Laddering Considerations: Combustible Egress

Laddering Considerations: Combustible Eg...

Years ago when fire protection systems were limited and firefighters without SCBA had challenges accessing the interior, there was greater attention paid to planning and designing ways out for occupants in the event of a fire. Over the last 50 years a certain hazard and complacency may have developed in regards to egress.

There has been enough perceived advancement in our abilities as a fire service and the quality of fire protection systems, that additional means of egress have been almost completely eliminated from modern construction.

Day in and day out apartment buildings are being specifically designed and constructed at a overall building height and layout to avoid certain building codes. The modern two and three story apartments have doors to open halls and are served by exterior stairs. We as firefighters and the residents in these communities have been somewhat lulled into a sense of safety that they can always get outside. Does this always mean they will have a way out?


In the picture above you see what you may see day in and day out during medical responses to these apartment buildings in your area. Unfortunately that open hallway and exterior stairs are only one open apartment door away from being just as much of a trap as a center hall apartment.  What you aren’t seeing when you walk up and down those stairs on your next difficulty breathing call is how they may look at two o’clock in the morning like the picture below.

In the picture above we see just one side of the egress involvement from a second floor fire has cut off 4 apartments. If this stairwell serves a breezeway style hall through to the rear as many do, there is a high probability that the residents of 8 apartments are now trapped.

In order to further demonstrate that this is not a unique fire, here is another, nearly identical presentation in the daylight.

With all the talk about flow paths and door control we should be very aware of how damaging a fire can be when it is fed all the air it needs. The amount of fire and lack of smoke  in the picture above means this fire is burning up that path of egress with incredible intensity and efficiency. The fire has made it out of the original unit and into a combustible hallway and staircase that it is open to the exterior on two ends (well vented) and confined by walls on the sides (compounding heat).

This picture above is from a recent fire in San Francisco where you can see the stairs and decking from the second floor up have been completely destroyed.

Once a fire has impacted an exterior egress the window of opportunity may be limited to windows

Or maybe on balconies

The key point in this post is that we are the fire department and we exists to protect lives, property and the environment from fire. If a fire has taken control of the paths of egress for our citizens we need to provide new ones, and for the most part that will be done by ground ladders. So here are a few things to consider.

Do you have enough ladders? If 8 apartments are cut off by fire you should assume you may need at least 8 ladders to access them. Do you have them?

Is your truck company set up to arrive and support suppression or perform rescues?


Do you know what you can reach with your ladder compliments, and what you are missing?


Have you only trained to throw ladders straight to a single target or have you considered the potential ways to hit targets over targets or deal with the challenges or stability benefits of different off-sets presented with 3 dimensional targets.


Have you ever trained with live victims who actually act as panicked people in need of rescue, grabbing for ladders or climbing for their lives. Meeting them for the first time on the side of a building on a stick of aluminum may not be the best setting.


This post is a brief out take of a bigger presentation titled Raising Ladders. The play on words is intended to raise interest in laddering the fire ground, raise the awareness of the potential challenges and needs for ladders, raise our ladder IQ and skills, but first and foremost light a spark in you to raise the question, how good are we at ladders?


Fires in the Bronx as told on Face Book

Fires in the Bronx as told on Face Book

Many of us on Face Book have been enjoying a string of stories that Bob Farrell has been sharing with us in short posts over the last year and many have asked him to compile them. I figured it would be better if he just kept telling stories and one of us took on the administrative task. So here is a relatively raw collection of Bob’s stories supported by pictures from the 1978 photo essay FIREHOUSE by Dennis Smith and Jill Freedman. I hope to update it monthly and repost it here as long as Bob continues to tell the tales. Thanks for the history Brother!
Updated as of 2/18/2019 – PDF File available here:
22019Fires in the Bronx as told on Face Book


First Due Deck Gun

First Due Deck Gun

The deck gun might be a regional term, I have also heard it called the monitor, or the “Stang”, but we are talking about the engine mounted master stream. Most engine mounted master streams, fog, or a stack of smooth bore tips have a flow range of 500 to 1000 GPM.

Before we go big guns blazing we can review our first due fire attack options. The 1 ¾” flowing 2.5 gallons per second is a rapidly deployed and highly mobile attack line for a room or rooms of fire. The 2 ½” attack line flowing 5 gallons per second is our heavy weight fighter looking for the big knockdown against the big opponent of a full residential floor on fire, commercial occupancy fire or any of the ADULTS situations. Finally we have the deck gun for those marginal situations where you arrive to find up to an  entire building on fire and the rapid application of your whole or partial tank at 10 gallons per second is required to nuke the fire’s progress and prevent extension to exposure occupancies.


In these master stream situations it is my personal opinion they should be a smooth bore. These streams will be exterior where they will be influenced by wind, large bodies of fire will require greater stream penetration and set backs or positioning challenges for the engine mounted stream push us to maximize our stream reach and accuracy.

Smooth Bore Tip Sizes and Stream Volume at 80psi

1 3/8”  =  500 GPM         1 ½”  =  600 GPM       1 ¾”  =  800 GPM       2”  =  1000 GPM

When a smooth bore of these diameters are used as master streams the operating pressure is typically 80psi. Most of the times when engines are set up with stacked tips I find that a full 4 tip or “quad stack” is in place with the 1 3/8” on top. The two main reasons for this are “because they came that way” or because the engine has a 500 gallon tank and to use a 500 GPM tip would give nearly a minute of operation before a supply is needed.

I personally recommend the 1 ½” tip as the first up for the first due deck gun. Having tried this on a variety of different engines I have found this 10 gallon per second stream to be the highest volume, best quality stream that can be delivered strictly from tank supply. As you begin to move to the 1 ¾” and 2” tips a lot is being asked of the unsupported pump and internal plumbing and the larger tip size also reduces the stream reach and pin point accuracy that you find in the 1 ½” tip.

The Set Up

The appropriate tip is the first part of the first due deck gun set up, flow control at the monitor is second. Having a valve at the tips and more specifically a gate valve has several benefits. Flow control at the monitor reduces the potential for wasting water during positioning.  It allows you to open the master stream valve at the panel and charge up to the monitor valve at idle then throttle up. Anyone who has attempted to open that larger, less frequently used valve under pressure can appreciate this. It also sets the stage for a single person to serve as both pump and master stream operator.


In lightly staffed/volunteer organizations with 1 or 2 man engines this is important but also in fully staffed engine companies the efficiency of the pump operator making a quick knock down while the other members are making a stretch.

Utilizing a gate valve in this set up over a ball valve reduces the overall length of the set-up and due to the design of the gate versus the ball valve it eliminates the potential of a water hammer due to rapid valve closure.

Once the deck gun itself is set up with tips and a valve be sure to operate in all potential positions. It is important that any obstructions or limitations are identified prior to the fire. The devil is in the details here as even the location of a light can now dictate how you position the apparatus to use the tool in a specific situation.

The final step in the set-up process is predetermining our pump discharge pressure (PDP) for this operation and it can only be done by flowing water. The PDP can be rig specific, even the slightest differences in plumbing, valves and or location can swing the friction loss by 20 PSI at this volume. Once you are flowing at the appropriate PDP close the gate valve at the deck gun and record your static pressure.For this engine we found that the static pressure was 140 to achieve the 80 PSI at the deck gun gauge once the valve was fully opened . This was not confirmed by a flow meter which would be the optimal way to pre-plan, however it will serve as an example.

By having flow control at the deck gun and knowing the static pressure the pump operator can quickly engage the pump upon arrival, pull the tank to pump valve, open the master stream valve and throttle up to that 140 PSI static pressure. This ensures that when the firefighter manning the deck gun or the pump operator jumps up to operate it they will know that the appropriate pressure is being supplied immediately upon opening the gate valve.


The hard work is done in the set-up, the operation is as simple as Ready, Aim and Fire.

Ready is getting the pump set up, master stream panel valve opened and throttling up to the required static pressure.

Aim is setting up the deck gun in the appropriate position for the target if the one on your engine has a high and low set up. Then sighting in the tips for the target.

Fire is opening the gate valve and delivering that high quality, fire killing, H2O at 10 gallons per second to the involved occupancy.


You will not get a marksman merit badge your first time out. Learning the reach and arch of the stream, and the mechanisms to adjust the monitor take some repetitions but it pays huge dividends. If we are choosing to go big at 10 gallons per second from our tank upon arrival in an attempt to take control of a rapidly changing situation we cannot afford to waste 10 to 20 seconds of water getting our pressures or our aim right. Getting good at going big with the first due deck gun happens in training.


Training Objectives and Omissions

Training Objectives and Omissions

Slide1Almost all formal training is created with an initial set of objectives. Often times these objectives are listed in an early PowerPoint slide, lesson plan or drill briefing to make it clear what will be covered. In reading through the Fire Service Summary Report for the PPV study last night from UL I was reminded that we must make it equally as important to communicate what cannot be covered, presented or recreated.

The background section of the report for me was as thought provoking as the study. It articulates a serious problem facing fire service training not only in regards to PPV, but all our operations; unrealistic training. I believe it should raise the question “are training ground methods countering fire ground best practices, and what is the cost?”


