I have been wanting to write about this for a long time now and wanted to keep it as basic as possible. I was talking with my wife trying to come up with an opening statement that would be basic and have enough information as possible to explain what I’m trying to say. So here’s what I asked her. When we go out in our RV a lot of times we set up a camp fire and sometimes when we are ready to call it for the night the fire is still burning so we like to put it out instead of letting it burn unattended. So here’s a question I asked my wife. If you have a choice of putting out this fire which is in about a 4 foot diameter enclosure with a squirt gun or a garden hose, what would you choose and why? Her answer was simple. I would choose the garden hose because it would put the fire out a lot faster.
I like to look at YouTube videos of large fires not just for the entertainment factor but for educational purposes. Again I asked my wife to watch one of these videos with me which showed a three-story wood framed residential complex, I’m guessing 50 by a 100 with the whole front of the structure well involved. Now understand that I was not present at this fire so I’m not going to really call this a critique of this fire departments operations. That would not be fair. Instead I am going to use it as a learning tool. The first line out on this large fire was 1-3/4” hand line which went to the exposure. The second line out was a 2 ½” hand line with the triple stack smooth bore tip combination with the entire stack still attached to it. In other words they were using the 1” tip and if it was being pumped correctly they were getting 210 GPM. Because my wife and I have been married 35 years now and I have been teaching this stuff for the same amount of time she is semi-versed in what my concepts and theories are all about. So I asked her is there anything else that they could be doing that might put this fire out faster and save the exposure? She said without any hesitation why don’t they fire up the deck gun and blast the shit out of it?
The concept of using large flow streams to put out fires is actually pretty simple and for that matter as far as firefighting goes also pretty safe for the firefighters. You’ve all heard statement ‘you have to match the GPM’s to the BTUs”. I go one step further and say that you have to overwhelm the BTUs with the GPM. I’d like to make a quick list for reasons why fire departments do not practice the overwhelming blast concept.
1. Firefighters do not understand their equipment and capabilities
2. Firefighters don’t understand the fire science of overwhelming BTUs with GPM’s
3. Lack of training.
4. Lack of understanding of water delivery not just from the discharge side of the pump but also in regards to water supply.
5. Firefighters tend to do what they have always done.
6. It’s not fun.
If your department is one of these that lacks insufficient water delivery for large fires I’m sure you can probably relate to some of these and maybe others that I have not talked about. The bottom line is we need to start thinking and practicing these big hits on certain fires to do a better job in controlling and finally extinguishing the fire.
Here is my theory on exposure protection. If there is an exposure problem with first in companies there is a decision to make. Do I protect the exposures with water application or do I knock down the problem that is creating the exposure, the fire? If you think that a direct attack on the fire can knock down the fire in seconds to a point where it is not hot enough to create the exposure then go for it. If not then the direct application of water on the exposure is warranted. If you choose to hit the exposure creator than knock the snot out of it. Hit it with everything you possibly can with in your limitations.
I’d like to talk about two different topics from my above-mentioned list that will greatly improve the knockdown capabilities of large fires. Usually when I discuss water delivery I always start with the water supply however in this section I want to start with required streams and then talk about developing the required water supply to feed the streams. The reason for this is simple. A lot of times bigger tips or larger flows are not used simply because they do not have the water to support them, or at least they think they don’t.
Deploying A 500 GPM Blitz Attack From Tank Water
This section is going to focus on fire attack on an exposure threatening fire based on a limited water supply, more commonly known as a blitz attack operation. It will be a worst case scenario being a 500 gallon booster tank and will be using 500 GPM for the flow rate for maximum knockdown power..
The most common initial hose deployment that most departments use when they are facing a threatening fire on tank water is to pull a small hand line, more than likely a 1-3/4”, which is used to protect exposures. The flow will usually range from 100 GPM to about 150 GPM. The reasoning behind this move besides protecting exposures is to conserve water until a water supply can be established. At 150 GPM a 500 gallon booster tank will last a little over three minutes. This might be enough time to get the uninterrupted water supply if the first in company laid the supply line, but at best it will probably be close. With a lot of departments going straight in on tank water and calling for the second due to lay a line you are really pushing your luck. Well what if the second due is delayed or doesn’t bring in the line? Now you are really in trouble because the fire that has caused the exposure problem is still causing the problem and there is no more water.
