How to ensure fireground water supply

Getting water to the fire is critical; here are steps to take, and avoid, to properly feed your pumper


A common thread in fireground operations is water supply. No matter what size department you are with, establishing water supply is one major component that we all need to achieve.

As basic as this task is, it is a skill that requires mastery to be successful on the fireground.

There are two ways to establish water supply. The first is from a pressurized source, such as a hydrant. The second is from a static source such as pond or a porta-tank of water. Either source will provide the needed water volume and pressures to our hand lines.

And that’s important because no water flowing means the fire gains the upper hand — not enough pressure also means the fire gains the upper hand.

The accompanying video shows a situation where water supply is not being maintained or established for unknown reasons. We do not know the details leading up to the point when the camera began rolling.

What we do see is no water being supplied and a house burning. What we also see is an onlooker, who appears to be distraught (perhaps the homeowner) watching helplessly as the house burns.

This type of public perception is not what we need; it does not help fire departments in the long-run. So, what do we need to do to ensure that we are able to establish water supply proficiently?

Hydrant or static?

We need to know what source of water we are using in our response areas. If it is all hydrants, then we need to know how well the hydrants work. There are a few important questions to answer long before the tone drops.

  • Do they have adequate pressure and flow to supply pumping demands?
  • What size ports do the hydrants have — 2½-inch outlets or a combination with a 5-inch outlet?
  • Can the first-due firefighters rapidly open and flush the hydrant and connect the supply line?
  • What size water main are the hydrants on?
  • What is the back-up plan if the hydrant fails?

Hydrant hook-up training can seem boring, but it is a skill firefighters need to keep sharp. It’s also important to train in less-than-perfect conditions — do it in the snow, near parked cars and other hindrances you are likely to find in your jurisdiction.  

When using a static water source, we need to know where those sources are in relation to our static portable tanks. How many tankers do we have responding and how long will it take to dump water, refill at the source and return to dump more water? 

We also need to know how to bring the water in from the source to the pump. With a pressurized water source, the water will come to the pump automatically when the hydrant is opened.

But knowing how to open the intake valve in transition from using onboard water supply is also the key. Once water is flowing in from the hydrant, it is going to be crucial for the pump operator to keep an eye on residual pressure.

When performing a draft operation, we need to know how to obtain a draft from scratch as well as transitioning from the onboard water supply. Once we obtain prime, we don’t want to lose it. Ensuring no air leaks in the system is going to be crucial.

As basic as these skills are, it takes diligence and perseverance to develop and maintain mastery in these areas. Be sure to practice these basic skills to avoid becoming handicapped on the fireground.  

About the author

Mark van der Feyst has been in the fire service since 1999 and is currently a full-time firefighter in Ontario, Canada. Mark is an international instructor teaching in Canada, the United States and India. He is a local-level suppression instructor for the Pennsylvania State Fire Academy and an instructor for the Justice Institute of British Columbia. He is also the lead author of the book "Residential Fire Rescue." You can contact Mark with feedback at Mark.vanderfeyst@firerescue1.com.

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