Estimating the Stretch

There isn’t a whole lot about engine company operations that matters if you can’t get water on the fire.  Unfortunately most of us have heard the “more line, more line!!” yells on more than one occasion.  Correctly estimating the stretch, the distance between the rig and the fire and the amount of hose needed to cover it, is an essential skill for any engine company officer.  Here are a few quick tips I’ve learned over the years:

  • Count fixed-width row-homes to calculate distance.

    Count fixed-width row-homes to calculate distance.

    Counting houses.  In most neighborhoods, the spacing of houses is similar.  Row/town houses are usually a common width.  Counting the number of these between you & the fire can give an estimated length. 

  • Telephone poles.  Also usually spaced a fixed distance – perhaps 75 to 100 feet.
  • Building height & what floor is the fire on?  Two big issues here.  Does it have a standpipe system (and are you going to use it) and does it have a well-hole?  If it has a well-hole, you can stretch straight up: 5 floors would only take one length of hose (50′).  If not, you need to count at least 1 length for every two floors (for winding up the stairs).
  • Building size.  Once you get to the fire floor (whether its a house or an apartment building) you need to be able to cover the whole floor.  Have enough hose at the fire floor to cover the building’s WIDTH + LENGTH

    This 6-story MFD has a well-hole.  By knowing our district we know we can reach & cover the top floor with 350'.

    This 6-story MFD has a well-hole. By knowing our district we know we can reach & cover the top floor with 350

  • Past experience & first-due knowledge.  There is no substitute for knowing your response district.  Quite simply, that knowledge is the difference between KNOWING and GUESSING.  Get an old bleach bottle (or similar) and fill it with utility rope marked at 50′ intervals.  Now when you’re out in your district, tie one end of the rope to your engine and walk the building.  Now you KNOW how much line it takes to reach certain parts.
Obviously there are many points to this issue… I just wanted to share a few thoughts that popped to the front of my mind. 
How do you estimate the stretch?  Please share with us….

6 Responses

  1. It all basically begins with how you finished your post, “knowledge is the difference.” As a basic, I always followed the one length rule; one length from the wagon to the entrance; one length from the entrance to the fire floor; and one length for working the fire floor. I also followed the BELOW and ADULTS mnemonics. It’s a quick way that was easy to me as a lineman and eventually an officer, but the key is to avoid doing the estimate in the same manner as blindly pulling the preconnected crosslay. Members have to know not only their first due area, but the other areas as well, considering their due assignment (if you’re in the rear, will the 250′ make it and is it supposed to go to an adjacent apartment or the floor above?) A lot of variables can throw off the estimate if you’re not prepared.

    I took advantage of every local, medic local and time on the air to determine how I would estimate the stretch. Sometimes I’d toss it around with others, sometimes just to myself, but I looked at every address and asked myself, if we ran this location for a box, what line would we pull? I took my own first due book and made notations in it about specific stretches. That book went on the rig every duty shift. I purchased a measuring wheel and we went out and walked through locations as well to see if what we estimated was correct.

    Another key I practiced was to not get distracted by the call itself. I tried to stay disciplined to the facts of the location and sizeup, and not the hysteria and passion. Many members still go to the fire as a moth to a flame.

    Knowledge is the answer and it’s too late trying ot gain knowledge while the building is on fire and your men are a length short.

    Good post, and good radio prorgam over at FE as well.

  2. Bill,

    All excellent points… I think this quote of yours is KEY and frequently overlooked:

    “Another key I practiced was to not get distracted by the call itself. I tried to stay disciplined to the facts of the location and sizeup, and not the hysteria and passion. Many members still go to the fire as a moth to a flame.”



  3. Something to consider using when estimating hose lengths is counting windows or looking to see the layout of the windows.
    Obviously like has been mentioned before, you need to know your local alarm area. That in itself is ½ of the battle. I mentioned counting windows. If you have any idea about your alarm district you will be somewhat familiar with the layout of the apartments and their general size. However if you are responding to an area you are not familiar with this may help. For instance most apartments in the area I respond in have one large window or a bank of windows in the living room with one window being separated by about six feet to either side which is normally in the bedroom. That normally leaves one window which is much smaller than the rest off to the opposite side. This window should represent the bathroom and in most cases there will be another one like it along side of the original one. By looking for the smaller windows you know there is a wall separating the two and thus you can estimate how big the apartments are. You can also use these windows to figure out how many units you have involved in fire during your size up.
    Some buildings have a bank of single windows that are in line vertically and are slightly different in size than the other windows on the face of the building. These windows normally represent your stairwells in older construction and can also be used to determine hose length. By using your window counting method mentioned earlier and looking at your stairwell location you can better determine the length of hose from the stairwell to the fire apartment and give yourself enough room to work on the fire floor without coming up short. Stairwells with windows are a firemen’s friend. They not only allow for a vented refuge area incase of emergency but they allow you to use their openings for flying standpipes is the building has no raiser.
    Remember to look at the width of the building when approaching! This will give you the depth of the apartments. Remember most (not all) apartments mirror one another separated by a hallway. If you pay attention to the width of the building on arrival you can get a fairly accurate apartment size by dividing the width of the building by two and looking for the bathroom windows. That will give you a rough width time’s length.
    These tips mentioned were mostly for figuring length of the area to be cover once on the fire floor but can make a big difference in attack. If you follow basic rules for hose advancement by counting floors and distance to the building entrance you have most of the battle beat. It’s when you get to the floor involved in fire and can’t quite make that back bedroom, or that second apartment that can separate you from doing a good job or someone dying.

  4. Please explain to the jurisdictions that refuse to run more than a 250′ the drawbacks/benefits of such a long line. Having ridden in the Metro area, I’ve seen the Apt loads work. It is however difficult to convince some about the “Combat Ready” concept as it pertains to such long lines. Also, how do you guys feel about running smoothbores on such long lines? For it? Against it?

  5. As far as “long lines” – I think you’ll definitely see a future post on that. Many departments think its not possible for whatever reason: distance, manpower, pump pressure, etc. I know I was amazed at its efficiency when I was first introduced…

    Smooth bores…. We all know there is an age old debate there. I have to say that personally, as a life long combo-nozzle man, I am leaning more and more toward smooth-bores. Increased GPM, lower pump pressure, less risk of a rookie putting it on the wrong pattern and steaming everyone. The bottom line is, even if you’re running a combo-nozzle, you’re using it on a “straight stream” for fire attack (I hope), so maybe we should look at cutting out the middle-man and getting all the benefits of true smooth bores.


  6. Each and every one of us get into houses, multiple dwelling, and commercial dwellings on far more medical runs or service calls than bonafide fires. Most setback are consistent, many residences are similar. Measure your steps to estimate leadouts after the patient is on the way to the Medic Unit. Every inspection, block party, shopping trip, and service run gives you the opportunity to estimate the stretch without the pressure of the fire and the Company Officer waiting for you. No gimmicks, just develop the estimating skills on every run. Then discuss it with the Company on the front lawn. Try this at night when everybody wants to get back to quarters. It develops discipline, and makes this skill a routine one.

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