Yes, water puts out fire. The rate of extinguishment is based on the flow rate (GPM) of the water delivered onto the fire. Throughout the years there have been articles published talking about scientific statistics in regards to water and its abilities to put out fire in hopes of improving the process. Terms such as BTU’s, rate of application, fire growth rate, big drops, little drops, and so on. All of these somewhat scientific terms are probably right on, but what do they really teach us or tell us about what needs to be done about the application itself? It’s really simple. Put enough water on the fire to put it out as quickly as possible. When we make our attack we don’t think about all of this techno stuff. Our goal is to apply water at a high enough flow rate to do away with the fire problem as quick as possible or to at least slow it down.
With that being said, I would like to offer my perspective of what needs to be done to have a successful outcome. Are you ready, here it goes. If the company officer thinks it’s possible, don’t screw around with putting water on the exposure, just blast the fire!!! You heard it right. Put enough water on the fire based on the situation at hand to achieve at least a knockdown as quick as possible. A good definition of a knockdown on a fire for the blitz attack scenario is to hit the fire with an overwhelming amount of water to change the state of the fire from a fierce out of control and spreading situation to a more docile, non-exposure threatening state that will allow firefighters to regroup and get the proper lines in place to accomplish extinguishment.. It’s kind of like a one two punch. This tactic, if sized up and done correctly will have a real good chance of achieving a knockdown on a fire in seconds. This means the exposure will only be exposed for seconds instead of minutes. It’s entirely possible to get a five second knockdown with the correct weapon and ammunition (flow rate) of choice. .This holds true for the smallest of fires to the largest where an initial attack can be successfully done.
Based on using a limited water supply I think the application time for a blitz attack should be no more than 30 seconds. This goal, as tough as it may sound, has a good chance of being accomplished with the right flow rate. Always try to flow a maximum amount even if you think it’s an over kill. If you do indeed flow more water than the fire requires the only thing that will happen is that the fire will go out quicker.
When it comes to the proper tactics of water delivery itself there are several things to consider based on the situation at hand. They are water supply, amount of water needed (flow rate), water delivery system, manpower, and hose handling techniques if applicable.
No matter what method of attack is going to be used, you have to have the water to do it. Engine company booster tank operations need to be more precise in this type of operation because there is probably going to be only one chance at an attempt to get the fire. One big question that comes up when the fire is creating exposures is, with a limited water supply do we protect exposures or conduct fire attack. The best way to protect an exposure is to eliminate the exposure creator, the fire problem. A thorough size-up can determine whether or not hitting the fire first will accomplish an immediate knockdown. This is where real world experience with water volume versus fire volume (GPM VS BTU’s) comes into play. With that being said, what about the company officer that doesn’t have that experience yet?
The National Fire Academy (NFA) has developed a formula (LENGTH X WIDTH /3) that accurately calculates the required flow for a structure based on dimensions and fire involvement. Can it be used at the time of the fire? Obviously it is possible however, in my opinion, difficult at best due to the extreme situation at hand, the fire. However, this formula can be used as a training tool to determine the types of structures, based on size, in your area that could fall into the category of being 500 GPM blitz attack candidates.
The first thing to know with this type of operation is how much water is available and at what flow rate (GPM). Most booster tank to pump plumbing designs only allow a maximum of 500 GPM to be delivered from the tank to the pump. This is the NFPA minimum standard and most departments go with it when designing their engines. So should 500 GPM be used as the flow rate? Obviously the company officer will make the choice based on the fire volume. For now let’s say that 500 GPM will be the required flow.
If you are going to attempt a 500 GPM blitz attack from a 500 gallon booster tank the stars must be aligned. First make sure the fire is a 500 GPM fire or less. Again this is based on being able to get a knockdown within 30 seconds. These fires could include garage fires, mobile home fires, fully involved houses under 2000 square feet, commercial properties basically the size of a convenience store, and so on. And I will say it again, you are only trying for a knock down.