“Even if realistic home geometries become available, the fire service is not able to use realistic fuels such as sofas, per NFPA 1403”

To summarize the paragraph, fire service training does not and cannot replicate real world situations because to do so would be too unsafe. Let that sink in for a bit…..

Training in non combustible structures with non combustible furnishings and finishes is something that has had an incredible influence on how we operate. I think an argument could be made that it has possibly had the single greatest impact on where the fire service is collectively today. Burn building experience does not always equal fire experience. If you are a fire department with operations based in burn building experience you need to be humble enough to listen to the information UL and so many others are presenting right now to make the potential necessary changes. TO BE CLEAR: IT IS NOT THAT TRAINING SHOULD NOT BE CONDUCTED IN THESE SETTINGS BUT WE AS INSTRUCTORS MUST COMMUNICATE CLEARLY AND OFTEN THE DIFFERENCES.



“…firefighter deaths occurring inside structures has continued to climb over the past 30 years. Ventilation is believed to be a significant contributing factor to this continued climb in firefighter injuries and deaths”

UL is not the only ones who have discovered this connection. In Lt. Parker’s 2010 article he made it clear that of the top 25 factors present at firefighter fatalities ventilation was noted as number 3 overall but it was the top tactical factor.

Tactical risk vent

If the objective is to reduce firefighter deaths inside structure fires we have been failing for the last 30 years. While it would be convenient to place the blame for this divergent trend on “modern fire behavior” I think we need to consider modern firefighter training and what is missing.


When we train our firefighters in non combustible structures with non combustible furnishings and finishes, we are training firefighters in fires which are fuel limited. No matter how we alter ventilation conditions it only changes the intensity at which the fuel package burns and will not lead to extension or true flashover. This has lead to a collective INEXPERIENCE with the effects of ventilation on fire conditions. “Opening up” in these structures and training scenarios is without consequence. Putting a fan on fires in these conditions will be without consequence. If these points are omitted from the training evolution the performance in practice will become practice on scene and the outcome may be drastically different.

It would be easy for us to watch this video and be critical of the way he keeps the door open while calling for the window to be taken however, this action of opening up in the presence of worsening conditions is how they were trained. That mind set is how I was initially trained; an open fire building was a clearer and safer fire building. In a natural product (pallet/excelsior based) fuel limited fire this is absolutely true. Opening up will intensify the burn of the fuel package leading to a cleaner more complete (less smoke) burn and the greater number of openings allows avenues for the smoke to escape all while there is no threat for extension.

This is not a post to push people towards door control firefighters and smoke curtains or anti ventilation protocols. Many of our traditional methods of fire attack are working fine as long as the firefighters know what to expect and how to deal with changes. The biggest problem is not how we are operating it is the context in which our gauges are set. In fuel limited fires and training scenarios we have all the time in the world to act, the fire will not grow beyond the package. This is where we are failing our firefighters, the sense of urgency and necessity of action, working with speed and purpose is essential because in the real world things get real, real quick.

Some of us have learned the hard way that in a real structure fire where synthetic fuel is unlimited and readily available for extension, ventilation will not only intensify the original fuel package but it will begin to involve more fuel packages and in the case of synthetic fuels create more smoke which is just additional fuel being dispatched throughout the structure.

Another example of crews operating how they were trained. The video even makes a clear statement that “the crews did nothing wrong”; operating as they were trained and within department policy, a policy that has since changed. Operating with a tactic that works well in burn buildings, NFPA 1403 compliant live burns, or in fires that are completely extinguished or fully compartmentalized and vented. My question is how much longer or how many more close calls will it take for others to change? How much longer will we claim our objective is to make fire attack safer while omitting the fact that we are force feeding the “modern” (vent limited) fire air.

To those who argue that the information is still new or that there are people out there promoting positive pressure attack success, this is a nice throwback. Almost 10 years ago the two paramount PPV instructors made very clear the risks and precautions.

From “Pressure Precepts” Fire Chief Magazine December 2006

Battalion Chief Kriss Garcia & Battalion Chief Reinhard Kauffmann Salt Lake City Fire

  • “As incident commanders turn to positive-pressure as part of their firefighting attack strategy, the potential for injuries rises.”
  • “ A recent NIOSH report underscores the importance of completely understanding the precautions required to safely use PPV. ‘Unless PPV has been started in coordination with the initial attack , it shouldn’t be initiated until all interior crews have exited the structure’.”
  • “There are many PPV situations where precautions are necessary. Firefighters should watch out for the following situations:”
    1. When there are or is the potential for victims, or firefighters standing at windows or other exhaust openings.
    2. When firefighters have entered the structure prior to the PPV being used.
    3. When backdraft conditions are observed
    4. When exhaust openings cannot match fire loading
    5. When exposures may be threatened by “blow torching”
    6. Allow for 60 to 90 seconds of PPV prior to attack operations

The UL Study is not new information, it is repeating the same message. ARE WE GOING TO START LISTENING?


If it is clear that the structure fires we are responding to are ventilation limited then our objective should be to get better at fighting ventilation limited fires. If we only have fuel limited fire scenarios to work with than we to be that much more diligent in ensuring that the setting isn’t controlling the experience and operation, we as knowledgeable instructors are.

Why collectively and nationally are we not attempting to take the information clearly presented in these documents and make it our objective to improve the understanding of fire behavior, no longer standing for those who are omitting it, putting citizens, property and firefighters at greater risk.


I wish this was limited to ventilation and we could stop the discussion here but it doesn’t. I get sick to my stomach when I hear recorded radio traffic prior to mayday’s where firefighters are reporting “heavy smoke and high heat” but there is no water flowing.  Our fire attack training has been equally compromised through fuel limited fire training. Look no further than the picture above and see how low volume attack lines, concerns over water damage or statements like “don’t flow water until you see fire” infect our membership.

flashover chamber

The objective of the flashover chamber is to provide firefighters an opportunity to observe more realistic fire behavior however once again if clear description is not provided, misapplication of the message runs rampant. In the flashover chamber short bursts of water are used to maintain the fire in a marginal state. Since the objective is to observe fire behavior applying too much water would extinguish the fire and stop the lesson. The short bursts of water are a fire management tool. All it takes is for one person to tell a group of wide eyed students that these short bursts of water or “penciling” is CONTROLLING flashover without providing the full context and this becomes their idea of what should be done if they ever find themselves in a pre-flashover situation rather than fully opening and continuously operating the nozzle until through cooling has been achieved.

With that said it is possible to make training more real. We KNOW smoke is fuel and that it will travel through out the structure. We KNOW that just because we can’t see fire doesn’t mean that it isn’t there. We KNOW that the only way to prevent flashover is to cool the environment rapidly. Unfortunately since it takes education to understand this and some work to alter buildings these extremely critical points are not being incorporated into training exercise where firefighters are developing experience.

It is as simple as hanging pallets from the ceiling and suspending a fuel package which is what hot and buoyant smoke from synthetic materials burning would be. Is there risk in training for one of those pallets to fall on to an advancing firefighter? Yes, but you must decide if that risk is greater then sending them out into a world where their experience in training might just be a complete mismatch for reality.

SLICERS has taken a beating for the “cooling from a safe location” component, but once again maybe we need to ask why. In the video above the firefighters are cooling from a safe location. They are flowing on their way to the fire room, cooling the environment and interior surfaces to reduce the potential for the radiant heat they are communicating from contributing to a flash over. These are well educated firefighters, training in context. If a firefighter’s only experience is in the gas feed prop above the there is no need to flow in a hallway, in fact there is no need to flow any water until you are on the prop so therefore flowing water into a window on to that prop might be “fast water” to them. This once again is not the fault of the firefighters it is just their experience and understanding based on that experience, they have not had the experience or had the facilitator of that training experience make it clear that fuels other than that single target might be involved.

This rant could continue all day, my point remains that we as instructors and shapers of future generations in this fire service need to speak in complete sentences.


“A wide fog pattern will provide protection on approach of a gas fed fire outside. This principle does not apply to the interior of a structure where your surroundings are also fuel.”


“Today you will not see fire when you enter the front door but you will be flowing water as soon as you get in as if it were there”

Classrooms are filling every day from coast to coast for anything with the words “Modern Fire Behavior” in the title. It seems to be a key objective nationally to get this information out to anyone who wants it. Let us make sure that what is being gathered and communicated on paper is not being omitted from practice otherwise it is all just lip service.

The Complete Halligan Guide

The Complete Halligan Guide

The attention to detail, thought and explanation in this document produced by Search and Destroy Training and Tools is absolutely second to none and should be in every firehouse. For that reason Sean and Scott are making it available to the masses for free and I am able to provide a place where it can be accessed and downloaded. Click the link below to get your copy. Be sure to consider S&D for any future training, information or tools. They have been great supporters of Fire By Trade and I assure you there are no other guys more educated on their business in our business.

Now click the link, download, print and do work!

