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Video: Pa. house fire prompts key questions about when to establish water supply

Several factors dictate the exact sequence of events


At every structure fire, the need to get water supply established is a tactical priority for the incident commander. Without water, fire will not be suppressed, and the problem gets larger with each minute passing.

Depending upon the area being served, water supply will be established in one of two ways:

  1. From a pressurized source such as a hydrant or
  2. From static source like a porta-pond or lake.

Knowing which type of supply will be used to serve your department’s operational needs is key, as it will guide the tactics, sequence of operations, and capabilities for the responding personnel.

In our corresponding video, we see a structure fire with significant fire on the Alpha side.

From this vantage point, it appears that the first-arriving engine comes in from the left side, laying in a supply line from the water source (assuming a hydrant). This raises a good question: When do we establish our water supply?

On the tactical side, if the water supply being established is from a static source, this will be the top priority for the responding personnel. Depending upon the size of the on-board booster tank, the number of arriving fire trucks and the time it takes between the responding fire trucks, some departments will establish this first, before setting up fire suppression operations. For others, it will be done at the same time as fire suppression activities due to the amount of available water on each arriving truck and that water being pumped or dumped into the porta-pond set up.

On the pressurized side, tactically securing a hydrant can be accomplished at a few different points of the arrival operation. For some departments, they will secure the hydrant with the first-arriving engine and lay in. For other departments, they will expect the second- or third-arriving fire truck to secure the hydrant and lay in using the on-board booster tank water of the first-arriving engine to begin fire suppression operations.

A few factors will dictate the order of when water is secured, including the department’s response times for all responding apparatus. If there are multiple trucks responding and arriving in a short time frame, the hydrant may be secured by the second or third engine. If it is a longer response and arrival time for each apparatus, then perhaps the first-arriving engine will need to secure the hydrant on their way in.

Another factor is the amount of water carried on board in the booster tank, which will impact the duration of water application.

So far, we have looked at the forward way of securing a water supply, but there is also the reverse lay of securing a hydrant or water supply. This tactic can also be set up or established at varying points of the arrival operation, but generally it will be with the first- and second-arriving engines.

Bottom line: The question of when to secure the water source will depend upon the area being served, the type of department responding, the number of apparatus responding and the time it takes to respond.

Training time

After watching this video and reading this article with your company, follow these simple training steps with your crew:

  • Review your department’s SOGs or SOPs related to establishing water supply.
  • Practice securing the water supply source that is used in your response area. This can be a forward lay from a hydrant and/or a reverse lay. It can also be a static water supply setup.

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.