It’s important to realize that flowing 500 GPM doesn’t mean you will use 500 gallons of water. 500 GPM is the rate of flow. Think of the flow rate as it relates to using up the water supply as gallons per second because the knockdown needs to be accomplished in 30 seconds or less. 500 GPM is 8.3 gallons per second. The following sequence of photos shows a well involved 2 story residential structure that was hit with a 500 GPM stream that got a knockdown in 16 seconds. The total amount of water used was 132 gallons from a 500 gallon booster tank.
16 second knock down with the Big Paulie 500 GPM nozzle
The method of delivery can coincide with the manpower available to put it into play. There are two methods for implementing the big hit. The first is the fixed master stream AKA the deck gun. This is a one man job whether it is a manually operated appliance that requires the firefighter to be on top to work the appliance or it is remotely operated from the ground. It is important to know the exact pump discharge pressure for the deck gun in order to avoid cavitation of the pump by over pumping the device. In reality, even though the 500 GPM is the rule, most apparatus can deliver a little more. But the 500 GPM target flow should be kept. It is also important to not waste water in the application of the fire stream. Having the deck gun PDP obtained before the appliance is opened will help. One problem that could arise from doing this is opening the discharge under the required pressure if the discharge mechanism is the rod type of handle that works by pulling it out. NFPA requires a slow moving device to open and close the master stream valve which involves a wheel /gear type mechanism. This will alleviate the problem. The deck gun should be aimed at the target as much as possible again to help eliminate wasting water. Finally only use as much water as it takes to effect a knock down not an extinguishment. When an uninterrupted water supply is secured then the gun can be reopened to complete its job. There are two types of nozzles that can be used in a deck gun blitz attack, a combination nozzle (automatics are the most common) and smooth bore tips. Velocity and penetration can be crucial in an initial blitz attack to hit as deep into the fire problem as possible. This means that a high nozzle pressure should be used. Combination nozzles are usually rated at 100 psi but can go as high as 120 psi. The higher the better. The 1-3/8” smooth bore tip is rated to flow 500 GPM at 80 psi nozzle pressure. Using smaller size tips to get 500 GPM can also be accomplished without breaking the rules set by the manufacturers. For example the 1-1/4” tip flowing 500 GPM has a nozzle pressure of 115 psi and believe it or not the 1-1/8” tip can also flow 500 GPM at a whopping 175 psi nozzle pressure.
A 1-1/4” tip flowing 500 GPM with a nozzle pressure of 115 psi.
Going back to the 30 second rule, if after flowing the chosen stream and it is decided that a knockdown doesn’t seem possible, don’t use any more water, shut it down and regroup.
Now let’s talk about hand lines. More than likely if a high flow hand line is to be used for a blitz attack, the firefighters will be in a stationary position. If this is the case and the situation will allow, don’t stand up with the line especially at the higher flows. It will beat you to death and possibly indirectly reduce the flow rate if the nozzle guy needs to gate it down to handle it. Instead just have a seat. It’s a proven fact that the firefighter’s weight sitting on the hose is extremely helpful in eliminating the nozzle reaction effects. If a 500 GPM attack line is to be used it will take two firefighter’s accumulated weight to hold down the nozzle reaction effects. If lower flows are delivered it may only require one. Training in whatever line you choose will help you decide what works best.
The 500 GPM line will need to be a 2-1/2”. Flow tests have proven that a 2-1/2” line can be up to 200′ long and provide the 500 GPM flow at around a 200 psi PDP. Of course the design of the discharge plumbing will dictate the actual pressure needed. The 1-3/8” tip at 80 psi NP, a 1-1/2” tip at 55 psi NP, and a 500 GPM combo nozzle at 80 psi NP, or 100 psi NP are all good nozzle combinations.
The Big Paulie Blitz Attack Nozzle flows 500 GPM.
This same 500 GPM application can also be delivered through what I like to call the mini monitors. Basically the mini is a small version of a portable master stream light in weight and capable of a 500 GPM flow. It has a single inlet and can be supplied from a single 2-1/2” line.