Search and Destroy Complete Halligan Tuning PDF zip

1 - S&D Tool Flier (1)

Search It Hard From The Yard

Search It Hard From The Yard

Today I am going to attach a cart to the band wagon. I believe the current politically correct term is exterior stream application; street critics are referring to it as “hitting it hard from the yard”. Where you stand on the concept is not important because my request is not for you to take a position, it is for you to take something into consideration.

Next time you arrive on scene, look at a picture, fire video, or participate in a simulation where you are thinking about exterior stream application I challenge you to consider exterior search initiation. The “scientifically” supported argument that so many are swinging around to launch fire attacks from the exterior as soon as possible should be directly applied to launching searches. We can always assume that the fire will be knocked down quickly and searches will be underway, but why delay? If we are applying water from the outside does it mean at that moment there is some reason we are unable to apply water from the inside. Is that reason just because of access for the line? Is there other simultaneous options of access for the search?

VES2Working fire out the front door and bay window of a split-level single family dwelling, egress for occupants cut off.

Are you going to flow water from here? Are you going to search from here?

VES3Working fire, living room and porch of a single story single family dwelling well involved.

Are you going to flow water from here? Can you search simultaneously from sides or the rear?

CSFD ApartmentWorking fire into the open stairwell of a multi- family dwelling, egress for occupants cut off.

Are you going to flow water from here? Are you going to search from here?

The V in VES stands for vent but VES starts with victims because it puts building occupants, our charges, first. No study is needed to prove that the faster a human is removed from the interior of a structure fire the better their odds of survival. VES is not a big city or cowboy tactic, it takes just a few members and is the most direct route to high likelihood victim locations, quickly isolating and removing them from fire conditions. See Searching for Opportunity

Some people would view Vent Enter Search as an advanced skill, I am surprised how few departments actively train or plan for the operation. I believe it is the best place to begin your initial search training because it is perfect for forging the fundamentals. 1. VES stresses the importance of searching from the greatest threat out by sending firefighters first to control the door. 2. VES drives home the importance of knowing your egress. 3. VES challenges our minds to consider room layout from the outside so we can anticipate from our entry point (the window) which wall has the door I want to control. 4. Due to the limited area a VES search is typically performed by a single member. This helps with initial skill and technique development because each member is relying on themselves for orientation and quality of search 5. Finally, due to the small area being searched repetitions will be high which accelerates technique development and skill confidence.

To summarize this rant I would ask that if VES is not something you are actively discussing or practicing at your agency but conversations about transitional attack and door control are, push the issue. Our tactics exist as means to protect lives and property so start these conversations with lives and property. They are our reason. With the proliferation of discussion on this new research it is the season for solidifying the need to embrace a tried and true method not dismissing it any longer. SAY YES TO VES!

Parapet Practices

Parapet Practices

backsideThe back of a commercial occupancy typically provides the best roof access for aerial ladders. Less customer parking (obstruction), fewer windows and doors to work around and parapet walls are not as common. Most commercial signage and aesthetic architecture is in the front of the structure allowing for simple access to the roof in the back.

The back side of a commercial structure can also have limited access for apparatus due to an alley, loading docks, or even just trash receptacles. Newer commercial construction in neighborhoods is being held to higher standards and parapet walls may wrap the entire structure to hide the sight and sound of roof top units from neighboring residential communities


IMG_9401In short I am setting you up; there are just as many reasons the back of an occupancy will provide good access as there are reasons it will hinder operations. With that said, if we don’t prepare for the unexpected, the unexpected is what we will find when the time comes so try hitting your commercial occupancies with ground ladders in training.

When aerial access is limited at a commercial structure ground ladders are consumed quickly. Larger occupancies with built up roofs will demand more resources pure and simple. Even if a commercial occupancy has good aerial access, an aerial ladder is still only one ladder. With more resources operating on a roof with a larger footprint, the more means of access and egress must be provided. It is here is where we are seeing some of the greatest short comings in ground laddering.

Roof1Truck 1 arrives and is assigned to go to the roof on a commercial occupancy. The crew is trained to use the aerial for this operation and as the driver is setting up the stick or the bucket, the rest of the crew is assembling tools and planning for a potential flat roof vent.

With the stick up, the crew is headed up as not to delay the ventilation but when they reach the top of the wall they find a 6′ parapet and need to drop a roof ladder into place to access the deck. The already busy truck officer now makes a request to the IC to have the next in company throw a secondary means of egress for them but the parapet information is not relayed. E4 arrives, throws a 35′ from the truck to the roof and walks away. Did they improve the situation for Truck 1 with the 1 ladder?

IMG_9399 The answer is NO! In the presence of a substantial parapet wall on a flat roof, every single access/egress point will need 2 ladders to serve any purpose. One from the ground to the wall and one to transition to the roof. If you are in a department with just a couple, or no truck companies this message needs to be communicated out to all crews who may find themselves with an assignment to support roof operations by providing secondary means of egress ladders. As a whole the fire service has really latched on to roof ladders being a peaked roof tool because of the hooks. It is frustrating to see how often they can be utilized as a straight ladder on the fire ground but aren’t. It is even more frustrating when “roof” ladders are not going to flat roofs. To avoid some frustration here is a simple drill and way to proactively address it.

Find a commercial structure in your area with a parapet wall that is at least the height of a firefighter so a ladder is required to transition in full gear with tools. Park the rig and leave it so you are only accessing with ground ladders. Part one of the drill is gathering equipment; just working through how the 2, 3 or 4 of you are going to carry the 2 ladders, let alone tools needed for a ventilation operation will spark some good discussion.


Roof3Part two of the drill is the laddering. For the most part this is a text book operation with one simple change. When using a roof ladder to transition on to a flat roof throw it tip down, butt up.

IMG_9381With the roof ladder thrown butt up the firefighter climbing the ladder doesn’t have to spin the ladder at the roof to wall transition.


Given the opportunity you should get out in your districts and pre-practice not just pre-plan at these locations. Look for scuppers or other visual clues that might key you in on parapet wall height or identify locations or sides of the structure where the the parapet wall is non existent or low enough that a ladder is not required


Attack Over Supply

Attack Over Supply

Attention to detail is possibly one of the most under utilized tools in the fire service. This holds especially true when the masses begin to talk about Dragging hose, Forcing doors or Throwing ladders. The root words are pure work, not finesse. The unfortunate part is that in most cases technique, not power is the difference. In our rush to “Get’er dun” we run right past simple opportunities to make things more efficient, safer, and easier.

The idea of maintaining your forward moving line over all other line is a prime example. Just as with water moving through the line, the line moving through a building has friction loss. Floors, corners and doors can conspire against your advance, working and fatiguing you, potentially bringing it to a halt. The more hose we can get off the ground, walls and corners the easier it will move as these are those friction points.

IMG_5239                 corner

We tend to be more cognizant of this when we are working inside; positioning ourselves to keep hose to the outside of a corner and off of the wall. Before we move inside, up stairs or off a landing this same focus provides the chance to take a few seconds to save us potentially minutes of work.

Loading hose with the forward moving attack line over the supply will create a hose roller effect, drastically reducing the friction of the advance.

IMG_9371Not only do you gain from the roll of hose passing over hose, the attack hose being raised just 2 or 3 inches at that point takes several feet of hose over all out of contact with the ground.

IMG_9372For the bigger line like a 2 1/2″ a simple pretzel style set up essentially pre-loads 75′ of hose in about a 25′ space and as you can see in this picture on the initial advance about 40′ of that first length will be riding on top of other hose or out of contact with the ground.

IMG_9369The 1 3/4″ hose allows for even greater manipulation and as you can see in the picture above 100 feet of hose is preloaded and less than 2″ of elevation at a single point has about 7′ of hose out of contact with the ground and moving forward on that supply “slider”.

5Some of you may have been taught to use loops of hose to achieve the same result and in many cases they are helpful however when using lower pressure lines associated with 50psi nozzles vertical loops have the potential to collapse and become kinks if they are not being tended.

4The same loops can serve the same benefit flat on the ground without as great of the kink risk as long as you ensure the attack is running over the supply and as the line is moved forward it slides over the top of other loops and pops it self out of the kink as the diameter collapses.

1This firefighter is loading down the advancing line while he is loading the hallway putting all his advancing hose in contact with the carpet and adding the weight of all his stocked hose on top of it. A simple message on a small detail that could be a big help on your next stretch. Keep your attack over your supply!


Fire Streams and the Exponential Engine ...

Downloadable PDF version of this article available here: Fire Streams and the Exponential First Due Engine Company

CarsonBy: Brian Brush

As of late I have been fielding a lot of questions regarding apparatus set up and nozzle selection. It is encouraging to see such an interest in one of our professional foundations. I believe it means that firefighters are taking greater ownership in decisions which may have been more recently dictated to their departments by savy vendors. I enjoy assisting firefighters work through nozzle studies and flow testing because I know the value of these processes to a department and its members.

