By Dave Werner
Being on the nozzle on the first in attack line is a great place to be. Even the saltiest truckie would have to agree that standing face to face with the beast is always a good feeling. It needs no explaining. Being the point man as you round the corner and stare into the inferno evokes a primal response. It is a place of upmost danger, and absolute serenity at the same time. Get the picture?
But how do we get the nozzle man where he needs to go? None of this helmet scorching mayhem is possible unless the attack line gets to where it needs to go. How much time do we spend training on advancing hose lines? If you are like most firefighters out there you spent a couple hours in your initial training dragging lines and that was the extent of it. Training on advancing lines isn’t glamorous, and it’s hard work. For most, this is reason enough to leave it alone.
Think back to your last working fire. Regardless of whether or not you were involved in the placement of the initial lines, how well did the process play out? Was the line dumped in front of the engine in a giant rats nest? Were the interior crews constantly hollering for assistance in moving the lines? It seems that all too often this is what we encounter when it comes to advancing lines. It seems painfully simple, and it is, but there are numerous tips and tricks available to us to make our lives easier.
For most of us, staffing levels are less than ideal. This often times means two firefighters per line. This is not a significant issue, but it does mean that we have to be smarter with our resources. I recently participated in a training event put on by Traditions Training LLC, see one of there videos below, in which we spent time going over the steps needed to effectively advance hose lines. It quickly becomes apparent just how critical the back up firefighter becomes with only two people on the line.
Here is where I am going with all of this. With only two firefighters on the line, most of the time the back up firefighter is the officer. That being said, how often do we see the officer tucked in tightly behind the nozzle man as they make their push? Now I realize there are circumstances where the officer needs to stay right on top of the nozzle man, but this should not be the default setting. Being in the back up position means the officer needs to be ready to give up physical contact with the nozzle man, and work their tail off.
Crew integrity is a common fireground buzzword. Although the idea looks good on paper, in reality it is a tempo killing theory. Let’s send an officer and a firefighter in on the initial attack line, both individuals stacked right on top of each other. As the line is advanced several corners are turned, and now the friction on the hose line has ceased any forward movement. The resulting shouting for more line is all too familiar. Why did these two individuals stay stacked on the line together? Crew integrity, right? The result was a slower hose line advancement putting the crew and occupants at increased risk. Does crew integrity mean everyone needs to be able to physically see and touch each other? If your answer is yes I would argue that your fireground is not operating very smoothly.
Whoever it is that winds up being in the back up position on the hose line needs to be prepared to give an all-out effort to ensure that every time the nozzle man moves forward there is plenty of line to support the maneuver. This means actively staging line during every stage of the fire attack. As soon as the nozzle man ceases forward movement for whatever reason the back up firefighter should be stacking up line in anticipation of the next move. Leaving several hundred feet of line in the front yard and expecting to make a smooth push into the structure is ignorant and dangerous. Train hard and often on advancing lines. Utilize realistic scenarios to foster initiative and critical thinking during these fundamental fireground tasks. Learn from each other and pass along the knowledge you gain. Somewhere, someone else is too complacent to practice these skills, and the knowledge you share may save their tails. As always, stay smart, and stay combat ready!