Hoseline Operations for Fires in Multiple Dwellings, Part 1

In 2003, I wrote a three-part article on hose- line operations for fires in multiple dwellings.1 That article examined considerations and methods relative to stretching and advancing hoselines to fires on the upper floors of residential buildings that are not tall enough for codes to require standpipes—that is, today, generally buildings that are no taller than 30 feet in height.

In our line of work, a lot can change in nine years, so I think it’s time to take another look at hoseline operations in multiple dwellings. In this article, multiple dwellings refer to apartment buildings, condominiums, hotels, motels, college dormitories, and group homes such as homeless shelters and halfway houses.


What has changed in nine years? Most notably, many fire departments today are operating with fewer firefighters than they did nine years ago, and this reduction in staffing, unfortunately, will continue at least for the foreseeable future. Staffing has a huge influence on personnel-intensive operations such as stretching and advancing hoselines. A fire department that has experienced a significant cut in staffing may have to devise new methods to get a hoseline to an upper floor. Parts 2 and 3 of this article will examine methods to get a hoseline to an upper floor that requires fewer personnel than performing a conventional stairway hose stretch.

Research in fire dynamics conducted in recent years by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and Underwriters Laboratories (UL) has made firefighters aware of additional dangers they may face when fighting fires in multiple dwellings. We now know, thanks to the research on wind-driven fires conducted by NIST, that an open window and an open door in a fire apartment can be a deadly combination. It allows wind to enter the window and blow fire out of the apartment door and into the public hallway. It is very important for firefighters everywhere to understand that wind-driven fires are not a phenomenon that occurs only in high-rise buildings; these fires can seriously burn firefighters fighting fires in “low-rise” buildings and one-story private dwellings.

UL research has demonstrated that fires involving modern synthetic petrochemical-based household furnishings can reach flashover in less than four minutes. This is a fraction of the time that it takes for fires involving older types of furnishings made of natural materials such as wood, wool, and cotton to reach flashover. Today’s fires reach flashover quickly because just about everything in a modern American household is made of some form of plastic. As a result, fire departments should consider that their chances of controlling fires while they still are in the incipient phase with a water fire extinguisher before a hoseline is in position have greatly diminished over the past few decades.

UL tests have also demonstrated that fires in an enclosed space can consume the oxygen available and become “ventilation controlled” or “ventilation limited,” diminishing in intensity. These tests should serve to warn firefighters that when they open a door to a fire compartment they allow air to enter and may cause a fire deprived of oxygen to roar back to life with ferocious intensity.

Another factor that has made firefighting in multiple dwellings more dangerous in recent years is the proliferation of illegal partitions constructed to divide an apartment into two or more single-room occupancies. These partitions can block a firefighter’s escape path to a door or fire escape and can interfere with a nozzle team directing its stream on the seat of a fire.

Difficulties and dangers caused by illegal partitions and the lessons learned from recent research of fire dynamics are compelling reasons for fire departments to ensure that ladder company firefighters who precede an engine company to the fire floor and floors above in a multiple dwelling thoroughly understand the risk of operating in a hostile environment without the protection of a charged hoseline. Their assignment is to locate the fire apartment, identify the attack stairway, and estimate its distance from the fire apartment—critical information that must be reported to engine companies so they can stretch the correct amount of hose.

Firefighters operating before a hoseline is in position can also locate and rescue occupants of the fire apartment, the public hallway, and stairwells. Additionally, these firefighters may effectively isolate a fire by skillfully applying a stream from a water fire extinguisher and closing doors. These firefighters perform vital functions but do so at great risk: the risk of being burned by a flashover or wind-driven fire. These firefighters also risk being trapped by illegal partitions and finding themselves in a desperate situation: having to choose between getting burned and jumping from an upper-floor window.