Every apparatus should have at least one designated handline that can be used for a large flow operation whether it’s pre-connected or simply stored in the hose bed. It should have a nozzle that will flow a maximum amount of water based on equipment and policies of the department. Here’s a good example. A pre-connected 2-1/2” handline 200 feet long with the triple stack smooth bore tips which are all connected to the nozzle. I personally don’t believe in the triple stack tip because even though it gives the firefighter the opportunity to dial in the flow it seems to never happen. The entire stack is just about always left on the nozzle which means that the 1” tip is what is flowing and if it is pumped right the flow is 210 GPM. Let’s say that firefighter on the nozzle wants to go bigger and go to the 1 ¼” tip to get 328 GPM. In order to do this a different pump discharge pressure needs to be used. Now becomes a communication issue where the pump operator needs to know what size tip is being used on the nozzle to get the correct flow. A lot of times this can be a problem. Here is my recommendation. Keep one size nozzle in regards to its flow capabilities and nothing else. If its smoothbore tips keep the one tip on there that you would like to get the biggest flow from. So instead of keeping the triple stack tip on just have 1 ¼” tip. With this setup the firefighter will know what he is getting and the pump operator will know what to give him.
If you choose to go with a combination nozzle whether it’s an automatic or a fixed gallonage I suggest going to the maximum flow available from the nozzle. Most combination nozzles have a maximum flow ranging from 250 to 300 GPM. The key is to have one flow so there’s no confusion as to what will be delivered on the hand line. If it’s an automatic nozzle my suggestion would be to pump to the maximum flow that the nozzle is capable of. For example a 100 to 300 GPM automatic nozzle should be pumped as though it’s flowing 300 GPM. If for whatever reason the firefighter needs to gate down the nozzle than he can do that on his own without communication to the pump operator.
Okay now it’s time to increase the size of the fire. Remember the fire that I described to you earlier in this section that I saw on YouTube that was a three-story apartment complex well involved in the front. Now were talking about streams of it least 1000 GPM, notice I said streams. Again, a study of YouTube fires that are multi-company operations with the big guns flowing reveals a high percentage of the time the entire stack of tips are left on the master stream appliance. In fact one of the videos I saw had audio with it and you can hear the order being given to use the 1 3/8”tip. Well if that tip is being pumped properly you can expect 500 GPM. The problem is that the fire is probably a 2000 GPM fire. The same decisions need to be made on whether to protect exposures or hit the fire however this time one large and more complicated decision needs to be made if you’re going to hit the fire with the proper flow. Where might you get the water from? The fire on YouTube was in a major city and was a major fire department meaning that apparatus and fire hydrants were plentiful. This department used 5” large diameter hose and grabbed the closest hydrants to the fire. I’m not sure why they used the 1-3/8” tip but a common reason for this is because they ran out of water even using large diameter hose. I have a famous little phrase that I like to use all the time which states “the waters out there you just have to go get it”. Most departments with large diameter hose again lay from the closest hydrants and when they develop water supply issues they give up. Word gets back to the IC that they out of water and IC says everybody gate down to where we get streams that will reach the fire and guess what the fire eventually goes out.
Here’s what needs to be done. First of all if a master stream is going to be used for a sustained water delivery operation, in other words not a tank water blitz attack, the goal should be to supply the rating of the appliance. Most fixed mounted master stream appliances on engine companies are rated to flow 1250 GPM. This is not achievable with the 2” tip which is the largest in the stack because of appliance restrictions. A 1250 GPM master stream appliance has a maximum allowed inlet pressure to the device of 200 PSI, and based on the 1250 GPM flow with a 100 PSI nozzle pressure with a combination nozzle can only flow up to 631 pounds nozzle reaction. In my testing I have found that a 1250 appliance cannot reach 1250 with the 2” tip because of the nozzle reaction limitations. So with that being said either use a combination nozzle for 1250 GPM or set the goal for a fixed master stream with the 2” smooth bore tip for 1000 GPM.
Here is another example of a maximum flow operation from a single unit. The unit is a 2000 GPM elevated platform with a pump. Department SOP requires a 2000 GPM flow so here is the evolution that will produce it efficiently. The Quint gets the initial water supply with 5” hose from the closest hydrant. Unless the fire ground area is already being tapped by multiple hydrant use or if it’s known that the hydrant is weak, I don’t see a need to make this line a relay pump operation however it would not be wrong to set it up as one. Most hydrants cannot supply 2000 GPM but even if a hydrant can one of the issues that will encountered with this operation is an extremely high rpm from the engine on the Quint. What I recommend is to automatically lay a second 5” supply line back to a hydrant and set up for a relay/tandem pump operation which will bring in the extra water if needed and will assist the engine of the quint went by lowering its rpm’s because of the pressure being brought in from the relay.
