Wet Stuff On the Red Stuff… The Nozzle Position


By: Danny Doyle

Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire

The infamous statement “The fire goes as the first line goes”  has either become a harsh reality to  you or something that you might have read in the latest fire service journals.  We are going to dig into that statement regarding the first line, one position at a time, starting at the tip!   It could be said that this topic has been beat to death, “you can put a monkey at the tip”, or even “this isn’t rocket science!”  Well…  The only way to have a crew with continuity is to know the game plan and know each other!   A “monkey” with a few good techniques, sure, “rocket science”  no.  Common Sense, YES!

1. Knowing your district: Ok…  Another topic that gets mentioned all the time right?  If you don’t know what the building looks like or at the very least what types of buildings are on the street,  you are already a step behind.

2. Line Choice: Depending on the staffing at your particular place of business, let’s say…  You as the senior firefighter are tasked with deciding what line to deploy.  Is it a warehouse, store, apartment building, or a single family?   Marry that up the building type/design with what you see upon arrival.   You may need to account for set backs, the size of the building, and the fire location.  shirlington_large1OCCUPANCY can often dictate the diameter of line to be deployed and so can the amount of FIRE.  Oh yes, this is the great debate of small line/big line!  It is actually Speed/Mobility vs Volume/GPM….

3. Size Up: You’ve chosen your line and are moving toward your target.  On your way there take a look at where it is that you’ll be disappearing into.  More than likely you’ll get to see at least two sides of the building as you approach.  Size-up is everyones job!  For you, on the tip, you can read the smoke or catch a glance of the fire location.  As the line is flaked quickly, here is a good survival technique:  notice where the windows are, where the ladders thrown, and if there a porch roof.  A shortage of staffing mixed with that first 20 minutes of the fire can be a breeding ground for a MAYDAY!  Keep those eyes and ears open.

4.  Stretch/Flake the line: You can encounter a fire situation anywhere, from the front door to a good fire in the attic.  These two fires can drastically change how your line is flaked out and when it should be charged!   Do we have to fight our way into the building with a charged line because fire is at the front door?  Or can we stretch in and up those stairs dry because fire is in a rear apartment on an upper floor?  Wherever we flake/charge the line, it needs to be flaked out properly to maximize your flow…  ELIMINATE KINKS.  The best case scenario for stretching is when we are in-line with the door.  The less friction generated around corners and obstacles as the back-up FF pulls line, the more energy we will save!  But today, we’re on the tip, we really shouldn’t have to grunt out pulling for more line with our team working effectively.  We will cover the backbone or the back-up position in a blog to follow!

5.  Am I Ready: Ok… Whew… deep breath.  This is where it all pays off!  Lets Talk “COMBAT READY” shall we?  In all reality Combat Ready starts before the call comes in.  It can go all the way back to when the buildings were being built and you walked through them or on a recent building inspection or area familiarization drill.   During your last call to these type of buildings you looked around just a little more…got a layout. You were in early tonight, as usual, you checked your personal and company equipment and know its operation intimately!  Now its time for work, you’re down with a knee on the nozzle.  You put your face piece on and are calling for water!   As the seconds pass you are bleeding the line with an eye on that nozzle pattern!

6. Moving In: All the while, the fire that has begun to consume the first floor and has lapped out and caught the porch roof andpush-in1 vinyl siding on fire!  In order to make a safe advance with no surprises,  sweep the front of the house with your stream, knocking fire down as we move.  We leave nothing behind or it will tap you on your shoulder when your not looking!  Moving in the front door can be rough.  Use your stream to cover the outline of the door and hallway as you push in.  Hitting the ceiling, then contents/walls, then floor!  Flow the water that you need to make the hit.  REMEMBER…  Enough to make the hit.  To much of a good thing can be bad also, too much water with no place for converting steam to go can cause the steam to push down on you!  If you’re able to move in prior to flowing, take a glance down low for victims and layout.

7.  Operating the Tip: Think “ Tactical Nozzle!”  Listen for the sound of the stream hitting walls out in front,  you’ll notice hallways, doors, windows and at times be able to tell the size of room your in.   It’s all in the sound change…  Something else that I consider tactical is not just flowing the water but positioning my line for primary attack, along with protecting an advancing search crew that might have ascended the stairs or went down the hall.  Remember – if by chance you are instructed to back out, MAKE SURE THE SEARCH CREW HAS COME OUT BEFORE YOU LEAVE!!!  YOU MAY MAKE OR BREAK THEIR EXIT!!!

8. Forward… MARCH!  Keep moving in and knock the fire down in each room or at the very least control the floor making headway.  If you’re “digging in” or ” holding your position”  you may be in a losing battle.  Those terms may embellish a story back at the station but we know what it really meant.   If you can’t push, you will be over run or pushed back!

9. Commercial Occupancies:  UNCOMMON GROUND? Lets just throw out a few tips for the not so familiar fire.

  • Think larger line!  With the larger line you may need to invite more troops (additional alarms/units on arrival) you’ll need the help moving that line.th_img_34651
  • commercial-sus-ceiling1Keep that 2 1/2 nozzle a good foot and a half out in front.  Kneel on it and pull up.  This will both direct your stream to where it needs to be and your body weight along with the change of direction pushing down will absorb the nozzle reaction.
  • Check above you every 25 ft! Open the ceiling, using a hook or the stream!  NO FIRE ABOVE OR BEHIND YOU!
  • Your the frontman on the line!  SOUND THAT FLOOR! You never know!  Duck walk so that you can keep your weight from pushing you forward.  This will bring your head up so you can see the fire above!  Do Not be crawling blind looking down at the floor!