Before forcing a door to search a fire apartment before a charged hoseline is in position, understand that the apartment door is the only thing that stands between an environment that is immediately dangerous to life and health (IDLH) and a relatively tenable public hallway occupants are using to escape the fire. Realize that there is a possibility that opening the door to the fire apartment will cause a ventilation-limited fire to rapidly intensify or allow a wind-driven fire to spread into the public hallway and that it is almost guaranteed that it will allow smoke to fill the public hallway, rapidly eliminating it as a viable means of egress. When you encounter a door that is isolating a fire within an apartment, ask yourself the following:


Consider this incident that occurred in Florida: An engine company was stretching a hoseline to a working fire on an upper floor of an apartment building. The company officer decided to stretch the hose dry to the door to the fire apartment because the apartment door was effectively containing the fire, keeping the public hallway clear and tenable. Additionally, the company officer knew that his three-person crew would have to operate alone for several minutes before additional companies were on the scene and that he did not have sufficient personnel to advance a charged hoseline from the floor below the fire, up a return stairway, and down a long hallway.

His plan was to lay out 50 feet of hose at the apartment door before he ordered the hoseline to be charged. The officer was familiar with the size of apartments in this building and was confident that 50 feet of hose, a “working length,” would be sufficient to reach all points within the fire apartment. The officer also had planned to flow the nozzle in the hallway prior to forcing the door to the fire apartment to ensure that the stream had adequate reach and volume. He knew that once the door to the fire apartment was opened, the hallway would fill with smoke and fire could blow from the doorway. His plan was to ensure that there were no civilians in the hallway and that he and his company were ready to fight fire with their self-contained breathing apparatus masks in place, hoods pulled up, and gloves on before forcing the door to the fire apartment.

Unfortunately, police officers responding to this fire had a different plan. They intended to evacuate the fire floor and rescue any trapped occupants. The police officers rushed past the firefighters stretching the hoseline and began knocking on doors, ordering occupants to leave their apartments. They then kicked in the door to the fire apartment.

The open doorway allowed smoke to fill the hallway, which quickly became untenable. The well-intentioned actions by the police at this fire resulted in two police officers and several occupants going to the hospital for smoke inhalation and a delay in attacking the fire that spread from the open apartment doorway into the hallway. Untenable conditions in the hallway required the first-arriving engine company to wait for the arrival of sufficient personnel to stretch a charged hoseline from the floor below the fire.

The critical shortage of staffing experienced by the fire service in recent years has decreased the number of firefighters that can be committed to search operations before a hoseline is in position and operating on a fire. Many fire departments today do not have enough personnel on their first-alarm assignment to search and rapidly stretch a hoseline.

Saving the lives of occupants is clearly a fire officer’s first priority at a fire in a multiple dwelling, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone has to be physically removed from harm. Often, the most effective way to protect the lives of those endangered by fire in a multiple dwelling is to protect them in place by rapidly stretching a hoseline and getting water on the fire. This action isolates and controls the fire that is the source of toxic smoke and flammable gases that threaten occupants and firefighters. Rapid control of a fire also protects the greatest number of occupants with the least number of firefighters by protecting exit paths, such as hallways and stairways. This reduces the possibility of firefighters having to resort to ladders to rescue occupants, which can be very personnel-intensive.

Getting water on the fire and confining the fire to the apartment of origin can facilitate a protect-in-place strategy, keeping conditions in the building favorable for occupants to remain in their apartments. This is often the case at fires in modern noncombustible or fire resistive public housing buildings. Protect in place is definitely the preferred strategy when a fire occurs in a building filled with elderly residents who must use walkers or wheelchairs to move about and are totally dependent on elevators to leave their building. When an understaffed fire department faces the dilemma of not having sufficient firefighters to search and stretch a hoseline, rapidly getting water on the fire will probably save the most lives. Consequently, assigning firefighters to search ahead of an engine company may actually deplete the number of personnel necessary to rapidly stretch and advance a hoseline.


Sprinkler systems required by fire and building codes in recent years have had an impact on hoseline operations. How? The next time you are in a modern, fully sprinklered residential building, take a look at how far apart the stairways are. Stairwells in modern sprinklered buildings can be hundreds of feet apart because fire and building codes allow the maximum travel distance to exits to be significantly greater in buildings protected by automatic sprinklers (photo 1). Nothing enhances the fire safety of a building more than a properly designed, maintained, and operating sprinkler system, but a fire in a sprinklered residential building can require substantially more hose to reach a fire apartment from the closest stairwell as compared to a similar building constructed before sprinklers were required. Any firefighter who says, “Don’t worry, we’ll never have a serious fire in this building because it is sprinklered,” has never experienced a wet, nasty, smoky fire in a sprinklered building.

