Don’t Take a Knife to a Gunfight

Issue 8 and Volume 13.

(Nevin Steffy photo)

Don’t take a knife to a gunfight. This is a term that I’m sure you have all heard before. But what does it mean? When you go to battle bring enough firepower to take out the enemy as quick as possible. In this article I’m going to discuss bringing the proper firepower in the form of water to extinguish the fire as quick as possible. To me fighting a fire is a lot like the military going to battle in a conflict. You must know as much about your enemy and the situation as possible and match your forces accordingly to effectively be successful in the fight. I was not in the military, so I can’t really go into detail as to what would be needed. What I can tell you is that, just as with the enemy in battle, when fighting a working fire, you need to knock the snot out of it. That’s right hit that sucker with everything you’ve got according to your situation and win the fight as quick as possible.   

I’m going to talk about operations with nozzles on handlines and master streams as well as water supplies and bring up some deficiencies that I see all the time and then talk about how I feel it should be done.

The first thing I want to say, and this is going to be an extreme statement, but I do believe in it, when a fire stream is directed into the actual fire itself and is hitting the target, whether it is a structure fire, car fire, or even a dumpster fire. In most cases I feel you should be starting to see a knockdown within 10 to 30 seconds. If you’re not getting at least some kind of sign of a knockdown and your stream is hitting the fire and dissipating, then I feel you are not flowing enough water. Of course, there are fires that are so large that multiple streams are needed to even put a dent into it such as large commercial buildings and large construction fires. But even these large buildings can have inferior streams directed into them making the knockdown a lot harder.

The first piece of equipment I would like to talk about is the interior attack handline. For the sake of this discussion we will use 1-3/4” hose because it is by far the most commonly used interior attack line. The standard GPM for an interior attack line is 150 GPM. It can either be discharged through a low-pressure nozzle or a standard 100 PSI nozzle. More times than not on an interior attack of a house fire, when the house is not fully involved, the 150 GPM seems to be ample in achieving a quick knockdown. Now let’s take the same house fire or apartment fire and develop it into a fully involved fire. Now what lines are going to be used and what flow will it deliver? A lot of people still take that 150 GPM line or smaller in and a lot of times they get their rear ends kicked with a long knockdown time. The following three pictures were taken from a DVD at an apartment fire which had one unit fully involved. I don’t know what the square footage was or how many rooms there were but it’s obvious the whole apartment was on fire. The first line placed into service was a 1-3/4” with a combination nozzle. I don’t know what the GPM or the nozzle pressure was. The fire was attacked from the outside at the front door and after five minutes of unedited footage from the DVD a second 1-3/4” line was brought up and knockdown was achieved. The first thing I’d like to say is that I wasn’t there, so I can’t honestly critique this fire or any of the others I will talk about. That wouldn’t be fair. What I’d like to do with these photos in the entire article is use them as learning tools. These photos will just be examples of things that can go wrong because of a lack of flow.

Here’s what I might have done if I were in charge. Keep in mind the apartment was fully involved and therefore the probability of saving anybody or anything was extremely low. In the DVD you see the engine company spotted directly in front of the fire that was blowing out of the balcony area from what looks like a sliding glass door. I would’ve ordered a handline to the front door and tell them to wait and fire up the deck gun and blitz attack the fire with at least 500 GPM. Remember 500 GPM can be delivered from tank water. If I had a hydrant already, my flow would probably be higher. Things to remember with any stream especially large caliber streams is that once you get a knockdown shut the stream down and see where you’re at. One of the other interesting parts of this fire was a shot of the area around the pump panel where all the lines came from. There were no 2 ½” lines on the ground, just a 4” supply line and multiple 1-3/4” lines. If you’re thinking that there’s a concern that we might have pushed fire with the deck gun stream through the balcony, it’s a proven fact that a straight stream does not push fire. You’ve heard the scenario now look at the photos and think about what you would do.


First line brought to the front door    


Fire blowing out the balcony


No big handlines were used                     


Just for a little side note, did you know that several fire hose manufactures make an oversized    1-3/4” hose that allows for higher flows? A flow of 250 GPM is entirely possible with this hose at a decent pump discharge pressure of 180 PSI. It weighs the same as the standard 1-3/4” hose and in some cases even lighter and can be used with either a smooth bore or combination nozzle that has a 50-pound nozzle pressure. This line in my opinion is perfect for a quick attack when you need big water. Instead of pulling that 2 ½” pre-connect, simply pull the oversized 1-3/4” line and flow 250 GPM. The fire we are discussing in this section would have been a perfect scenario for bringing up this type of line.