In 2005 my department conducted a year-long fire stream and nozzle study; the information collected and changes made as a result of it have made our operations more efficient and our operators more knowledgeable. Since that study I have been fortunate enough to train and network with firefighters from around the country and at the highest levels of education and experience in engine company operations. I am still very much a student of the game and continue to learn on a daily basis. With that said there seems to be recurring questions in many of contacts I have had lately. I believe that I may be better able to answer them to the masses rather than one at a time. So settle in for a little bit of rambling or pick off sections that you are seeking.

Fire Streams

IFSTA will tell you that a fire stream is the “Stream of water or other extinguishing agent after it leaves the fire hose until it reaches the desired target.” To me this is too narrow of a view on the fire stream. The stream of water leaving the fire hose on its way to the target is the end result of a system from the source to the nozzle. If a group or department wants to evaluate their fire streams they must be willing to analyze all parts of that system for influence and change. If you are given the chance to lead or be a part of a fire stream evaluation process or nozzle study you will fail the opportunity if you get trapped in a smooth bore versus fog focus.

exponenial enginePressure and Volume

We have established that the fire stream is the end result of a system but it is also combination of pressure and volume. As it pertains to the fire stream, pressure is the delivery vehicle and volume is the extinguishing power. My experience is that the relationship between these two is generally not given the attention it deserves. It should be revisited early in the conversation so you have a clear idea of your goals.

7-8pdp2 100ftPressures

Let us start by discussing pressure; this simple concept seems to create the greatest turmoil in these processes. I like to review pressure in terms of necessary and unnecessary pressures. In order to deliver the goods (water) from the tank to the fire we need the right pump discharge pressure. The right pump discharge is the sum of necessary pressures. Necessary pressures include the friction loss, elevation loss or gain (+ or – 5psi per 10’) and the nozzle operating pressure.

Friction Loss Formula and Coefficients

C = Coefficient of the hose
– (Per IFSTA) 1 ¾” = 15.5
– (Per IFSTA) 2 ½” = 2
Q = Gallons per minute divided by 100
L = Length of hose divided by 100

Example using IFSTA coefficients: Friction loss created by 150 GPM flowing through 100’ of 1 ¾”
FL= 15.5×1.52×1 (35 psi per 100’)

One of the first mistakes many of us make is the assumption that numbers presented in books are representative of our line operations. When we began to utilize flow meters and pressure gauges in our field testing one of the first things we discovered was that our pump charts were inaccurate. It took very little detective work for us to track it down to inaccurate hose coefficients.

hoseHose coefficients vary based on manufacture, construction materials, age of hose and the biggest factor is internal diameter. The IFSTA coefficients referred to above are derived from internal hose diameters true to the referenced sizes. We discovered, as many in the industry are reporting that the internal diameters of our hoses are larger than labled. For example our 1 ¾” lines are closer to 1.9” and our 2 ½” lines are closer to 2.75”. While this may seem “slight”, when it comes to friction loss the effects are significant. By taking an overall average of all flow tested hose of varying ages and manufacture we found our overall our 1 ¾” coefficient is actually 11.5 and our 2 ½” 1.4

How much difference does this make?

Example using actual coefficients: Friction loss created by 150 GPM flowing through an 1 ¾” line
FL = 11.5 x 1.52 x1 (25psi per 100”) 10 psi or 28% less

In the 2 ½” we see a similar difference.

Example using actual coefficients: Friction loss created by 250 GPM flowing through an 2 ½” line
FL = 1.4 x 2.52 x 1 (9psi per 100”) as compared to 12.5 per 100’ using the coefficient of 2. Again, a 28% reduction in the friction loss from expected to actual.

This is the first clarification of necessary versus unnecessary pressures. If you take the time to truly evaluate the system you may see the over pumping of lines by a considerable amount. It would be inaccurate to say that the above example equates to over pumping by 28% because as pressure is increased you may be increasing flow which will have an increased friction loss and so forth. What we can clearly correlate is that pumping the line beyond what is needed to meet the necessary pressures of the operation will result in an increase of pressure at the nozzle and therefore increase nozzle reaction

7-8at50Nozzle Operating Pressure

The smooth bore nozzle may be viewed by some as “dated” by some but if you take a little deeper look at history you can see some very sound reasoning in the smooth bore nozzle.

Since we are discussing pressure we can begin with the operating pressure of the smooth bore which is a range from 40 to 60psi with 50psi as the optimal operation. This was important to our forefathers in the fire service as early pump systems were primarily lower pressure and could see significant fluctuations with more than one line being supported simultaneously. The solid stream and long tip provided accurate delivery of the fire stream at a great distance for firefighters with limited PPE.

As technology advanced, our pumps were able to provide higher and more consistent pressures. Lloyd Layman and various others brought the fog nozzle into the American fire service, vendors started to develop automatic nozzles and before we knew it there was a shift from a 50psi fire service to 100. Over the last 15 to 20 years an increasing number of firefighters and departments are beginning to question what has been gained by doubling our nozzle operating pressures. In many cases it is being discovered that for the most part the only true gain has been nozzle reaction which simply equates to more work on the nozzle firefighter.

big chief with slug at 75“Arguments for and against the use of various nozzle designs often become nullified on the fire ground as crews find they cannot safely operate lines which exhibit high nozzle reaction forces” Captain David P. Fornell


Nozzle Reaction

There have been several studies done over the last 20 years into nozzle reaction and how it effects hose line operations. The goal of these studies has been to identify how much nozzle reaction firefighters can comfortably handle while still being able to effectively advance and manage a hose-line. A study by Paul Grimwood outlined three working limits; 1 firefighter (60 force/lbs), 2 firefighters (75 force/lbs), and 3 firefighters (95force/lbs). I have been fortunate enough to work with firefighters across the country on hoseline operations and I can tell you that with good technique, practice, improved fitness and continued work, firefighters can easily operate lines with nozzle reaction forces beyond the above working limits but overall these working limits are very accurate for the majority of firefighters and the median level of training.

Nozzle reaction is the resultant pounds force push back of the combined volume and pressure leaving the nozzle. The only way to alter nozzle reaction is to alter the volume (GPM) or the pressure. Many people have used a variety of methods to demonstrate nozzle reaction like fish scales and rope but the actual force is calculated using the formulas below. As a rough rule of thumb the pounds force of nozzle reaction for a 100psi nozzle is ½ of the GPM.

Fog Nozzle ReactionPhoto Jul 18, 11 08 29
NR = .0505 Q √NP
NR (Nozzle Reaction)
Q= Gallons Per Minute
NP = Nozzle Pressure

Solid Bore Nozzle Reaction
NR = 1.57 D2 NP
NR (Nozzle Reaction)
D = Diameter of tip
NP = Nozzle Pressure

On this nozzle reaction chart we can see the amount of nozzle reaction associated with four very common 1 ¾” nozzles. You can also see the side by side comparison of a 150 GPM at 50psi fog with a 100psi automatic fog. Flowing the same GPM there is a nozzle reaction difference of 21 lbs. At 100 psi and 150 GPM the nozzle reaction of 76lbs is at the working limit of 2 firefighters. Here is where you need to question if your department sees this as necessary or unnecessary pressure.

NozzleReaction1and34With good practices and techniques, firefighters can work beyond the outlined nozzle reaction parameters above. Without those practices, nozzle reaction forces beyond 60lbs typically begins to reduce the effectiveness of the single firefighter nozzle operator.

This is a very important piece of the puzzle when purchasing equipment for the engine staffed with three. A three person engine company translates to a two member first due attack line. I have seen it time and time again where departments are training, purchasing and writing policy for staffing that they do not have.

If you have ever stretched a line from an engine to the second floor bedroom as the nozzle firefighter with only one other person you will discover instantly that you must learn to operate that nozzle without the luxury of a back up firefighter behind you to assist in countering nozzle reaction. The other member will almost always be working to tend the line through furniture, around corners and up stairs somewhere between your location and the front door.
If the 1 ¾” is your department’s “90% of the time” and your engine company staffing is three members, you must identify what your firefighters are comfortable with in regards to operating a line by themselves, it may be surprisingly less than you assume.

The most common example of this is when departments purchase 15/16” smooth bores for their 3 person engine companies without testing them or comparing them to the 7/8” tip and they end up with nozzle firefighters struggling. The 15/16” tip was born in New York City where lines are staffed with a nozzle firefighter, back up, and door man. It is too often lost on departments that when the duties of a back up firefighter and door man are put on one person they are not the only ones who end up working harder.

A Case Study In Nozzle Reaction and Function

The advertised benefit of an automatic nozzle is a “wide operating range without stream compromise” Without getting too in-depth; this is achieved through an internal compensatory spring that adjusts with flow to maintain a constant nozzle pressure and steam. This type of nozzle essentially puts the flow rate in the hands of the pump operator and in the absence of a set department standard this becomes a very concerning unknown.

autoOur department primarily has 3 person engine staffing. In 2005 when we wanted to see if a nozzle study was needed at our department one of the first steps was to take 10 different engine companies, have them deploy and flow a 1 ¾” attack line and record the pump discharge pressure. At that time our department was using a 100psi automatic nozzle on all 1 ¾” attack lines. From the data collected we found that our average flow from these lines was 100 GPM. When the pump operators were asked why they pumped at their selected pressures almost all responses were not flow related, they were firefighter related. Nearly every operator stated they under pumped the lines initially to make it easier on the nozzle firefighter and they would increase the pressure if they called for more water.