(1) Firefighters training in a sprinklered apartment building begin to pull sufficient hose to the apartment door so that the nozzle’s stream can reach every point in the fire apartment. Codes allow stairways in this building to be 230 feet apart because the building is sprinklered. (Photo by Chris Martinez.)

Guard Against Complacency

Some firefighters put too much faith—blind faith—in sprinklers, which can lead to complacency. Firefighters who believe that they will never fight a serious fire in a sprinklered building also play right into the hands of politicians and city administrators who use sprinkler protection as a justification to cut fire department staffing. In my view, many fire officers lack sufficient knowledge of fire suppression systems and how they affect firefighting operations. The distance between stairways and the amount of hose necessary to reach a fire in sprinklered buildings is just one example. Many fail to realize that sprinkler systems in residential buildings are designed primarily to protect occupants, not to fully extinguish a fire. A friend of mine and his engine company rescued two elderly residents from a smoky fire in a fully sprinklered condominium building. A large wall unit entertainment center stood in front of a sidewall sprinkler head in the room of fire origin. This delayed activation of the sprinkler head and obstructed its discharge on the fire. Subsequent activation of sprinklers outside the fire room did confine the fire but cooled the smoke and pushed it to the floor, resulting in near-zero visibility in the fire apartment and hallway.


There is a difference between stretching hose and advancing hose. In Parts 2 and 3, we will examine methods and techniques for performing both tasks. Stretching hose is laying uncharged hose. Stretching dry hose must be performed in a tenable atmosphere, such as outside a fire building, on the floor or stairs below the fire, or within the refuge of an enclosed stairway. Hose can be stretched, uncharged, directly to the door of a fire apartment, provided the hallway is tenable and no one opens the door to the fire apartment until sufficient hose is laid out at the apartment door to reach any point in the fire apartment and the hoseline is charged, bled of air, and flowed to determine the quality of the stream’s reach, pressure, and volume of water flowing.

Additionally, as we saw in the incident involving the police officers, opening the door to the fire apartment will allow smoke and possibly fire to spread into the public hallway. It is, therefore, critical to clear the hallway of residents, police officers, and security guards before the door to the fire apartment is opened.

Advancing hose is moving it toward the fire once it is charged with water. Clearly, it requires more firefighters to advance a charged hoseline up stairs, around corners, and down hallways than it does to stretch it when it is dry, because once it is filled with water, it is heavier, and it must be moved around every corner and for each change of direction. Ideally, a firefighter should be positioned at every corner, doorway, and stair landing to keep a charged hoseline moving.

Now, consider that a crew of three well-trained firefighters can stretch more than 300 feet of dry hose if it is properly arranged in folds or horseshoes that play out hose as firefighters walk around corners and climb stairs. Because it takes fewer firefighters to stretch dry hose than to advance it when it is charged, it is a good idea to stretch a hoseline as close to the fire as is safely possible. Do not, however, stretch dry to a fire apartment when the hallway is full of smoke. Obviously, the hallway is smoky because the door to the fire apartment was left open when the occupants fled or fire has burned through it, allowing smoke and possibly fire into the hallway. Stretching dry to the fire apartment under these conditions is very dangerous because at any moment a window in the fire apartment may fail and cause a wind-driven fire to spread into the public hallway, and firefighters will not have the protection of a charged hoseline.

Additionally, experienced firefighters know that it is very difficult to stretch dry hose when visibility is limited because they can’t see where it catches or “hangs up” on things and where slack in the hose will cause kinks to develop once it is charged. A hoseline stretched in limited visibility can end up jammed between rails in a stairway or wedged under the bottom of an open door, which becomes a very effective hose clamp when the line is charged.

