Fire hose is the longest piece of equipment we carry on the engine. Most engine companies (between the 1¾-, 2½-, four-inch hose) carry a combined inventory of approximately 1,000 feet of fire hose or more. But the engine is more than a pump to deliver water. It’s our tool box. Not every emergency we respond to requires us to lay lines and flow water. However, unique situations require us to use our heads and use our tools. One of my goals has always been to get firefighters to think creatively, to problem solve and think outside the box. Here are some other uses for fire hose that don’t involve flowing water and drills to help you practice employing them.
Establishing Collapse Zones
Risk assessment size-ups are ongoing at a dynamic fireground. Part of firefighter safety is establishing a collapse zone, usually defined as one and a half times the height of the building. Of course, that’s limited to the width of the street in front of the building and the height of the building. Obviously when you’re dealing with a high-rise building, the collapse zone changes to a perimeter safety zone, which ends up being 200 to 300 feet. Nevertheless, how does an incident commander (IC) mark off a collapse zone to ensure every firefighter understands where the edge of the collapse zone is?
Simply stating over the radio, “All units, be advised: A collapse zone has been established on side A,” may not be sufficient. One and a half times the height of the building will be estimated differently by each firefighter. An IC can order that fire scene tape be used to clearly mark the zone, but what if it’s very windy or you can’t find a stationary object to tie off the scene tape? I’ve been there. Consider using fire hose to establish the outside perimeter of the collapse zone. If you have more than one engine company at the scene, you’ll have plenty of hose.
Drill: Mark the Collapse Zone
In this drill, Firefighter A shoulder loads 100 feet of dry 2½-inch hose. Firefighter B anchors one end of the 2½-inch line while Firefighter A lays out and establishes the safety perimeter of the collapse zone. Additional lengths of 2½-inch hose can be connected until the job is complete. Now, the IC can announce over the radio, “All units, be advised: A collapse zone has been established on side A with 2½-inch hose.” There is no question where the outer safety perimeter is. The IC can rest assured that the safety zone is not subjective because it is clearly delineated for maximum firefighter safety.
Other types of alarms we prepare for are terrorism attacks using weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and dirty bombs. Some of these terrorist tactics can contaminate large crowds who have congregated in public assemblies like stadiums, shopping malls, and subways. Hazmat accidents can also contaminate large crowds. In either case, one fire department tactic used to mitigate these incidents is mass decontamination. Civilians may have to be decontaminated before they are treated and transported to an emergency room. Transporting contaminated patients only spreads the hazardous product to people, vehicles, and facilities that are not affected, complicating the problem.
Fire departments mitigate this by setting up gross decon corridors. There are various evolutions to accomplish this. It may be as simple as setting up a 1¾-inch handline to hose people off with water. More serious incidents may require contaminated civilians to disrobe and walk through a commercial tent and shower system specifically designed for mass gross decon. The biggest challenge in a mass gross decon operation is organizing and keeping the affected (and distressed) public calm. Fire hose can help.
A delineation line can be marked off by laying a few hundred feet of hose with instructions for civilians to remain behind the fire hose. A large square can be constructed (100 x 100 feet) with instructions for the civilians to remain inside the square until they can be deconned. Lanes can be created to separate the men from the women. This is important when firefighters are constructing a decon corridor using tarps and the apparatus. Every reasonable effort should be made to protect the privacy and dignity of individuals when they are required to disrobe for decon. The hose can be arranged in a “V” pattern to create a funnel point. Eventually the crowd can be merged into single file.
Drill: Using Hose to Corral Civilians
Setting up this drill is easy. Most primary and secondary schools have a monthly fire drill. Contact the school principal and ask if the students can participate in a fire department drill while conducting the fire drill. Since it’s conducted during the fire drill, it doesn’t take any additional time away from the school schedule. I have never had a principal refuse this request. Set up squares, delineation lines, or “V” pattern lanes with fire hose out in the parking lot or the play field (wherever the students usually gather) before the fire drill starts. As the students start to file out of the building, use a bull horn to give directions to the students. Students can be separated by gender or grade level. Once the kids are corraled, the IC can determine where the funnel point will be. Have the kids file through the funnel point on the way back to class.
Sections of dry fire hose can be arranged in an “X” to make a landing zone for helicopters. Hose can be arranged in large squares to create areas for red, yellow, green, and black triage designations.
Fire hose is also used in water rescue. Coupling caps have been designed with an air chuck fitting, which allows the hose to be charged with compressed air to create a floating boom. If you have an incident with numerous people in the water, the air-charged hose can be floated out for multiple water victims to grasp. The hose (a floating chain) can be pulled back in to shore, making multiple rescues in one evolution.
Recycling old hose is also possible. Hose cut into small sections can be used for chain saw scabbards (sheaths), ax scabbards, edge protection, and covering the butt end of a side-mounted ground ladder of an apparatus. This safety application is accomplished by cutting approximately three feet of 2½-inch hose, inserting each end over the spurs, and sliding it up each beam of the ladder. This helps prevent someone from accidentally walking right in to the butt end of a ladder that extends beyond the tailboard of an engine.
Use the right tool for the job, especially with tools that were designed for a specific purpose. But, when that equipment isn’t readily available, you have to think outside the box and improvise. Fire hose isn’t just for flowing water. It’s a tool, and sometimes fire hose can be the best tool to solve the problem.
RAUL A. ANGULO, a veteran of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department and captain of Ladder Company 6, has more than 30 years in the fire service. He is a member of the Fire Apparatus and Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board. He is also on the Board of Directors for the Fellowship of Christian Firefighters. He lectures on fire service leadership, company officer development, and fireground strategy and accountability throughout the United States, Canada, and Mexico.