Is there a right number of preconnects for pumpers? Two views.

FA Viewpoints
Preconnects allow flexibility and a wide choice of options on the fireground.

How Many Preconnects Is Too Many?

Departments preferring static hose loads and reverse lays are not included in this discussion. Their method of firefighting is accepted without comment. Many departments use 1½-, 1¾-, and two-inch preconnects for initial attack, probably flowing less than 200 gallons per minute (gpm). Preconnects allow flexibility and a wide choice of options on the fireground. They’re fast and easy to deploy with limited staffing. Preconnects shouldn’t be limited to attack lines. It is irrelevant if the engine company using them is career-staffed. What is important is the number of firefighters on that first rig and how long it takes for more to arrive.

Two Perspectives

I address preconnects from two perspectives. One is when a real pumper is designed specifically for firefighting where the primary and possibly sole purpose is humping hose. The other is when a multifunction rig is first due and its limited space may be prioritized for nonpumper functions. Rescue-pumpers, tanker-pumpers, or quints might only have a bare minimum of preconnects and supply hose let alone what is recommended, desired, or actually needed. My dissertation is restricted to real pumpers. The quantity, lengths, diameters, flows, and purpose of preconnects should be based on each district’s physical characteristics. Single-story 1,000-square-foot ranch houses and wide residential streets require different tactics than densely populated areas with side-by-side 2½-story wood frames, mixed commercial and industrial areas, narrow streets, and inclement weather (snow).

The Backup Line

In the latter scenario, I prefer a choice of 150-, 200-, and 250-foot preconnected attack lines. My next preference reflects my old-school belief in having preconnected backup lines one size larger flowing at least 250 gpm. If the first line can’t handle it or fireground conditions turn to hell in a handbasket, I don’t want a backup line with the same limited capabilities as the first. The crew could be in trouble and need help. I want big water and I want it fast. Hopefully, the pump operator has already flaked one out on the front lawn and charged it. The 250-gpm line can be used for initial attack when situations warrant. And, there should be more than one.

I don’t always agree with the doctrine that the second line pulled should be an attack line stretched to the floor above the fire. But if that’s your procedure, preconnect it and make sure it’s 50 feet longer than the first one. Bear in mind that it can’t effectively function as a backup line when it’s located above the fire floor.

Preconnect Lengths

If all preconnects are the same length, the initial attack is limited to that distance from the engine. I favor a preconnected “long line” of 200 feet of 2½-inch with a conical reducer and 200 feet of 1¾-inch. The original concept was using a 2½-inch playpipe with the 1¾-inch attached to it. However, the playpipe’s handles impeded stretches, and its bail could get kicked shut as could a leader line wye’s handles. Pump pressure is within reason because of the lower friction loss in the 2½-inch. And, any preconnect can be broken down and used piecemeal. Possible uses are at large commercial and industrial buildings, schools, shopping malls, apartment complexes, and anywhere parked cars and snow could impede access. Has your first due ever ended up at an annunciator panel or committed where you really didn’t want it to be?

At the Pumper

Pump operators (called engineers in some locales) seldom pump multiple lines of various lengths and sizes at different pressures. Using relief valves, gating down discharges, and pumping the pump may have given way to push-a-button engine governors set for one pressure only—while the pump operator is off doing other chores. That could influence choosing preconnect lengths.

I dislike seeing 2½-inch discharges with caps masking their usefulness. After the deck gun and large-diameter discharges, the rest can be used for preconnects. Large static loads of three-inch or 2½-inch look impressive, but are they functional with limited staffing? How many people and how long does it take to pull four or five lengths, find and attach the required appliance or nozzle, make the stretch, disconnect, and hook to a discharge?