Don’t attempt to advance a hoseline without sufficient personnel; the operation is destined to fail when the line catches on corners and kinks where it changes direction. Say that the first engine company to arrive at an apartment fire is staffed with a crew of three—an officer, a driver-engineer, and a firefighter. The fire is in an apartment on the third floor of a five-story center-hallway building that has fire-rated enclosed stairwells at each end and a bank of elevators in the center. The size-up indicates that the fire apartment is 100 feet from the closest stairway and that the public hallway on the fire floor is full of smoke.

Advancing a charged hoseline to this fire may require as many as six firefighters if the building has return stairways (that is, stairs) that change direction at each half-landing. One firefighter must be positioned to pull hose laid out on the floor below the fire and push it up the stairway to a second firefighter at the stair half-landing between the second and third floors, who keeps the hose moving to a third firefighter at the third-floor stairway landing. These firefighters “feed” hose to a nozzle team of three firefighters, who advance the hoseline down the hallway and through the fire apartment. This engine company does not have sufficient personnel to advance a charged hoseline to this fire, but this company does have the personnel necessary to stretch hose from their apparatus to the fire building, up the attack stairwell, and lay it out on the floor below the fire. This will get the hoseline in position, ready to be advanced once additional personnel arrive.

At this fire, the company stretches 100 feet of hose to reach the fire building from the apparatus and one 50-foot section to reach the second floor. This company will then carefully lay out 200 feet of hose on the second floor to avoid kinks when it is charged and facilitate a smooth advance. Some of this hose can be laid on the stairs because they are enclosed and relatively clear of smoke. The 200 feet of hose will allow for a 50-foot section between the second and third floors, 100 feet to reach the fire apartment from the attack stairway, and an additional 50 feet of hose to reach all points within the fire apartment.


You may be asking if stretching 350 feet of 1¾-inch hose in the previous scenario would result in excessive friction loss and pump discharge pressure. That would depend on the following factors: First, what is the friction loss in 1¾-inch hose at the recommended flow of 150 to 180 gallons per minute (gpm)? This flow is necessary to rapidly suppress residential fires involving today’s petrochemical-based synthetic materials. Each fire department has to answer that question by flow testing its specific brand and model of hose. Friction loss varies so widely across manufacturers and models (grades) of hose that a friction loss chart developed by a fire department or hose manufacturer may be totally inaccurate for another fire department using a different brand of hose.

For example, my department uses hose that develops 25 pounds per square inch (psi) of friction loss per 100 feet at 180 gpm; that’s less than half of the friction loss of “bargain” hose manufactured in China. A second factor to consider is the nozzle pressure. Many fire departments have retired their combination nozzles that operate at 100 psi and replaced them with solid tip nozzles that operate at 50 psi or “low pressure” combination nozzles that operate at 75 or 50 psi. Less pressure required at the nozzle leaves more pressure available to overcome the friction loss in a longer stretch of hoseline.

Now, let’s do the math for our 350-foot stretch to the third floor. Remember, the hydraulic calculation is the following:

Pump discharge pressure = nozzle pressure (NP) + friction loss (FL) + elevation (EL; roughly 5 psi for each floor above the first floor).

Say the nozzle pressure is 75 psi and the friction loss in the 1¾-inch hose at 180 gpm is 30 psi per 100 feet or 15 psi per 50-foot section.

In the previous scenario, the firefighters stretched 350 feet—that’s seven sections × 15 psi per section for a total friction loss of 105 psi. The hoseline was operated on the third floor, two floors above the first, for a total elevation loss of 10 psi. Add the nozzle pressure of 75 psi, the friction loss of 105 psi, and the elevation loss of 10 psi for a pump discharge pressure of 190 psi, a pressure that’s far from excessive.

Some fire departments, however, operate with 1½- or 1¾-inch hose with high friction loss that would have to pump extremely high pressures to achieve flows of 150 to 180 gpm through 350 feet of their hose. These departments can reduce their friction loss and pump pressures by stretching two- or three-inch hose and reducing it to 1½- to 1¾-inch hose near the fire.

