Competence in Moving Water

Effective fire departments can deliver the needed amount of water to the proper spot very quickly.
Any hostile fire event requires water to extinguish with few exceptions. Effective fire departments can deliver the needed amount of water to the proper spot very quickly.

Looking at the many videos of fires posted online, where adequate water is available and properly applied, the outcomes are usually good. On the contrary, slow application of less than desirable amounts water leads to fire growth and more damage.

Departments that strive to be outstanding need to realistically evaluate their available resources with respect to water delivery. This will allow them to develop the best methodologies for the movement of water from the source to the fire. The basic principles are that faster is better, and more is better. Based on this, departments need to look at how to improve speed and volume. Consider all aspects of water delivery—staffing, training, apparatus, equipment, and water supply. The resources need to be in sync for effectiveness and efficiency. For example, if you do not have enough people to deploy larger lines—i.e., 2½-inch attack lines—it ultimately takes too long to get in position to change the outcome. If your water supply is inadequate to feed the number of lines you intend to use, the streams will not be effective.

Arguably, the most important component of moving water is human resources. While technology and improvements in equipment and apparatus provide some efficiencies, firefighting remains a labor-intensive business. There are limitations as to what can be done based on staffing levels. It may be the aspect of setting up the water supply, either through a hydrant system or tanker shuttle operations. Ideally, having someone at the fire truck and someone at the hydrant provides the fastest connection. But, some organizations do not have the resources, and the same person does both. Although they can practice and be good at what they do, they cannot be as quick as two people. Tanker operations require someone to drive and to be at both ends of the operation. This takes staffing from the fireground, but moving the water from the source must be done.

The equipment should also match the staffing and expected fire load. For example, consider supply hose. Ideally, everyone wants to use the largest supply line available to get as much water as possible, just in case. The department practices also come into play—forward or reverse lay options. What size is best? The one that handles the problem. Consider your historical successes and potential threats. Was a lack of water the cause of any previous unsuccessful jobs? If it was, you need to prepare to deliver more water. If not, look at other aspects to improve efficiencies. One size does not fit all, and selecting your methods because someone else did is not valid. Circumstances change from department to department.

The water source is important in considering your options. How much water is available, and how it is removed from the source? In the case of municipal service, know the main size and the age of the system. Obviously, smaller mains deliver less water, but you also need to factor in the age to ascertain if the main is no longer at its original size because of corrosion or age-related issues that could lead to failure or restrictions. Private systems have their own challenges. They may not be maintained and probably are built to very minimum standards. Tanker operations rely on the source. It could be a body of water or a hydrant system. Previous knowledge of your options is essential in delivering water to the fire. You can only move the water that is available at the source.

One challenge that exists, particularly in departments that don’t experience a lot of fires, is maintaining competence in water delivery. Even in departments that do have more activity, a realistic assessment of the number of fires by shift and station could reveal inconsistent activity across the spectrum. Though a department may be busy, all individual crews may not. There are two elements that are part of this. The first is to establish an acceptable standard for the volume of water required and the time it takes to get that amount. The second is to practice regularly to maintain the standard that you set. It should be an aggressive standard that takes effort to attain.

The training requires sound knowledge of all components of the delivery system. There are tools needed to get the water from the source, whether hydrant wrenches or the necessities for drafting from a pond, lake, tank, or other fixed source. The basics of pumps are relatively consistent, but there are nuances based on manufacturers and the age of the pump. It is good to know if there are variations among your fleet. Pay special attention to reserve pieces that may be older and have differences from newer apparatus.

Departments that have designated drivers have an advantage but cannot get complacent. Drivers may be transferred to different stations with slightly different vehicle operations. In those cases, they have the responsibility to check the apparatus to ensure competence first thing when they get to their station.

In smaller and on-call organizations, everyone may have responsibility to function as a chauffeur. No doubt there will be different levels of competence, but there must be a minimum standard. This standard should not be interpreted to be as just getting by but what is acceptable to do the job properly. Don’t set this minimum low just because folks are incapable of meeting the standard.

There has been much debate on the place for safety relative to the need to deliver service as has been promised to the citizenry. Yet, these are not mutually exclusive goals. One area that they match is in moving water from the source to the fire. Competence in this discipline accomplishes both—provides quicker extinguishment, which, in turn, makes the environment safer. Departments need to be realistic in the assessment of their capabilities based on staffing, training, and the associated apparatus and equipment. As many, if not most, departments see the number of structure fires leveling off or decreasing, the need to be really good at the basics has never been more critical. This takes effort. It is easy to get lost in the other elements of the job or have a belief that previous successes guarantee future success regardless of how long it has been since the last operation. Take this seriously, and stay on top of your water delivery operations. It is important to your community and to your personnel.


RICHARD MARINUCCI is the executive director of the Fire Department Safety Officers Association (FDSOA) and chief (ret.) of the White Lake Township (MI) Fire Department. He retired as chief of the Farmington Hills (MI) Fire Department in 2008, a position he had held since 1984. He is a Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment and Fire Engineering Editorial Advisory Board member, a past president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), and past chairman of the Commission on Chief Fire Officer Designation. In 1999, he served as acting chief operating officer of the U.S. Fire Administration for seven months. He has a master’s degree and three bachelor’s degrees in fire science and administration and has taught extensively.

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