Within this information is a very important finding. Our pump operators were acutely aware of the challenges of high nozzle reaction and they were attempting to address them for the nozzle firefighter hydraulically. Unfortunately in their good intentions is a risky business of not only under pumping (pressure) but by design also under supplying (volume) those firefighters entering the structure.

Photo Jul 18, 14 41 43The idea that a firefighter “can always call for more water” comes from the known that an automatic has that wide flow range. The reality is that the stream quality is maintained throughout that wide flow range and the nozzle operator typically does not identify one lacking volume. Additionally the nozzle firefighter knows that requesting more water increases pressure, making for a more difficult line to manage. As you can see these contributing factors all conspire together and that “call for more water” never comes.

Using the average of 100 GPM from that 100 psi automatic fog nozzle and the fog nozzle reaction formula, we discovered that our firefighters and operators have subconsciously shown that a nozzle reaction of 50lbs is a comfortable point. Since nozzle reaction is dictated by a combination of pressure and flow so it serves as the perfect point in the discussion to bring the two together.

With the finding that our firefighters felt most comfortable handling about 50lbs of nozzle reaction we had a starting point. The next step was to determine a target flow for our 1 ¾” attack lines as it was clear from this initial test that we did not have one. For the goal of the study we wanted to establish 150 GPM as the minimum flow for any interior attack lines.

Volume: A Starting Point

To begin to start talking about interior fire attack and target volume I think it is best to start the conversation with the line that most fire departments start with for fire attack. I am well aware that many departments use 1 ½” and 2” lines but most departments are using 1 ¾” as their “bread and butter” attack line. I will expand on this conversation later but at this point we will use the 1 ¾” as our starting point and my departments experience as a background.

Why 150 GPM? Nationally, 150 GPM has become the target flow for 1 ¾” attack lines. This
number comes from NFPA 1710 (Organization and Deployment of Fire Suppression
Operations by Career Fire Departments). The standard outlines that the first two attack lines
in operation at any residential structure fire flow a minimum of 300 GPM combined. With the NFPA wording you could flow 100 GPM with your initial line and 200 GPM with a second line but the common sense approach and now industry standard has targeted 150 GPM as an interior attack standard.

Utilizing nozzle reaction parameters and a set minimum standard for volume, the rest of the process is relatively simple; find nozzles that flow greater than 150 GPM with nozzle reactions near 60lbs and put them in the hands of firefighters for them to find their preference.
Common 1 ¾” Attack Line Nozzles and Reaction Force

150 GPM at 50 PSI Fixed Gallonage Fog = Nozzle reaction force of 54lbs
7/8” Smooth Bore 161 GPM at 50 PSI = Nozzle reaction of 60lbs
150 GPM at 75 PSI Fixed Gallonage Fog = Nozzle reaction force of 65lbs
15/16” Smooth Bore 185 GPM at 50 PSI = Nozzle reaction force of 69lbs

At the end of 2005, following a full year trail period with a variety of nozzles the preference of our firefighters was the 7/8” smooth bore with a flow of 161 GPM at 50 psi and a nozzle reaction of 60lbs. The second and third choices were close, with the 150 GPM at 50 psi fog and the 15/16” smooth bore with a flow of 185 GPM at 50 psi. Ultimately department heads decided we would change from the 100 psi automatic fog nozzles to 150 GPM at 50 psi fog and 15/16” smooth bores on all our 1 ¾” attack lines. The change was welcomed and our efforts to educate and improve operations were overall a success, however, today I would ensure we saw the idea through completely. In seeing other agencies struggle with the similar “buyer’s remorse” I hope a little more information may prevent it from happening to more.

fogfixThe Fog Fixation

If a department has embraced a fog nozzle option at any point in recent organizational history it is very difficult to shift completely away from them. With sound parameters fog nozzles can easily meet the goals of improving engine company efficiency and reducing nozzle reaction. There are a few common trapping points that departments most often fall in with regards to making a nozzle change of this nature and keeping the fog as an option.

When a department that traditionally used 100 psi automatic nozzles faces these questions and challenges to reduce nozzle reaction they sometimes find the simplest answer is to just change to a low pressure automatic. It requires very little cultural change and if they feel a “wide flow range without stream compromise” has value, it keeps this as an option in operations.

The risk with changing to a low pressure automatic is that the treatment is only handling a single symptom; pressure. As long as “wide flow range” is an option, unknown or inadequate flow is an ever present threat. Low pressure fog nozzles for interior firefighting should have a fixed gallonage so that they provide the same volume indicators that a smooth bore does. With fixed gallonage nozzles, under pumped or kinked lines present with a poor or absent stream giving the nozzle firefighter pause before committing to an environment without appropriate GPM not compensating for and ultimately concealing it from them.

BreakawayFire departments that choose CAFS for some of their fire attack operations also often find themselves facing a bit of a challenge when it comes to fire stream selection. Most CAFS manufactures recommend that a 1” smooth bore tip be used for the optimal CAFS stream delivery. A 1” smooth bore on a 1 ¾” hose can make for a challenging line to manage. This often pushes these departments to using a “breakaway” or flip tip set up with a fog tip on top of the 1” smooth bore for exchange between the two. I see this as adding more complexity to the system. While the 1” tip may be the recommended tip size for CAFS I think it is incumbent on your organization to evaluate if this will truly work for your operations and staffing or if some give up in the quality of a foam stream may yield an overall safer and simpler operation like the use of a 7/8” smooth bore tip with a 150 GPM at 50 psi fog tip as a breakaway package that allows for greater versatility and more common operational field.

When departments elect to provide both a smooth bore and a low pressure fixed gallonage fog to their members it is important to aim for hydraulic parity. Our department selected the 150 GPM at 50 psi fog and the 15/16” smooth bore which provides the prime example of the hydraulic challenge for pump operators with two lines off.

200’ 1 ¾” Line Disparity:

50 psi Fixed gallonage fog at 150 GPM with a friction loss of 25 psi per 100’ = 100 psi pump discharge pressure

50 psi 15/16” Smooth bore at 185 GPM with a friction loss of 40 per 100’ = 130 psi pump discharge pressure.

Two lines off of the same panel with a 35 GPM and 30 psi difference between them.

E-1 preconnectsThis set up exceeds the NFPA standard of 300 GPM from two handlines by 35 GPM and the low pressure nozzles have a manageable nozzle reaction, the challenge comes in their combination. If the 15/16” tip is pulled first and the fog second you are essentially backing up your initial line with a lesser stream. As a pump operator any mix up between the two tips and you may be significantly over pumping one or under supplying the other. If you are intending on providing a smooth bore and fog option attempt to find hydraulic parity for target flow and pump operation.

Hydraulic Parity Examples

Example 1: Similar flow and similar nozzle reaction for a 200’ 1 ¾” attack line

50 psi Fixed gallonage fog at 150 GPM with a friction loss of 25 psi per 100’(2) = 100 psi pump discharge pressure matched with 50 psi 7/8” Smooth bore at 161 GPM with a friction loss of 30 psi per 100’(2) = 110 psi pump discharge pressure. Pump both lines to the higher 110 psi PDP, while the fog will be over pumped it has the overall lowest nozzle reaction at 54lbs force at 50 psi so even with the extra pressure will still maintain a very manageable line.

50 psi Fixed gallonage fog at 185 GPM with a friction loss of 40 psi per 100’(2) = 130 psi pump discharge pressure matched with 50 psi 15/16” smooth bore at 185 GPM with a friction loss of 40 psi per 100’(2) = 130 psi pump discharge pressure. True hydraulic parity both nozzles with the same GPM rating at the same operating pressure.

Example 2: Similar target pump discharge pressure different flow for 200’ 1 ¾” attack line

75 psi Fixed gallonage fog at 150 GPM with a friction loss of 25 psi per 100’(2) = 125 psi pump discharge pressure matched with 50 psi 15/16” smooth bore at 185 GPM with a friction loss of 40 psi per 100’(2) = 130 psi pump discharge pressure. Provides a lower or higher volume line selection option with the fog at a mid range pressure. Pump both lines to the higher pressure and see similar nozzle reaction forces and equal pump discharge pressure.

watermarkedVolume: The Exponential Engine

I would say there are two questions I field more than any others when it comes to fire streams and apparatus set up. The first is, “How is your engine set up?” and the second, “How would you set up an engine”. I believe most the time people who ask the first question really want the answer to the second question. They are assuming that the way my fire department has the engine set up is the way I would want it if it was mine personally. Unfortunately, if you have been in the fire service for more than a day or two you should know that the power of line operators can be limited when it comes to purchasing, apparatus set up and “standardization”.

So rather than waste the explanation of how an engine is currently set up and what I would change I think it would be best to start with a blank sheet and explain one approach to setting up an a rig to maximize first due potential with the exponential engine approach.