A preconnect’s usefulness and potential may be neutered unless the purchaser has predetermined the flow required and the piping is engineered by a manufacturer, fully described in purchasing specs, and certified on delivery. A front bumper 2½-inch discharge could possibly supply two 1¾-inch preconnects. One piped to the rear might be capable of supplying two more. If 250 gpm is expected from a 2½-inch preconnect, could a three-inch valve and line piped to the rear supply two of them, or could a 2½-inch valve with three-inch piping suffice? Ask. Gated wyes and hosebed dividers are inexpensive. Remember, you don’t have to—and probably will not—use all of them at one time. Formerly capped discharges could be preconnected to hose in running board troughs or at the rear with leader line wyes, ground monitors, or left with open butts for quick sprinkler or standpipe hookups. Don’t forget the preconnects in crosslays and speedlays.

Naysayers say too many choices might confuse the troops. They might not know which length to pull. Really? Are they smart enough to know whether to pull a 1¾-inch or a 2½-inch? Can they figure out which door to make entry? Do you let them drive the apparatus? Give them credit or educate them. Label hosebeds: 1ST FLOOR, 2ND FLOOR, FRONT DOOR, BACK DOOR, BACKUP LINE, LONG LINE, TRASH LINE, GROUND MONITOR, or whatever works locally. Think outside the box.

Preconnects may not be the ultimate answer. Have backup plans in case preconnects aren’t long enough—perhaps a couple of dead lengths underneath each bed, maybe a small static load, or spare hose on a dry electric reel. Not every department carries hotel packs or whatever you call spare bundled hose with a nozzle. Look at preconnects from a standpoint of speed, options, efficiency, and inadequate staffing. They’re extra tools in the toolbox—maybe not used all the time but there if needed.

BILL ADAMS is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board, a former fire apparatus salesman, and a past chief of the East Rochester (NY) Fire Department. He has 50 years of experience in the volunteer fire service.


What Is the Right Number of Preconnects?

What Is the Right Number of Preconnects?

When asked about the correct number of preconnects on any engine, I would have to ask the department a series of questions:

  • What does your response area demand of your engine?
  • What is the bulk of your building stock?
  • What is your most unique hose stretch in your area?
  • What is your high-risk/low-frequency building?
  • How committed are you to stretching attack lines?
  • How committed are you and the department to initial water supply?

Determining the answer to just these questions can help you look at how many preconnected lines you might want to put on your engine and also how much valuable space in the rear hosebed, crosslay area, and front bumper you are willing to use for these hoselines.

Preconnect Locations

The standard two crosslays on most engines can hold roughly up to 250 feet of attack line and are mounted forward in the pump module area of the engine. This standard option was based on what manufacturers heard from customers on what they needed for making that initial stretch on their basic fires. The majority of the time that works on the basic house fire or apartment fire. The positioning of the engine usually took the front of any structure and operated straight from the pump panel to the front door. It was simple and it worked. As tactics on firegrounds have evolved regardless of your population or call volume, the understanding of engine company operations and truck operations has spread through the fire service. This defining of operations for individual types of apparatus—engines pull hose and squirt water, and trucks rescue and provide ladders and ventilation—has helped departments have a sense of standard operating procedures that were normally reserved for larger departments.

This dedication to engine work has helped move forward the design and layout of current engines today. The use of the space on engines has moved from being all-hazards, cookie-cutter, manufacturer-designed units to water- and hose-delivering apparatus. Written specifications and options now are driven by handline deployment and their setup on the departments’ apparatus. This is where we have to look at our building stock, what are we running each day, and what handline is our most efficient for rapidly applying water. Then, where are we going to place these lines on your rig? Are we going put them in the standard pump module area or the crosslay, or are we going to operate off the rear of the rig or in some departments’ response areas off of the front bumper? Where we put these preconnected lines also dictates the engines’ tactical positioning on the fireground. For example, if you are running front bumper preconnects, you would most likely stop short of the structure. Lines off the rear require positioning the engine beyond the fire building. Both of these positions benefit the hose stretch and leave room for the truck company’s arrival. This engine positioning is a practice that has to be enforced in driver training and operating procedures.

