 200 feet. Coefficients have been greatly reduced by hose manufacturers, reducing friction losses compared to attack lines used 30 years ago. Some engine companies have 300-foot preconnects that work well for their run areas. Naturally the hose must be paired with an appropriate nozzle. A variable gallonage 100-psi fog nozzle will not work well on a 300-foot preconnect without significant pump pressure, yet a 50-psi smoothbore nozzle can function well in that system.
Before making any changes to hose loads and lengths, go out and test your attack packages and determine what you are actually flowing. Observe the gpm coming out of your lines and compare that to the target flow of your organization. If you don’t have a target flow, establish one.
NFPA requires an uninterrupted flow of 300 gpm from two handlines on a single-family dwelling. Each handline must flow a minimum of 100 gpm (meaning one can flow 100 gpm and the other must flow 200 gpm). This is a minimum standard and does not take into account the structure’s square footage. Another way to view the NFPA 1710 standard is two separate 1½-inch attack lines, each flowing 150 gpm. Since today’s apparatus use 1¾ attack lines, paired with a 7/8-inch nozzle, the flow is 160 gpm for each line, which meets and exceeds the NFPA standard.
In my organization, we set a target flow of 185 gpm because we have larger homes, lots of industry, and faster fire propagation due to lightweight building components. Therefore, we use hose that is a little bit larger (Key hose FDNY spec 1.88 inch), has a little bit more nozzle reaction with our 15/16-inch smooth bore, but achieves faster knockdown because of the larger gpm being flowed.
It is vital to set a target flow for your communities so that you know what you can realistically deliver with your engine company and available water supply. Once established, test your lines and nozzles to ensure that the target flow can be delivered.
As engine company work has a resurgence and conversations permeate our firehouses over apparatus specs, hose diameter, hose loads and tactics, it is important to not forget about the preconnected speedlay. While static stretches, rear stretches, reverse lays and bundles all have their place, and often offer great tactical advantages, the speedlay also works. Speedlays provide quick deployment of attack lines to the fire, which is what we need as the fire grows faster and faster on today’s modern fireground. Quick water on fire as we advance and reoccupy real-estate saves lives and reduces property damage. Train on all of your engine company’s weapons and know their limitations and advantages so that we select the right line for the right fire at the right time.