As stated above, this is intended to address the masses and focus on first arriving engine operations. Before it is taken further I will explain my observation and therefore the context of today’s modern American engine company as it pertains to this piece.
– 3 person staffing (Operator, Officer, Firefighter)
– 2 person attack line (Officer, Firefighter)
– Water as extinguishing agent (No CAFS option)
– 500 gallon onboard tank
– 1 ¾” , 2 ½” and Engine mounted master stream as initial
attack options

todays firesExponential Attack
In various firefighting and fire prevention documents you can find that given appropriate fuel and air a fire will double in size every XX seconds or minutes. I have seen it referenced as fast as 30 seconds and as long as 2 minutes. The difference in time of 30 seconds to 2 minutes has never bothered me too much as I see both as relatively fast, the point that always has stuck with me from that adage is the term “double in size”.

When I consider something doubling in size I think of exponential growth and I believe that if we view the fire as an enemy, exponential growth of the enemy’s force is a power curve that must be addressed swiftly and with dominance. I think that most engaged firefighters would agree with that point, but how we attack swiftly and with dominance has many forms when it comes to fire streams.

There are firefighters pushing for greater volume on all initial lines with the use of intermediate lines and tips like 15/16” and 1” tips on 2” attack lines. Others are advocating for immediate fire stream application for the exterior if there is an opportunity with an interior follow up to “reset the fire” and interrupt that exponential growth. All of these ideas have merit as they are people attempting to find the right solution for their agencies to address the modern fire environment. Among these ideas I would like to present one more way to combat exponential fire growth and that is with an exponential fire attack plan.

The idea of the exponential engine set up came to me while I was sitting in a class at FDIC being delivered by Chief Curt Isakason from Escambia County Fire Rescue. Chief Isakson was speaking about the importance of rapid water application and he instantly shifted my thinking when he began to discuss fire stream flows in terms of gallons per second versus gallons per minute.

Have you ever heard this before? “If you take the XXXX fire formula, a typical bedroom fire only takes 40 GPM to control. It is over kill to take a 150 GPM fire stream to such a minor fire” I know I have and it always frustrated me that this type of debate would even occur. To be honest I always struggled with articulating an sound counter until I began to consider the importance of exponential fire growth and gallons per second.

Say that a fire does in fact double in size every 30 seconds. If a current bedroom fire that takes 40 GPM to control doubles in 30 seconds, 30 seconds from now it requires 80 GPM and at 1 minute it requires 160 GPM. A 150 GPM stream is a 2.5 gallon per second stream. At 2.5 gallons per second, 40 gallons of water is delivered to that bedroom in just 16 seconds of operation. At 30 seconds of operation 75 gallons of water would be delivered to that room likely resulting in total room cooling not just fire control.

Chief Isakson’s message to shift the language fire streams to gallons per second could not be more appropriate. If the statement that a fire doubles in size every 30 seconds is wrong so be it, but you cannot argue that fire behavior in enclosed structures is changing faster than ever before and our windows of opportunity which were once measured in minutes have been reduced to seconds.

So if we are dealing with exponential fire growth, limited staffing and rapidly changing fire conditions the entire fire service should be evaluating their fire stream systems from the source to the nozzle not just a few inspired firefighters because we need to find ways to leverage our efforts at every point.

exponential engineTo provide a very brief overview before I expand on the idea, every engine company should be designed with a first due “Plan A” to attack whatever you have with all you have. Setting up a rig for with a plan for extended operations or waiting for the cavalry to arrive before you act only puts you closer to engaging a different fire than the one you are currently seeing (catch up). Variables will forever exist and nothing is set in stone but we are firefighters so plan for a fight.

IMG_71251 ¾”
One of the biggest pushes out there is greater volume from initial lines. Many fire departments are choosing 15/16” smooth bores or 185 GPM fogs, some even experimenting with 2” hose and 1” tips for the foundation of their fire attacks. If training, district construction and staffing make these viable options great; you are taking big weapons to the fight early on.

In my experience the initial handline for residential fires (a room or rooms on fire) for most fire departments is the 1 ¾”.

The benefits of the 1 ¾” attack line is that it supports a good fire flow for these size fires and it is very maneuverable for working on the interior of smaller compartmentalized occupancies. I think it is important to play up these strengths of the 1 ¾” and be cautious of the diminishing returns that the 3 person engine company encounters when too much is asked of this line. If our minimum interior attack fire flow is 150 GPM then the key operational range for the 1 ¾” attack line is between 150 and 185 GPM. Working above this range in volume starts to creep into high friction loss ranges and nozzle reaction forces especially if nozzles are used with operating pressures greater than 50psi.
What is key to remember is that nozzle ratings are just “ratings”, when closed all nozzles flow 0. A 150 GPM or 2.5 gallon per second nozzle may seem “inferior” to one that flows 185 GPM or 3 gallons per second, but if the nozzle firefighter can comfortably flow that nozzle for 30 seconds at a time around a corner while actively playing it they are delivering 75 gallons to the fire environment. A nozzle firefighter that is struggling with a 185 GPM or 200 GPM nozzles that can only operate it for 10 to 15 seconds at a time without fatiguing, and has poor stream movement is potentially ineffectively applying only 30 to 50 gallons to the fire environment at a time.

This is why I think the foundational line of the exponential engine company should be the 1 ¾” line so it can be rapidly deployed and easily maneuvered into position in the fire building with a nozzle flowing 2.5 gallons per second from a 150 GPM at 50 psi fog or 7/8” smooth bore with a nozzle reaction of 60 lbs force or less.

cover “I will not dispute that 2 1/2-inch hose is difficult to use, but no combination of smaller hand lines can duplicate the volume, reach, and pure knockdown power of a single, well-placed 2 1/2-inch line.” Andy Fredericks

flow52 1/2″

At this point I don’t see the need to review ADULTS or get really detailed into when we should pull the 2 ½”. I think if you have hung on this long in the article you can recognize a fire that demands the 2 ½”. The struggle seems to come when the discussion shifts from when to how, especially with the 3 person engine. The most common concerns are that it is such a bigger and heavier line; in these concerns about the use are the keys to its use but we need to have more realistic expectations.

The 2 ½” attack line is not an 1 ¾” accept that and move on. The 1 ¾” is the lightweight fighter; it can skip around the ring quickly for all 12 and with great agility. The 2 ½” is the heavy weight fighter, it will move slower but with purpose, there can’t be wasted energy and it is hoping for a early knock out so it doesn’t have to go the distance. In short the 2 ½” can be used very effectively with limited staffing it will just be a little slower and for not nearly as long of an engagement but the punch it delivers is a big enough benefit that it is worth it.

Attack whatever you have with what you have and understand the purpose of gallons per second.

attacksequenceThe series of pictures above is a single firefighter putting a 2 ½” attack line in to service on a working fire while his officer sets up the line for advancement after the knock down. The nozzle is an 1 1/8” smooth bore and the line operated for about 30 seconds from the parking lot before it was shut down and advanced into the stairwell for follow up. In that 30 seconds 132 gallons was delivered and it made a significant difference on that fire. While a second alarm was instantly called for on this fire, the quick action and rapid delivery of water prevented this fire from growing to the point where those resources were needed.

While working with another firefighter recently we reviewed this video and his comment was “That is a great example of using what you have. Too often we drive around in fire engines and act is if we don’t have tanks of water” His point, my point and Chief Isakson’s point is that if you view the 2 ½” as a 250 gallon per minute line then your thinking will inherently fall to flowing for minutes, and you will talk yourself out of using it because you believe you do not have the ability to support it. If you look above at the effect that 132 gallons delivered over 30 seconds had on that fire and you imagine your 500 gallon tank allowing for that kind of knock down to be followed up almost 3 more times you should see that you are not giving yourself near enough credit for your capabilities and you are just sitting on your opportunity to make a difference.

The above attack used an 1 1/8” smooth bore which flows 265 GPM or 4.4 gallons per second which is impressive but the idea of an exponential engine is exponential increases and we started with a 150 and 161 GPM line so the goal would be to put at least a 300 GPM 2 ½” into service as our next option delivering 5 gallons per second. In order to place a 300 GPM attack line into service nozzle selection is very limited. A 100psi fog nozzle delivering 300 GPM would have a nozzle reaction of 150lbs force and would be extremely difficult for any firefighter to utilize in anything other than a fully defensive position. At this time I am unaware of any manufactures making a 50 psi fogs over 300 GPM. At 50 psi the 1 3/16” smooth bore delivers 296 GPM or 4.9 gallons per second with 111lbs of nozzle reaction and the 1 ¼ smooth bore delivers 328 GPM or 5.5 gallons per second with 123lbs of nozzle reaction.

threesixteenthsOf these tip choices I personally would feel comfortable with either as a weapon just as I would with the 150 GPM at 50psi fog or the 7/8” smooth bore on the 1 ¾” attack line. There is one thing I did find particularly interesting about the 1 3/16” tip when you apply our true 2 ½” friction loss coefficient compared to the 1 1/8” tip with the traditional IFSTA based coefficient.