This is a tandem pump operation. Notice the engine pumping in tandem 300 feet from the quint
Three minis flowing 500 GPM each from the same pumper
Whether a high flow hand line or master stream is going to be placed into service it needs to hit the fire. I know you are thinking, what does this guy think we are stupid? What I mean is move the stream around to hit as much fire as you can from your location. So often t. I see that when a big stream is aimed into a fire it looks like a big drill trying to drill a hole. It doesn’t move. It almost seems like they are trying to fill the building up with water from that point.
When a multiple master stream operation is going to be put into service to fight a sustained fire obviously this means that you have to have the water supply to deliver this flow. If the water is not available from the closest hydrants from the initial supply line another engine needs to reverse out to a more distant hydrant that is hopefully on another loop and relay pump. This is all stuff we used to do all the time before large diameter hose. Big water meant putting pumps on hydrants to pump to the engines that were delivering the water. LDH has made a big change in water delivery however the real magic in the hose realistically is for small fires that allows hydrant pressure to deliver the required flow. When it comes to the big fires where multiple master streams are needed more than likely we need to go back to the olden days in regards to our operations and set up the relay pump operations to move the required water. The good thing is that large diameter hose used in the relay will really move a lot of water especially compared to dual 2 ½ or 3 inch lines used in the olden days. As a little side note it takes five 2-1/2” lines to equal one 5” line and four 3” lines to equal one 5” line.
The logic for the IC should be not to wait for a water supply issue to arise. Expect it. Be proactive and immediately start the resources to set up for large water supply evolutions. Designate companies to start the reverses to other hydrants and set up for relay pumping. If the extra water is uncertain at the time, don’t charge the supply lines, just charge the hookups to the hydrant. If it turns out that the water is not needed than an uncharged line will be a lot easier to pick up. By having the line laid it will only take a couple of minutes to charge. On the other hand if you wait to lay the line until the water is needed the time frame for water is now looking like at least 15 to 20 minutes. Be proactive.
So if you agree with the concepts I have discussed and how it can be implemented especially on large fires with multiple master streams working. I will tell you firsthand that freelancing is not an option for implementing the operation. . Can you imagine individual units trying to set up multi-company operations that require specific hydrants and specific hose lays. A water supply or water management officer or officers needs to be implemented into the command structure specifically to design the hose evolutions. The water supply officer takes his orders from the incident commander in regards to the required flow’s and appliances to be used and implements it with the required hose evolutions which includes apparatus.
Maximizing all the ports on the hydrant with LDH
This Is Great Stuff, But We Only Have Two Stations
This book has presented a lot of information on large flow water delivery involving multiple companies. I am well aware of the fact that a lot of departments are not capable of some of the evolutions presented in this book simply because they don’t have the apparatus and manpower. If mutual aid is available, even if it’s not right next door, I feel it is extremely important to figure out a way to use them more efficiently. There are several things that can be done. One crucial adjustment that can be made is to have an automatic dispatch that sends mutual aid units at the very moment the first in units are dispatched. Another thing that can be done is to form strike teams for water supply delivery only. These units upon arrival go right to work stretching supplemental supply lines to the units that are already at work.
Well what about the one or two station departments that unfortunately have no help coming? If this is the case a lot of tactical decisions need to be made on how to deploy whatever manpower and equipment they have for the emergency at hand. For example a decision may need to be made that stops all interior attacks and just deploys heavy streams to try to save the block. A real good example of this was used in the Los Angeles riots in 1992. As you know hundreds of major structure fires were burning in the City of Los Angeles at the same time, and even though they ran a statewide mutual aid response, many large commercial fires were handled by a couple of engines.
Here’s the bottom line. Where there is a will there is a way. It may not always turn out to be the best operation possible but you would be surprised what a well-tuned group of guys can do when they get in a pinch. It requires a lot of training.