10. Residential Fires:  All right,  last but not least the biggest killer and where we do the most work

  • Most of our work is done here with 1 1/2 or 1  3/4.  Yup your right!  So much easier to move however still a xxtyleravhouse-2workload even when done right!
  • You can be on your own at the nozzle with this size line!  While your officer is watching conditions, your back-up FF is getting that hose to you.  I know, I know,  We don’t work alone!  You’re right, you are not alone …. you are operating as a part of the hose team.    Everyone needs discipline, you are all on the line in different places.  Don’t leave the line.  Reality Check!!!  Depending on staffing, IF THE BACK UP FIREFIGHTER IS UP AT THE NOZZLE, THEY MAY NOT BE DOING THEIR JOB!   Use the walls, doorways, or corners to brace yourself.  You can hit and move and work your way down a hall or into a room.

Just a few tips for the tool box.   There’s so much more, what can you add?  The BACK UP position will be coming soon!

Everyone stay safe and have a happy new year!


6 Responses

  1. Nick,

    Yet again another great post !!!! I am gonna open a can of worms but what’s your thoughts on The Smooth Bore Nozzle vs The Fog Nozzle ?

    I just don’t think the ” kindler gentler fire department” wants to hear about it. There is so much to be said about the smooth bore nozzle and it just seems to get brushed under the carpet. I understand DCFD does not operate them, but there are alot of Engine Companies in my dept that are now operating with smooth bore nozzles (mine included) and it just seems people don’t want to take the time or make the time to properly train or learn the advantages of such a valuable asset to the Engine Company.

    However I totally understand that the Fog Nozzle has its place on the fireground and I am not saying It should be completely one way or the other, but I feel that being properly trained on both and having that option is an added benefit.

    Be Safe

  2. Paul,

    Great question! They are not used much here in Pittsburgh either. Unless a 2 1/2 is in operation with in 1 1/8 tip. We’ve recently changed to a combination nozzle that breaks away to a 15/16 smooth bore slug inside the bail. I like the option! My particular Engine Company is in the habit of taking off the combo tip and throwing on an extension ( 15/16 tip ) to get a better stream. This did take additional training for those who didn’t know the differences in both how the line would maneuver and the advantages of the stream. Such as reach and increased GPM. This also has allowed us to extend our lines to greater lengths by lowering the nozzle pressure. The department was proactive in the change and provided the entire Suppression division with a training rotation at the academy. I guess where I was headed in explaining all of this is. I believe it to be a compromise! We now have the best of both worlds.

  3. Danny

    Danny, first of all….great article…there is nothing better that having the nozzle at a first due job and knowing that ultimately YOU are the one who puts out the fire. I am looking foward to the Back-up article next..


    The great debate of Fog/Smooth is one that is timeless and will, I am sure, last for the ages. While I prefer the smooth bore nozzle (due to the pairing of our staffing and our urban environment) I have been impressed with the breakaway fog/smooth bore slug type nozzle that has recently hit the market. The bottom line is this…….

    As the nozzleman, you need to know what you are holding. You are it! You are the first and last line…PERIOD. If you loose control of that nozzle or do not know/cannot recover from a nozzle malfunction…..YOU ARE PUTTING YOURSELF AND EVERYONE ELSE AT THAT JOB IN A BAD BAD SPOT…

    You must know how it works, how it comes apart, how it can be extended, how it is adjustable for gallonage, Flush, FOG, Straight, whatever….

    Its lights out and the show has started, its all you, GO TO WORK

    Know your nozzle, like well…your …. I think you get it….

    Happy New Year Brothers

  4. I believe the best position in any company will always be the person who get to operate the nozzel. Some of my thoughts that I pass to newer members are as follows.

    Check the nozzel at shift change like you would your SCBA. I know of a company that operated all night without nozzels on a reserve engine they had switched over to that afternoon. Check for tightness, pattern setting, and flow setting. (pertaininig to variable gallonage, constant pressure fog nozzels)

    Periodically remove nozzels and service/clean them. They get allot of road grit in them running all those EMS runs.

    If your are using a varible gallonage nozzel, know your settings and the corresponding pump pressures. If you change to a higher flow without increases pressure your not accomplishing much. The same holds true for smooth bore and discharge pressure changes for additional flow.

    Flow and advance as Nick said. That will probably be under the officers direction, along with coaching the nozzel person where to shoot the stream. I believe that when the interior attack is in a marginal moment, where our time inside is predicated on the effectiveness of the attack line, every gallon needs to go in the best spot. That is an experience based skill, but needs to be discussed in training.

    Get the nozzel to the best position to extinguish the fire as rapidly as possible. This requires the deployment/stretch to be practiced and executed well. As you drop off people at critcal corners or doorways, you may find that there is only one person left when you get to the point of engagement. Not the best practice, but a possiblity with limited staffing. Place your best shooter on the nob if doubtful as to your outcome. (That may be you as the officer)

    There is nothing more satisfying than to attack and extinguish a good fire. The only way to prepare for that is to discuss expectations, training and execute whenever possible.


  5. Danny,
    I was just looking back at the article and realized that you had wrote it, Boy what a goof. I am sorry brother, for whatever reason I could have swore Nick wrote it, but again another fine job.

  6. Does anyone have training video they have shot or found which depicts and engine crew running a line in an efficient and aggressive manner? I have been looking through various web sites trying to locate some to show my people.


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