Friction loss per 100’ of 2 ½” hose flowing 265 GPM from a 1 1/8” smooth bore tip using the IFSTA coefficient of 2 is 14 psi.

Friction loss per 100’ of 2 ½” hose flowing 296 GPM from a 1 3/16” smooth bore tip using actual coefficient of 1.4 is 12 psi

Technically if you are using IFSTA based coefficients and modern 2 ½” hose you could just go replace all the 1 1/8” tips on your attack lines with a 1 3/16” and you would be flowing over 300 GPM or 5 gallons per second from your lines without anyone even knowing. Furthermore the very low operating pressure you may find the opportunity to eliminate a step for your pump operator. It only requires a pump discharge pressure of 68 psi to flow a 150’ attack line with an 1 3/16” tip flowing right at 5 gallons per second. I have seen this operating pressure to be nearly idle for many modern fire pumps. Imagine if you set up a preconnected 5 gallon per second attack line to the point that it could be supported at idle. Imagine the speed which big water could be applied if all your pump operator would have to do when they got out of the cab would be to pull the tank to pump eliminating the need to throttle up.

I know we clearly outlined working limits for nozzle reaction and the fact that this plan is intended for the 3 person engine company but if you remember the challenges of a bigger heavier line are also the keys to its use.
When you are advancing or dragging a line, friction is your enemy because you want the line to move forward into position with as little resistance and work as possible. When you are flowing a line friction becomes you friend because you can use it to absorb and counter nozzle reaction. The bigger and heavier a line the more friction is present and well trained operators can capitalize on that friction to serve as a back-up man in absorbing and grounding nozzle reaction. Additionally the larger diameter hose creates a more solid pipe and allows for more line to be moved ahead of the body resulting in greater stream movement without exaggerated body movement.

handlingIn all these pictures the single operator is flowing between 265 and 300 GPM using line weight, the ground, a curb, wall or good body form to handle the higher nozzle reaction. As stated above this makes it a much less mobile line when compared to the 1 ¾” and it will most likely only be operated in a hit and move process but what is compromised in mobility is made up for in stream reach, punch and an extinguishing power that has been doubled without any staffing changes.

E8The Deck Gun

Deck gun might be a regional term, I have heard it called a monitor or the “Stang” but we are talking about the engine mounted master stream. Most engine mounted master streams fog, or a stack of smooth bore tips have a flow range of 500 to 1000 GPM.

In reviewing our progression, the 1 ¾” flowing 2.5 gallons per second is a rapidly deployed and highly mobile attack line for a room or rooms of fire. The 2 ½” attack line flowing 5 gallons per second is our heavy weight fighter looking for the big knockdown against the big opponent of a full residential floor on fire, commercial occupancy fire or any of the ADULTS situations. Finally we have the deck gun for those marginal situations where you arrive to find an entire building on fire and rapid application of your entire tank at 10 gallons per second is required to nuke the fires progress and prevent extension to exposure occupancies.

2.5 gallons per second doubled is 5 gallons per second. 5 gallons per second doubled is 10 gallons per second so our target rating for a deck gun would be 600 GPM. The point of picking 600 GPM as the target flow for the deck gun goes beyond just the goal to double the volume of our previous attack level. Engine mounted master streams outfitted with a series of stacked smooth bore tips are most commonly found with an 1 3/8”, 1 ½”, 1 ¾” and a 2” tip.

Smooth Bore Tip Sizes and Stream Volume at 80psi

1 3/8” 500 GPM – 1 ½” 600 GPM – 1 ¾” 800 GPM – 2” 1000 GPM

When a smooth bore of these diameters are used as master streams the operating pressure is 80psi and because the apparatus is the platform of operation nozzle reaction is not needed to be considered. Most of the times I check engines with these stacked tips I find that the full stack is in place with the 1 3/8” on top. Two reasons for this are because they came that way or because the engine has a 500 gallon tank and to use a 500 GPM tip would give nearly a minute of operation before a supply is needed.

Once again this is thinking in minutes and trying to make what you have last over making what you have matter. I recommend the 1 ½” tip as the first up on the deck gun. Having tried this on a variety of different engines I have found this 10 gallon per second stream to be the highest volume, best quality stream that can be delivered strictly from tank supply. As you begin to move to the 1 ¾” and 2” tips a lot is being asked of the unsupported pump and internal plumbing and the lager tip size reduces the stream reach and pin point accuracy that you find in the 1 ½” tip.

Exponential Engine Summarized

There are hundreds of potential options and combinations for means of fire attack at the disposal of today’s firefighters; this approach is just one of them. My belief is that while there are hundreds of options, the three person engine can really only perform one action and this is one way to attempt to simplify and maximize the effectiveness of these actions.


It is difficult to try to find a point to stop this type of conversation because there is so much there is really so much that must be discussed. To be honest the goal of this piece is not to conclude anything, but to create more and deeper conversation on the topic. The few pages of opinion thrown down here will hopefully just lead you to investigate ideas and thousands of pages of real information from Lloyd Layman, Andy Fredericks, Dave Fornell, Aaron Fields, Dennis Le Gear and Curt Isakson. If you take nothing else from this it should be that blind acceptance is dangerous and inquiry is powerful. Find out why you are using what you are using, how it works, and what opportunities exist to make things better.


The Risk for Ground Ladder Rescues at Multi-Family Dwellings

The Risk for Ground Ladder Rescues at Mu...

CastlewestOn January 16th 2007, at 0047 hours Colorado Springs Fire Department (CSFD) was dispatched to a reported fire in an apartment building. Three minutes later, the first district chief arrived and immediately requested a second and third alarm when dozens of occupants were observed at windows and balconies (Royal, 2009). “We addressed the obvious challenge and priority of the life safety need by calling for an ‘all hands’ rescue” (Royal, 2009). In reviewing the article of lessons learned from the Castle West Apartment Fire in Colorado Springs, 85 occupants were rescued by ground ladders and none were removed by aerial ladders.

While laddering is traditionally considered a truck company function, the experience of the Colorado Springs Fire Department (CSFD) at the Castle West Fire shows that most if not all ladder rescue work will be performed with standard ground ladders and the immediacy of an “all hands rescue” situation will be placing all companies arriving with ladders to work.

  • The first three companies to arrive on scene at the Castle West Fire made 40 ladder rescues.
  • Nine apparatus from the first three alarms were dedicated to ladder rescues and responsible for removing a total of 85 occupants via ground ladders (Royal, 2009). The 85 occupants rescued from upper floors represent 25% of the buildings total residents (Royal, 2009).

The incredible challenge of rescuing 85 occupants from a building by ground ladders at a single incident is unique, however, the act of rescuing occupants by ground ladders at multi-family dwellings is much more common. In the first four months of 2014, 117 rescues by ground ladders from multi-family dwellings were reported to (

  • Nine fire incidents at multi-family dwelling fires resulted in more than 5 rescues on each scene
  • 65% of fires at multi-family dwelling fire where ground ladder rescues were reported had multiple rescues (

(Data was collected from 01/2014 to 04/2014)

There were several multi-family dwelling fires which would meet the “all hands rescue” situation described by Royal(2009) where as many as 10 civilians were removed via ground ladders. To see 117 documented ladder rescues from multi-family dwelling fires in the first 121 days of the year through a voluntary reporting system would present the case that on average at least 1 civilian is rescued everyday by firefighters with ground ladders in the United States. Ground ladder rescues should be a scenario every operational member of every fire department in the United States should be drilling on and preparing for especially if your district is one with multi-family dwellings.

lamar KendalInformation like this, and the high percentage of multi-family dwellings in my first due area sparked an interest in researching the topic of ground ladder rescues at multi-family dwellings further. The plan to take both an operational and more academic approach through the use of a National Fire Academy Executive Fire Officer Applied Research Project. Through the process I discovered a great deal of information specific to my department and in-particular the very common suburban 3 story multi-family dwelling which leads me to believe that it is not a matter of if but when your next fire will present with an all hands rescue situation.

It is my hope that through sharing this information you may be able to draw from it information that will directly apply to your department and operations or at least provide you with an example of a process to evaluate the risk for ground ladder rescues at your district’s multi-family dwellings.

Our Fire ProblemE-1 streching the line

Multi-family dwellings in our area house an average of 3.5 persons per unit. Compare this to a standard single family dwelling with an average of 2.23 occupants per structure for the district. With many buildings averaging well over 30 units this would places the equivalent of an entire single family residential neighborhood at risk in one building fire. 26% of our district’s population resides in multi-family dwellings and responses to these occupancies account for 32% of the districts 30,000 alarms.

  • In the calendar year of 2012 my department had 53 working fires in multi-family dwellings. This accounts for just under 30% of the district’s total working fires
  • Of these 53 fires 75% had a point of origin above the first floor

DSC_0002On average our firefighters are responding to a working structure fire in a multi-family dwelling once a week. The fact that the floor of origin is also most commonly above the first floor presents a greater risk of entrapment to citizens in our district who live in these occupancies.

