As the engine company officer, you are responsible for the fire attack and, before that, the hose stretch for that fire. Part of your fire size-up must include an estimate of how much hose will be required to reach the fire. Stretch estimating encompasses three basic segments of measurement: the distance to the building, the distance within the building, and nozzle reach. Remember, with each segment of the stretch, there is a minimum amount of hose required. If you don’t get the minimums correct, you’ll probably stretch short.
When you are estimating how much hose will be required, you have to break down the estimate into rapidly recognizable elements that you can quickly add up to get to the minimum amount of hose you need to complete the stretch. A minimum is a benchmark measurement; it should follow a standard of hoseline measurement.
The most common hose length is 50 feet, so that is the measurement we judge our travel distances against: how many lengths of hose it will take to cover a certain distance. All of this matters not only to have a chance at a successful fire attack but to make sure your hoseline is pumped correctly.
Certain known and common distances can be standardized to assist in the hoseline calculation. Typically for a flight of return stairs, one length of hose will be used. Remember, there is no such thing as half a length of hose, even if that’s all that’s physically needed; we always add up to the next length. Certain staircases like scissor stairs or straight stairs found in many homes will only use a portion of one length of hose on the actual steps but will use more of that length on the next flight or landing, depending on what you have. The point to remember is that all the examples use one length of hose to complete the distance traveled between one floor and the next.
All hose stretches are local, and using lot widths in your area will help you estimate how much hose you will need on the street if you spot several houses from the fire. If your lot lines are 25 feet apart, then for every two houses you’ll need a length of hose on the ground.
How much do you need for the fire floor? Of course, it depends, but usually it’s one length of hose. That’s a minimum, so having at least that much not only provides you with a standard and a guide but also gives you enough hose for most floors in a home or apartment. Of course, if buildings are larger in width or depth or your entry points are distant for those buildings, then going up to two lengths will be the minimum.
Nozzle reach is often overlooked as part of a stretch estimate, but it’s very important in the fight to cut off extension and final extinguishment, including overhaul. When a fire has breached an area, such as a void space in the fire compartment, you’ll need to get to that spot with the nozzle and direct the stream into that space. This is often impossible from a distance; the nozzle must be close and in line for the stream to work.
I often cite this fire problem when instructing company officers on what is the minimum amount of hose needed for a particular stretch. All the examples are for the interior of the fire building only, including the following:
1. You have a fire in a one-story commercial building that’s 100 feet deep with a center entry, aisle, and rear wall stairway to the basement where you have a rubbish fire near the front wall. What is the minimum number of lengths needed to reach the fire?
2. You rope stretch from a window on the third floor of a five-story apartment building. The apartment directly above you is on fire, and the stairway is located just outside the apartment you’re in. What is the minimum amount of hose you would pull into the window to complete this stretch?
3. Using the previous example, except your fire is on the top floor, how many lengths would you pull into the window to reach the fire that’s two floors above your current position?
You must get the minimums correct for all your stretches, because they form the baseline for your operations.
While many stretch from a preconnected hosebed, the issues remain. In fact, they are more critical if you choose the wrong bed. Stretching from a static bed eliminates the choice of picking a hosebed length. Many short stretches will be easily covered by picking a preconnected bed that is well over the minimum of hose required. The issue of overstretching is common and brings up what to do with the extra hose. Extra hose is okay, but you must find a place for it and make sure it doesn’t cut down your water supply because it’s kinked up.
The minimums get you there, but you should build a bit extra into all stretches to cover the unknown. Adding to the minimum should fall into the range of one to two lengths. If you end up doubling your original estimate, then your minimums were way off. Practice the minimums for buildings and apartments to gain better accuracy when time is not on your side.
All the questions gave hints to the correct answer, so see how you did.
1. Five lengths is the minimum. To get there, you use two from the first floor to reach the stairway, one for the stairs to reach the basement, and then two again to reach the front wall. While the aisle on the first floor was very direct, as were the stairs, the basement is the area where you would consider going up a length of hose in case there was no straight path to the fire, and to cover width too.
2. Three lengths is the minimum. To get there, you use one for the apartment where you pulled in the hose, one for the stairs going up to the fire floor, and one for the fire apartment. Breaking this down, you are already in an apartment, so you know how much hose it would take to reach the door and how far it is from the stairs. The stairway is typically one length; the fire apartment is where an additional length may come into play. While three is enough, you always want to find out you are covered before you charge the line.
3. Four lengths is the minimum. Everything about the apartments is the same, but you are traveling up two flights of stairs, so that’s how you reach four. I would pull one more in through the window so that I had extra in case I needed the line on the roof or the apartment was bigger than expected. Again, more is better, but too much is not.
Ray McCormack is a 36-year veteran of the fire service and a lieutenant with the Fire Department of New York (FDNY). He is a panel member for both the UL Fire Stream Attack Study and Coordinated Fire Attack Study. McCormack gave the Keynote at FDIC International in 2009. He lectures on tactics, leadership, and culture in the American fire service. He can be contacted at [email protected] and Twitter @LtRayMack.