By Ray McCormack
The decision on when to switch to a 2 ½ hoseline is often debated - and often not done when it should be. There are acronyms and parameters that have been developed and are taught to assist us in making the decision to switch. The debate does not usually surround the line’s usefulness or recognition of need, instead, it often centers on the firefighters’ effectiveness while using it. Firefighters and commanders need to make sure that we are effective in deploying and using this tool. The switch occurs because we evaluate factors that push us in a direction that is in opposition from our standard work- horse handline. Factors that influence the switch can be based upon: physical layouts, fire spread and magnitude, flow dynamics and emotions.
When we refuse to switch, the reason for the refusal must be examined, because that is something to be concerned about. Engine companies that fail to make the switch often do so because they are not comfortable with using this line. The fallback decision is a problem built on a platform of substandard training. We stand to lose a lot more than property when we are uncomfortable with both the thought of and the reality of using a larger hoseline.
If we fail to switch due to fear of failure then we are purposely using the wrong tool because of our short comings, - which is not what we should be doing. Every firefighter should have a reasonable idea of when to switch to a larger hoseline; every firefighter should be aware of the techniques of handling and advancing a large handline. We need to get past failure and excusal exemptions, and instead emphasize core training for our firefighters on how best to kill the enemy.
Physical layouts such as large open areas - where the reach and penetration power of a 2 ½ would greatly assist with extinguishment - should be a no brainer. The increased capability of a larger handline needs to overrule firefighter trepidation. Our safety on the fireground is based in a large part on proper service delivery. If we do not deliver the correct size flow, fire knockdown will take longer: increasing the odds of event escalation, delayed extinguishment, structural compromise and firefighter injury.
Emotional factors are present on the fireground. They can be obvious or muted, but they are always in play. Decisions based upon emotion are not always incorrect. Can you go wrong with more water? You can, if the switch to the large handline and the physical world you enter with it collide - resulting in a tedious or stalled advance. There is a big difference in barriers that are manmade and those that reside in choice. One is present for all to overcome while the other is optional.
So why switch to a larger line for occupancies where the smaller-size hoseline is the standard? Two contenders at the top of my list are: fire with entrapment and when a rapid knockdown of a heavy fire condition is immediately required to save lives. If these types of situations are present, you must decide if switching is appropriate. Just make sure that you are able to choose freely based on efficiency and in favor of tactical safety.
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