A working fire in one high density residential structure can present with an equivalent life hazard to an entire neighborhood of single family dwellings. As an organization my department identified the increased risk for and severity of fires in multi-family dwellings and attempted to address them. In 2010 the department increased the response to working fires in these occupancies by adding an additional truck company to the initial dispatch.

  • In the last 5 years 80% of the our fires which exceeded the initial alarm assignment were in multi-family dwellings

This internal data shows that even with attempted solutions, the demands of these incidents continue to outpace initial responding resources and do so statistically more than any other occupancy type. The tactical demands of incidents at these occupancies are one piece of a hazard assessment, the true life hazard present at these occupancies should also be evaluated

Socioeconomic FactorsHolman followup 0432

Beyond the statistical data for our organization there is a great deal of research into the topic of fires at multi-family dwellings. In a 1997 report from the Federal Emergency Management Agency titled the Socioeconomic Factors and the Incidence of Fire, several points are addressed which clearly demonstrate why multi-family dwellings are a higher risk occupancy for fire than other dwellings. The report begins by presenting the fact that nationally, over 66% of all residential fire causes are human related and that evaluation of the socioeconomic factors are the best known predictors of fire rates at the neighborhood level (Federal Emergency Management Agency [FEMA], 1997).

  • Ownership of property plays a significant role in the increased risk of fire at multi-family dwellings. These units are primarily rented and not privately owned occupancies. Fire rates in areas with low individual home or property ownership have been determined to be more than two times that of areas with high home ownership (United States Fire Administration, 1997, p. 5)
  • Low vacancy rates translate to a low supply of housing and in the multi-family category this is a low supply of affordable housing for low income families which can result in overcrowding of the available units. In the most densely populated areas of our district the multi-family dwelling vacancy rate of 3.2% is the lowest for suburban communities surrounding the City and County of Denver (Throupe & Von Stroh, 2013). The incidence of fire is two to three times higher in housing tract areas ranked high on crowding (United States Fire Administration, 1997)
  • “Virtually every study of socioeconomic characteristics has shown that lower levels of income are either directly or indirectly tied to and increased risk of fire.”(United States Fire Administration, 1997, p. 2)
    According to the Denver Metro Area Apartment Vacancy and Rent Survey which reviews multi-family dwelling occupancy rates the average rent for the same area is $841.84 a month (Throupe & Von Stroh, 2013). This is the second lowest of all reported neighborhoods and over $150.00 a month lower than the Denver Metro Average of $992.89 (Throupe & Von Stroh, 2013).
  • “In most urban areas the lowest income units are in the oldest most run-down portion of the city’s housing stock. Living in an older poorly maintained housing unit raises a households risk for fire for several reasons.”
    • Poor maintenance of systems, heating and such which increases mechanical malfunction and the risk of fire.
    • Dated electrical wiring systems are typically overloaded by modern technology and alternative strategies increase electrical fire risk.
    • Households may be forced to compensate for poor systems of construction with stop gap measures such as space heaters.
    • Construction in these areas is typically before modern building codes and enforcement with very little retrofitting. (United States Fire Administration, 1997, p. 12)
  • Housing quality and age of dwellings is expanded on as a significant factor in the risk of and severity of fires. The USFA estimates that 92% of dwellings built since 1981 have working smoke detectors. The estimate for dwellings constructed prior to 1980 is only 74% (United States Fire Administration, 1997). For the City of Lakewood there is a marked difference in the vacancy rates in housing built prior to 1980 versus that which was built after 1981. Within Lakewood multi-family dwellings built before 1980 have the lowest vacancy rate at 2.7% compared to 1981 to present with a 4.4% vacancy rate (Throupe & Von Stroh, 2013). As data collection and initial investigation begins to demonstrate the fire risk in multi-family and contributing factors begin to compound in areas with increased density and socioeconomic challenges.

Building Construction

FBT 021Thirty-one percent of multi-family dwelling fires extend beyond the unit of origin (USFA, 2012). Common stairwells to multiple units in multi-story occupancies are vulnerable to exposure especially when the fire apartment door is left open and products of combustion rise through these channels. In regards to the interior of the multi-family units, 90% of  firefighters who I questioned in an online poll, reported that from the front door of the unit the kitchen area was open to, or between the front door and the sleeping areas. These two findings are significant factors in occupant egress during fire events. Cooking fires are the leading cause of multi-family dwelling fires at 69%. Cooking areas and kitchens are the primary areas of origin for non-confined multifamily dwelling fires at 33% (United States Fire Administration [USFA], 2012).

Holman followup 012Center hall apartment design is another example of a factor which would increase the risk for ground ladder rescues during a working fire. Center hall construction in these apartments is accessed by open stairwells on opposite sides of the building and a common center hallway for access to each unit. This construction feature presents great risk to all occupants of the building in the event that the door to a fire unit is left open the products of combustion will quickly fill the common hallways and stairwells. Without balconies, these occupants have no other means to escape other than a ladder to a window in the event hallways and stairwells are blocked by fire or smoke. Center hall construction was reported as a key contributing factor to the severity of the Castle West Apartment Fire in Colorado Springs in 2007, where 85 occupants were rescued by ground ladders (Royal, 2009). The open stairwells to the common hallways allowed for free and possibly accelerated fire spread which almost immediately trapped nearly all the residents (R. Royal, personal communication, March 8, 2014). This construction feature continues to be a rescue problem for Colorado Springs Fire Department. In the first quarter of 2014 they have rescued 17 civilians by ground ladders from center hall design apartment fires (R. Royal, personal communication, March 8, 2014)


In a survey of our members 65% percent described apparatus access to these occupancies as “poor,” and 30% as “good”. When asked “If a significant fire occurred in a multi-family dwelling in your district what would be the best means for evacuating residents?” 60% responded standard egress and 30% responded ground ladders (Brush, 2014). While aerial ladder was an option it was not selected by any of the members questioned. At the Castle West Apartment fire in Colorado Springs, 85 residents were rescue by ground ladders representing 25% of the dwellings population. Not a single person was removed by aerial ladder.

For my fire district the most common multi-family dwelling is a 3 story building. If we take this information, the fact that most rescues will be made with ground ladders and the experience of CSFD and other departments the had “all hands” rescues at these occupancies we can truly focus on a specific ground ladder package, the 14′ and 16′ straight ladders and the 24′ and 28′ extension. My department primarily uses the 24′ and 14′ package on our engine companies, increasing to the 16′ roof on trucks and a 35′ or 45′ extension. While theoretically these ladders meet the floor and sill heights of these structures, experience will tell you otherwise.

Apartments 010Apartments 009  Apartments 007 Apartments 004





Captain Vern Scott of Denver Fire Department Truck Company 15 explained in a phone interview that due to the high density three and four story multi-family dwellings in his response district, he worked through the equipment request process to change out the two 24 foot ladders that are standard for DFD truck companies for a 28 foot extension ladders (V. Scott, personal communication, January 6, 2014). Through his experience he found that while four feet is perceived to be a small difference it is consistently the difference in making the tip to a balcony railing or to a fourth floor window sill in the presence of a garden or walk out level (V. Scott, personal communication, January 6, 2014).

Ladderimage(Avillo, 1999)

Due to the climbing angle of ladders a rule of thumb for the working length for ground ladders less than 35 feet is 1 foot less than the total length and two feet less for ground ladders over 35 feet (Avillo, 1999). The graphic above uses common residential floor and window sill heights found in multi-family dwellings to demonstrate the target height of a third floor window at 26 feet. This would be out of the working length reach of a 24 foot ladder which is 23 feet but within normal operation of a 28 foot extension ladder with a working length of 27 feet.

Castle Rock Fire Department (CRFD) also adjusted the ladder compliments of the engine companies. The industry standard ground ladder compliment for engine companies is a 14 foot roof ladder, 24 foot extension and 10 foot folding ladder (Shand & Wilbur, 2013). The CRFD apparatus committee for the new purchases elected to outfit all engine companies as well as the quint with 28 foot extension ladders and 16 foot roof ladders. The change to 28 and 16 foot ladders not only increases the reach of the ladders in these categories but also in width, making them a better tool for effecting rescues (O. Bersagel-Briese, personal communication, May 16, 2014). The CRFD was also specific about the manufacturer of their selected ladders. As displayed in the chart below the service test rating is set by NFPA and is the same for all ladders yet there is a marked difference in weight and a slight difference in the width.

LadderComp1(Alco Lite Ladders, 2014) (Duo Safety Ladders, 2014)


A great deal of attention is being placed on the research of extinguishment and ventilation, both of which I support. I believe that these types of processes in critical thinking and review of our problems and operations should be the way we approach everything we do. An improved understanding of potential and purpose will make us all better performers and give those we serve a better chance. What is presented here is just a short summary of the full research paper recently published to the National Fire Academy Learning Resource Center. This paper is just one piece of my work on ground ladders and has only served to increase my interest and purpose in pursuing more. If you are interested in taking a more in depth look at the paper you can find it here: Out of Reach? Evaluating the risk for ground ladder rescues at multi-family dwelling fires

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