Is There Still a Need for Booster Lines?

Saying there’s no need for booster lines today or claiming they’re tools of the past doesn’t objectively answer the question. Not wanting to alienate reel manufacturers, I’ll say a booster line can be a valuable tool in facilitating specific fire suppression applications.

In the early 1960s, my volunteer department, like many others, regularly used booster lines for initial attack on structure fires. The booster was pulled for light smoke showing or fire at one window. If decent smoke was showing, or fire was visible at two windows, a preconnected 1½-inch was pulled if the rig had one. Fire at more than two windows or on two floors necessitated a 2½-inch stretch and hopefully a nearby water source.

It wasn’t smart then, and less so today, to charge into a burning building with a ¾-inch or one-inch line flowing between 12 and 23 gallons per minute (gpm). We were taught the ¾-inch booster flowed 12 gpm, and progressive departments ran one-inch boosters because they doubled the flow and were better for structure fires. Defining light smoke, decent smoke, and knowing which line was better was learned on the job and passed down by word of mouth.

Boosters extinguished many fires inside structures; however, those beyond the earliest incipient stages took a while to do so. Some were simply beyond the capabilities of the venerable one-inch Rockwood SG-60 nozzle designed to flow 20 gpm @ 100 pounds per square inch (psi) nozzle pressure (NP). Today, there’s an accepted minimum 100-gpm requirement for initial attack lines, with some having greater than 200-gpm capabilities. Hence, booster lines flowing plain water (no additives) at low gallonages and 100-psi NPs are ineffective for structural firefighting. Times and tactics have changed; however, all booster reels should not be scrapped.

My bias against booster lines is directed at traditional pumpers designed for structural firefighting that only occasionally respond to vegetation and nuisance fires such as trash cans (not dumpsters) or small mulch fires easily extinguishable with a couple of water cans. It doesn’t include anything inside or in close proximity to a structure. Nor does it include vehicle fires where firefighters are likely confronted with gallons of flammable liquids.


Apparatus specifically designed to fight vegetation fires regularly use booster lines. I am not disparaging booster line use in the wildland urban interface (WUI) arena, nor am I demeaning departments that primarily respond to such incidents. Manufacturers such as Elkhart Brass, Akron Brass, and Task Force Tips advertise nozzles for booster and forestry use with flow ranges varying from 12 to 25 gpm, 13 to 60 gpm, 13 to 40 gpm, and 10 to 30 gpm. Perhaps justification for the aforementioned 12- to 23-gpm theory is the Elkhart Brass S-205-BAF available in 12- or 23-gpm flows. Consult manufacturers for data on NPs, single gallonage, variable gallonage, automatic nozzles, and straight tips for booster use. Note: Nozzle manufacturers do not promote them for structural attack.

Busy departments running full-sized structural pumpers to numerous vegetation fires can probably justify a booster’s expense just for saving time in picking up. When suburban areas become developed, vegetation fires may only account for a limited number of responses. Specifying a booster line “just because we’ve always had one” may result in inadvertently purchasing an expensive tool for fires seldom encountered.


Manufacturers advertise reels in the 1,000- to 3,000-psi operating range. National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus, recognizes ultra-high-pressure (UHP) pumps in Chapter 28, stating they must have a minimum capacity of six gpm and a rated discharge pressure equal to or greater than 1,100 psi. It also mentions UHP pump capacities being from “less than 20 gpm to 300 gpm.” Manufacturers, end users, and more versed commentators have written extensively about compressed air foam systems (CAFS) and UHP pumps with booster reels used for forestry, vehicle, aircraft rescue and firefighting, and structural firefighting. CAFS have been used in conjunction with booster reels as well as collapsible hose. One manufacturer’s literature states, “This state-of-the-art portable CAF System, with 500 cubic feet per minute of power, is capable of discharging the one-inch booster line at 300 gpm of finished foam.” I haven’t seen a definition for high-pressure (HP) pumps.

I have no experience in how to use, when to use, and what type of fire to use a CAFS or a UHP pumping system in conjunction with booster lines. Discussing how many calories it takes to turn water to steam, the efficient size of water droplets, the benefits of wet and dry foams, and what foam additives to use is best left to industry experts and pump manufacturers. I believe the UHP is one step up from the John Bean-FMC HP pumps of years past that operated in the 600- to 800-psi range with apparatus regularly equipped with two reels of one-inch booster hose.


Cost benefit analysis is a process to determine the benefits achievable for an investment made while considering obvious disadvantages. The following “firehouse cost benefit analysis” pertains to specifying a booster line for full-sized pumpers that infrequently respond to vegetation and nuisance fires. An electric rewind booster reel with 200 feet of booster hose, nozzle, and rollers recess-mounted above a midship pump house probably runs $3,400 to $4,000.

  • A questionable benefit is a system capable of only delivering 12 to 23 gpm.
  • It will cost more than $300 per gallon to deliver 12 gpm or $160 per gallon to deliver 23 gpm.
  • Squeezing pennies? Two 100-foot lengths of collapsible one-inch polyester forestry hose with couplings costs about $230. Store it in a duffel bag in some out-of-the-way place if only used once a month for nonemergencies. Use an existing reducer on a side discharge for the few times needed. It’ll cost $10 per gallon to deliver 23 gpm.
  • A disadvantage is losing storage space above the pump house.
  • Another disadvantage is adding weight to the apparatus.
  • A bigger disadvantage when permanently mounting it in a compartment is the loss of probably one of the largest and lowest compartments on a pumper. A brilliant investment?
  • A major disadvantage—and a hazardous one at that—could be someone pulling an undersized hoseline for the job at hand.
  • Comparing weights, two 100-foot lengths of ¾-inch booster hose weigh around 80 pounds. Two 100-foot lengths of one-inch booster hose weigh about 120 pounds. Two 100-foot lengths of one-inch collapsible forestry hose weigh about 10 pounds. Which would you prefer to drag around behind you?
  • A 1,500-gpm pump flowing 25 gpm through a booster line is operating at less than one quarter of one percent of its capacity (0.0166 percent). That doesn’t sound too efficient.
  • Some one-inch nozzles on the market flow from five to 60 gpm. Averaging the flow to 30 gpm, the friction loss for 30 gpm in one-inch booster hose is 13.5 psi per 100 feet. It’s three times as much in ¾-inch hose.

There can be a need for booster lines. It may be beneficial to first identify the hazards. Then, determine the flow or product necessary to mitigate the same. Analyze the best system or tool to deliver the desired flow or product. If it’s cost-effective, a booster line just might be a good tool.

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.

No posts to display