Many fire departments across the nation have used the forward lay as a first-due engine water supply tactic for years. Our predecessors have preached water supply as a top priority, and it still remains a priority. However, we also know that fast water is a top priority. What is fast water? Simply defined, it’s water on the fire as quickly as possible. Exterior attack vs. interior attack and smooth bore vs. fog stream are discussions for another time.
This is about getting water onto the fire as quickly as possible, and I believe that most of us would agree that it should be one of our top priorities, secondary only to victim rescue. If we are solely focused on the time it takes to get water on the fire, how could we even consider stopping and catching a hydrant as the first-due engine? Yes, I know many will say that they can do it faster than others, and there really isn’t a delay. But that doesn’t fall in line with the argument against transitional attack. The argument is that we are delaying interior fire attack by resetting a fire from the exterior for 15 seconds, but aren’t we doing the same thing by performing a forward lay? And a forward lay takes much longer than 15 seconds.
My first officer drilled us like a football coach. I can remember catching hydrants over and over again while he stood next to us with a stopwatch, challenging us to do it faster. Of course, we turned it into a competition, as firefighters typically do. But it was a great drill for increasing our performance for a forward lay. This was more than 20 years ago, and as I compare the equipment that we had then to what we have now, it’s clear there have been some substantial changes.
For example, one change has been in water tank size. My first engine had a 400-gallon tank, and today our engine has a 750-gallon tank. Our water systems have also improved. We now have hydrants every 200 feet throughout most of our jurisdiction while it used to vary widely depending on the territory. The hydrant distance will not be applicable for some because many firefighters still have rural areas with long distances between hydrants. However, with a long distance between hydrants, the fast water on tank water tactic becomes even more applicable.
None of us ever want to run out of water. But I believe it’s better to apply water as quickly as possible while the fire is smaller and then run out of water if the fire happens to be too large to extinguish on tank water. Stopping for a forward lay takes time and has multiple steps: stop; flush the hydrant; wrap the hydrant; and then drop supply hose in a forward lay, leaving the hydrant firefighter behind. If you have good staffing, this might not be a big deal, but most of us are riding with only three firefighters while others ride with just two. That hydrant firefighter is needed to pull a handline for fire attack. The forward lay delay has allowed the fire to grow in size and now this fire will likely require the hydrant water supply to fully extinguish.
It’s a must to know how much water is flowing from your nozzle. But when we are flowing the nozzle, do we continuously flow water until the tank runs out? No. We should be flowing water from our nozzle onto the fire as we progress down a hallway to overwhelm the fire. It is still is a limited time period of 30 to 60 seconds of flowing water. The simple math is approximately 150 gallons total. That’s a 150-gpm nozzle for 60 seconds.
These are all averages, and everyone flows different amounts of water. It will vary depending on hose size and nozzle choice. The point is, unless you’re flowing a master stream, it’s possible to operate effectively on tank water. Fast water on tank water, if applied correctly, will have first-due companies turning the second-due companies around because the fire is out.