For example, in the previous scenario where firefighters stretched 350 feet of hose, 150 feet were laid from the apparatus to the fire building and to the second floor. You can reduce friction loss and pump pressures in this scenario by replacing the hose stretched from the apparatus to the second floor with 2½- or three-inch hose. The additional weight of the larger hose won’t be a factor because that part of the stretch isn’t going to move once it’s charged; only the last 200 feet will be advanced to the fire. An excellent way to combine 2½-inch and 1½- or 1¾-inch hose is to “finish” a static hosebed of 2½-inch hose with sections of the smaller hose configured in a reverse horseshoe to facilitate hand-stretching (photo 2). The smaller hose is connected to the 2½-inch hose by a gated wye or a 2½-inch nozzle with 1½-inch male threads (photo 3).

(2) This 2½-inch hosebed is “finished” with 1¾-inch hose configured in a reverse horseshoe to facilitate hand-stretching. (Photo by Enrique Rodriguez.)
(3) A 1¾-inch hose is connected to a nozzle on a 2½-inch hoseline. Note that the bail is lashed in the open position to prevent it from being accidentally closed if the nozzle is moved. (Photo by Edwin Barbosa.)

Fire departments looking to increase flow and reduce friction loss in their hoselines should strongly consider two-inch-diameter hose because it is an excellent balance (mix) of the maneuverability of 1½- and 1¾-inch hose and the gpm flow of 2½-inch hose. Fire departments considering two-inch hose should not purchase it solely on information provided by a salesperson. It should be extensively flow tested and deployed in hose evolutions to make sure it is right for their needs.


You should have learned some of the most important information to be considered in a size-up of a multiple-dwelling fire by preplanning the building months or years before the fire occurs. You must conduct prefire planning of the multiple dwellings in your response district to operate intelligently when there is a fire. For example, parking lot gate codes, apparatus access, and the locations of hydrants and fire department connections are data that should have been ascertained before a fire and compiled in a prefire plan.

Stairways are a very important consideration in a size-up. Following is vital information for a preplan of a multiple dwelling:

A well is the space between stair risers that makes it possible to stand on the ground floor and look straight up at the top of the stairwell. A well opening is a welcome sight for firefighters because it allows them to stretch hose vertically up the well without having to lay it on the stairs. A well opening in a stairway significantly reduces the amount of hose, time, and effort necessary to reach an upper floor because hose does not have to be laid on the stairs. One 50-foot section of hose can reach as high as the fifth floor (photo 4).

(4) Hose is stretched up the stairway well opening and secured with a strap. One 50-foot section can reach as high as the fifth floor when stretched using this method. (Photo by Eric Goodman.)

Similarly, the presence of windows in a stairway is valuable information that should be obtained during prefire planning. Windows in stairways allow firefighters to drop a rope to the ground and hoist a hoseline up the side of a building. This, like the well stretch, allows one 50-foot section of hose to reach as high as the fifth floor. Firefighters who stretch hose up a well opening in a stairwell or hoist it with a rope, in essence, install a “portable standpipe” in a building.

Information pertaining to hallways is also very important. Determine and document their length and configuration, the presence of dead ends, and whether hallways are enclosed or exterior—open air—which are commonly found on apartment buildings in Sunbelt states and motels throughout the country (photo 5).

(5) An exterior hallway is commonly found in apartment buildings in the Sunbelt and in motels throughout the country. (Photo by Eric Baum.)

Note the presence of windows in a hallway. This is important information because firefighters will not have to force entry into an apartment to access a window to hoist a hoseline by rope. For example, center-hallway apartment buildings typically have a window at each end of the hallway, for natural illumination, within a few feet of a stairway (photos 6-7). If you find stairs without a well opening and no window suitable for hoisting a hoseline, you may have no choice but to lay the line on the stairs as you stretch up a stairway. This can require as much as one 50-foot section of hose per floor.

(6-7) Windows at the ends of a center hallway are ideal for hoisting hose with a rope because they are usually right next to a stairwell, as seen in photo 7. (Photos by Eric Goodman.)