Harrisburg Example

A unique and very well-thought-out use of the preconnects is in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, one of my favorite departments to write about and where tight urban streets and a dedicated and well-thought-out tactical plan have apparatus with four crosslays over the pump panel. A 200-foot and 250-foot line is off of each side of the rig. Harrisburg’s rigs provide crews with the initial line right off the bat with the 200-foot line for the vast majority of the city’s rowhomes and then the 250-foot line right next to it for the second company to back up the first engine or make the stretch to the exposure building or next floor in the structure. These four crosslay configurations are rare to see but well-planned-out for that department’s operations, staffing, and tight streets in its response area. On top of that, Harrisburg has all its big lines and long lines off the rear of the rig for a seemingly endless number of preconnects.

Second Line Locations

So, we have our primary attack lines set up for our normal building stock and optimally positioned our engine on the fireground. Now we have to look at the second line or the backup line. This line is normally going to follow the first line and go to the area of most likely extension or go to an exposure building. Based on your area’s response district, the department has to determine the size of this line and the desired length and also where it is going to be placed on the rig for easy deployment by the second arriving engine or next arriving crew. Most departments will use the rear of the engine to place this line so it can have an extended length to reach those areas in the building where it might be deployed.

As we keep adding lines to the rig, tactical reasons drive these decisions. Regardless of whether you are a bedroom community or a department with a large number of apartment buildings or large structures, we have to have a long line. This line normally can be anywhere from 300 to 400 feet long or even longer depending on your buildings. It is usually made up of one size of hose or a combination of 2½- or three-inch hose initially and then 1½- or 1¾-inch as the final lengths to be maneuverable. These are normally called apartment lines or leader lines, and they can be racked in a number of ways on the apparatus, using up space on the rear of the hosebed and possibly with additional dividers to keep the hose separated and from falling on top of itself when it is pulled.

What about the big fire? What preconnect are we going to dedicate to that fire? Here we are at the back of the rig again and deciding what size attack line we are going to use when we show up and need to deliver big water on our fire. These lines can be anywhere from two- to three-inch lines and have a variety of devices on the end—fog nozzles, straight tips, or portable monitors.

1 The Harrisburg (PA) Bureau of Fire’s rigs provide crews with the initial line right off the bat with a 200-foot line for the vast majority of the city’s rowhomes and then the 250-foot line right next to it for the second company to back up the first engine or make the stretch to the exposure building or next floor in the structure. (Photo by author.)

1 The Harrisburg (PA) Bureau of Fire’s rigs provide crews with the initial line right off the bat with a 200-foot line for the vast majority of the city’s rowhomes and then the 250-foot line right next to it for the second company to back up the first engine or make the stretch to the exposure building or next floor in the structure. (Photo by author.)

Unique Structures

Alright. Are we done? No, we need to think about unique buildings in our area. Do these buildings require us to have a line that is dedicated to them? If so, what are the size and length of that line, and how is it going to be racked for deployment?

Remember that the engine cannot just be all preconnects—we have to save room for the supply line. This valuable line gives us the water to supply all these preconnected lines. You have to have dedicated space for the proper size and amount of supply line for your response district. It is crucial to the success of our firegrounds to have a reliable and dedicated water supply even on our most simple bread-and-butter fires.

So, as we add all these lines up, is that the correct number of preconnects that departments must have on their rigs? I think it gives departments a basic outline of the number of preconnects needed on engine companies. You certainly cannot have a preconnected line for every address in your area.

Firefighters and officers will always be the thinking part of hose deployment. Using this basic design of preconnected lines, can you and your department use them in ingenious and practiced ways to reach all the buildings in your response areas? Because without the practice and repetition of pulling and advancing these lines, all they do is take up space on your rig and will become problem stretches when you are asked to deploy them on a fire. These well-designed engines and preconnects are objects that only function with the skill of the firefighters.

RICKY RILEY is the fire apparatus manager for the Prince George’s County (MD) Fire/EMS Department. He previously served as the operations chief for Clearwater (FL) Fire and Rescue and as a firefighter for Fairfax County (VA) Fire & Rescue. He also currently serves as the rescue-engine captain at the Kentland (MD) Volunteer Fire Department. He is a member of the editorial advisory board of Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment.

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