Now let’s talk about the 2 ½ inch nozzle that goes on the 2-1/2” handline. I am speaking specifically of a stacked tips nozzle. The sizes are 1”, 1-1/8”, and 1-1/4”. What usually happens with this nozzle is the firefighters will leave the entire stack of tips on the nozzle and fight fire that way. That means they are using the 1” tip which means they are only getting 210 GPM if they are pumping the line correctly. I personally do not like the stacked tips because of this reason. Nobody ever changes the tip size to meet the fire demands. They just leave the entire stack on. The following photographs are going to show firefighters fighting large fires with the entire stacked tips on the nozzle again which means if they are pumping it right they are only getting 210 GPM. If my department already owns these types of nozzles, I would take off the 1”, and 1-1/8” tips and leave the 1 ¼” tip on. Always go in with a maximum of your nozzles capabilities to ensure the best chance for a quick knockdown. If it’s an overkill, there no harm done.




1” tip on a 2-1/2” line


Master streams also have stacked tips on the appliance. There sizes are 1-3/8” @ 500 GPM, 1-1/2” @ 600 GPM, 1-3/4” @ 800 GPM and 2” @ 1000 GPM. Again, with the entire stacked tips being connected on the master stream appliance, most never remove any of them to get the required flow. They just stick with the 1-3/8” tip no matter how big the fire is. Below are some photos that illustrate this.


1-3/8” tips being used on a fire that a 2” tip would have trouble with


The next series of photos shows a couple of things. First it shows inferior streams produced by       1-3/4” nozzles. It appears that the nozzles were being pumped correctly; they were just the wrong size. The other thing I want to show you has to do with water supply. The photo shows a pump operator pumping the fire in question and his intake gauge is down to zero and the discharge gauge appears to be about 70 PSI. He’s out of water. 


0 on the intake, no water left                           


1-3/4” lines used to no avail    


A capped large intake takes away about half the potential water 


I happen to know this fire department and the area that they work in. They are surrounded by fire departments and all have four-inch supply hose and are on an automatic aid program. My theory is if you have a fire of this magnitude or better, don’t wait until you run out of water to ask for more, go ahead and get that second or even third supply line laid so you will have an ample amount of water to do your job. A second line could’ve been laid to this engine from another hydrant or possibly the second engine could set up on its own with its own supply line. The other thing I am thinking is that they should have placed either an elevated master stream or deck gun into service. That would work but, in all honesty, I don’t know if they had room for the apparatus. What about a big 2 ½” handline flowing 325 GPM with a 1 ¼” smooth bore tip? That could have made a big difference. Have you seen the blitz fire type portable monitors? It’s a single inlet portable monitor that flows 500 GPM. That would’ve worked great here, maybe even a couple of them.

I saved the best for last. I’m telling you the name of the department, Los Angeles City Fire Department, first because it’s plastered all over their units and second, they seem to cover all the bases mentioned in this article in a positive manner. Every time they lay a supply line no matter what size the fire is they put a pump on the hydrant using a four-way valve to boost the pressure. On big fires they will tap in on all the ports of the hydrant and discharge at least two 4” supply lines. I’m sure there is an occasion that for whatever reason you just can’t muster up enough water supply but with these folks I would say that it rarely happens. It is always a part of their command structure to have enough water.

Their small handline nozzles are the standard 150 GPM however, for whatever reason, 1-1/2” and 1-3/4” hose is used.

Their 2 ½” handlines use two different types of nozzles and each of them only give you one choice, 325 GPM. They use a fixed gallon combination nozzle and a 1 ¼” smooth bore nozzle.

Their fixed and elevated master streams have one size tip on them, 2”. They automatically go to the 2” because they have confidence they will be able to secure enough water to operate them. 


2-1/2” with a 1-3/8”tip 500 GPM     


Multiple hook ups for water supply engine


2-1/2” handlines            

200’ relay pump operation getting max flow     


2” tip on the ladder pipe flowing 325 GPM


The bottom line is, you as a fire department must be prepared for a worst-case scenario and have your unit set up to achieve that. LA City assumes that a master stream will be on a big fire, so they attach the 2” smooth bore to it. They also assume that there 2 ½” is going to be for a large fire so they attached 1 ¼” tip to it. It’s easier to have enough water and not need it than it is to need the water and must go get it. As I said earlier a straight stream of water does not push fire. So, if the two-car garage is fully involved or the entire front of the structure is ripping, don’t be afraid to hit it head on. You might be surprised as to how quickly you get a knockdown with a small amount of water.