Look at the apartment numbering system, especially if the first floor is a parking garage. In that case, apartment 109 can actually be on the second floor. This can confuse companies given an assignment on a specific floor. Also, determine if a building has the same pattern of apartment numbers on every floor. For example, is apartment 409 directly above apartment 309 and directly below apartment 509? This information is vital to locating a fire, determining the closest stairway to the fire, and estimating the amount of hose necessary to reach it. Later, we will look at a scenario where firefighters consider this information in their size-up for attacking an apartment fire.


When responding to a report of a fire in a large multiple dwelling, you must resist the urge to stretch hose until you have determined the fire’s approximate location. At some fires, you won’t know where to spot apparatus until the fire is located and the stairway closest to the fire has been identified. Ideally, a ladder company will precede engine companies to locate the fire, but for many fire departments today, it will have to be the job of the first-arriving engine company because, often, it is the only company on the scene in the initial stages of the incident. The first company to arrive at a reported fire in an apartment building will conduct an investigation to determine the location and extent of fire while other companies stage in the street.

In my department, this company will begin a search for a fire in a large residential building equipped with a thermal imaging camera (TIC), forcible entry tools, a 2½-gallon pressurized water fire extinguisher, and rope bags to hoist a hoseline or conduct a search. It also carries 200 feet of 1¾-inch hose arranged in one 100-foot and two 50-foot bundles (photo 8). This hose is not intended for use with a standpipe; remember that this article pertains to buildings that are not tall enough to have standpipes.

(8) This company, searching for the fire in a multiple dwelling, is equipped with a thermal imaging camera, hydraulic and conventional forcible entry tools, rope bags, a water extinguisher, and one 100-foot and two 50-foot hose bundles. (Photo by Eric Goodman.)

The company will begin its search by viewing as many sides of the building as possible. The first indication of fire may be from windows not visible from the street. A large building may require another company to view the exterior while the investigating company enters the building. The investigating company will first check the fire alarm system annunciator panel, if present, and put the elevators in phase I recall. The intention is not to use the elevators for firefighter transportation but to prevent their use by residents and to ensure that no one is trapped in them. The company will then ascend a stairway while quickly looking for smoke at each floor landing. Once the fire is located, this company will direct companies to the proper entrance gate to the complex, the correct side and wing of the fire building, and the closest stairwell to the fire.

As the first officer to arrive on a multiple-dwelling fire, I have made the mistake of spotting apparatus in the wrong location and stretching hose to the wrong area of a building. In my haste and excitement, I relied on inaccurate information provided by residents, police officers, and security guards. Don’t let the wind fool you; it can force smoke out of the leeward side of a building when the fire apartment is hundreds of feet away on the windward side.

I first experienced this as a young lieutenant when my company responded on the third alarm for a fire in a large apartment on an upper floor of an upscale condominium building overlooking a marina. On our arrival, heavy smoke was pushing from the east end of the building. Companies, thinking that the fire was at the east end of the building, advanced hoselines from the east stairwell and could not reach the fire. Actually, the fire apartment was at the extreme west end of the building. You can find yourself in a dangerous situation when you don’t realize that there is fire below you.

Say the resident of apartment 406 reports smoke in her apartment. Firefighters find smoke and begin to stretch a hoseline to the fourth floor. What they fail to realize is that the fire started on the stove in apartment 306, penetrated the soffit on top of the kitchen cabinets, and is extending vertically in the wall concealing the plumbing stack. Conversely, sprinklers and air-conditioning systems can fool firefighters by cooling smoke, reducing its buoyancy, and causing a smoke condition on the floor below the fire.

Additionally, central air-conditioning systems can recirculate smoke to floors below the fire. It is a good idea to take a quick look at each floor for smoke as you climb the stairs to the reported fire floor. Additionally, a company should check the basement and apartments directly above and below the fire apartment as soon as possible.

Say that firefighters have reliable information that there is a fire in apartment 409. They judge the report to be reliable because, on arrival, they were met by a woman standing in the snow wearing a robe and slippers and holding a small dog. The woman said that there was a fire in her apartment (apartment 409). She tells firefighters that she was cooking breakfast and somehow a fire started on the stove. Firefighters equipped with a TIC, a water extinguisher, tools, and hose bundles force an exterior door to a stairway. On entering the stairway, firefighters notice that it has a well opening that will allow them to stretch one section of hose vertically without having to lay it on the stairs. This information is transmitted to the incident commander and companies operating and responding to this fire.

Although the firefighters are confident that the fire is on the fourth floor, they follow their department’s procedure, which requires them to open the stairwell door on each floor and take a quick look for smoke in the hallways. They find a light haze of smoke on the third floor and hot black smoke from the floor to the ceiling on the fourth floor. They are familiar with the building because they recently preplanned it and because they respond there on medical calls at least twice a week. They know that apartment 309 is directly below apartment 409 and has the same floor plan. With that knowledge, they locate apartment 309, determine its distance from the closest stairwell, and call for a hoseline to be stretched up its well opening to the third floor.

TICs have made locating the fire much easier and safer. With a TIC, you can ascend to the floor below the fire and rapidly move from stairway to stairway.

At each fire floor stair landing, check the stairwell door for heat; don your mask, hood, and gloves; and carefully open the door leading to the public hallway. At the doorway, look through the smoke in the hallway with the TIC for an indication of heat. If nothing is found, descend to the floor below and move on to the next stairwell.

Search ropes can be used alone or in conjunction with a TIC. It is a lot faster and easier to advance down a smoky hallway with a rope than with a hoseline, but it can be risky because a rope offers no protection if the fire finds you before you find the fire. It is relatively safe to use search ropes to locate a fire in a sprinklered building if you are confident that the sprinklers are controlling the fire. Experienced firefighters know sprinklers are having an effect on a fire when they encounter a “fog” of thick, white, humid, cool smoke.

Say a fire occurs in a fully sprinklered apartment building and firefighters can tell from the smoke that the sprinklers are having an effect on the fire. They familiarize themselves with the floor below the fire to learn the layout of the hallway and determine that there are stairways at each end of the building estimated to be 150 feet apart. Two firefighters attach the end of a 100-foot search rope to the hinge of a stairway door on the fire floor and close the door to keep it clear of smoke. The rope plays out of the bag as they rapidly proceed down the smoky hallway listening for the sound of water flowing from a sprinkler head. These firefighters know that when they reach the end of the rope, which is secured to the bag, they have extended 100 feet in a hallway that, by their estimate, measures 150 feet. If they have not located the fire at this point, they know it has to be closer to the stairwell at the other end of the building (photo 9).

(9) Firefighters search for fire with a thermal imaging camera and 100 feet of search rope. (Photo by Enrique Rodriguez.)

No fireground function saves more lives than stretching a hoseline and getting water on the fire. This has always been true, but the behavior of today’s fires and reductions in fire department staffing make it more important than ever.


1. “Stretching Hoselines to Upper Floors of Residential Buildings” Parts 1-3, by Bill Gustin, appeared in Fire Engineering in September, October, and November 2003, respectively.

BILL GUSTIN is a 39-year veteran of the fire service and a captain with the Miami-Dade (FL) Fire Rescue Department. He began his fire service career in the Chicago area and conducts firefighting training programs in the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean. He is a lead instructor in his department’s officer training program, is a marine firefighting instructor, and has conducted forcible entry training for local and federal law enforcement agencies. He is a contributing editor and an editorial advisory board member for Fire Engineering and an advisory board member for FDIC. He was a keynote speaker for FDIC 2011.

Bill Gustin will present “Hoseline Operations for Multiple-Family Occupancies” on Thursday, April 19, 2012, 1:30 p.m.-3:15 p.m., at FDIC in Indianapolis.


Sep 29-30, 2011 Intelligent Firefighting “Be Aggressive . ..Don’t Be Stupid”

With Capt Bill Gustin, Miami Dade Fire Rescue Double Tree Milwaukee City Center Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Sep 29-30, 2011 Intelligent Firefighting “Be Aggressive . ..Don’t Be Stupid”

With Capt Bill Gustin, Miami Dade Fire Rescue Double Tree Milwaukee City Center Milwaukee, Wisconsin