Water Supply Stuff


Water Supply Issues

Just a few issues and concerns with water supply, something most of us take for granted.


Hydraulic Reserve

Having one good water supply is never adequate. What if something goes wrong?  Lose your water and lose the building and maybe people too.  Even if you only plan for one water supply, you should be prepared and set up for a second supply.  In North Hudson, we respond four engines on the initial alarm for a reported fire.  We have an attack pumper just past the front of the building that is supplied by a second pumper.  The first ladder gets the building (front).  The third engine backs down to the ladder with the fourth engine in a position to supply the third.  Thus, our initial alarm provides for two possible water supplies.  At large fires with multiple exposures, I have used as many as five water supplies.  This has to be planned for and since we usually don’t have the luxury of a water supply officer, I am it.  So I tell my engine officers that if they are responding on a second or greater alarm, they must be prepared and positioned to deliver an additional water supply.


The Use of Manifolds

I touched briefly on this a few months ago. I like to make use of the manifold or portable hydrant as it is called in many areas.  When you are dealing with narrow streets and you need additional water at the front of the building (or the rear), nothing works better than the manifold.  You can get several large diameter handlines from one manifold as well as supply for a master stream or well-placed ground-mounted deck gun.  The key is to forecast the need.  As your additional alarm companies are coming in, radio one of them to bring a manifold in and find water at a hydrant somewhere away from the fire building, usually on a different grid than that being used for the initial attack operation.  You will find that this is a quick way to get extra water, especially if you have exposures to protect.  Sometimes you have to get creative here.  I have had companies drag manifolds and supply hose from the street behind the fire building through an adjacent alley to get it to the fire block (make sure you get them help doing this).  Sometimes that’s the quickest way (and maybe the only way when streets get congested with fire apparatus, police cars, civilian vehicles, and onlookers.)  You can also make good use of cross streets when bringing in extra water.  The key is to know your grid, to set the expectations with your engine company officers that when arriving on additional alarms, they should be thinking water (probably the most important point here), and to request it early so that companies are not already positioned and have to backtrack to get it.  Remember:  your companies want to help – give them a chance by making your requests at a convenient time for them, preferably when they are on the response but before arrival.

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Operations such as at the rear of a structure are very conducive to manifold operations. One manifold can supply several large diameter lines that can used for exterior fire attack and for exposure protection.  (Photo by Ron Jeffers)


Flushing hydrants

Hydrants should be flushed (flowed) before hooking up to them. There is nothing worse than laying out your supply lines, being hooked to another company in a relay-type fashion, completing your hydrant hook-up, and then find you are connected to a dead hydrant.  This causes unacceptable delays on the fireground, especially when we are dealing with one of the initial water supplies.  We had a similar issue one time when an engine company was feeding a master stream that was being used to protect an exposure.  The lines were connected and the engine found they were on a dead hydrant.  This caused a delay in operation and we had to temporarily use a 2 -1/2” line to protect an exposure when a master stream was a better choice for the situation.  The lesson to be learned here is to flow the hydrant before you connect to it.  If it doesn’t work properly, you have saved yourself time and you can get on the radio to let command know there will be a delay.  It is just like in a high rise where you need to flow the standpipe on the floor below the fire before connecting the attack lines.  First, you need to make sure there is water.  Second, you want to flush out any debris or other “stuff” that may be in the hydrant (or standpipe)  Some departments make it a habit to flush hydrants on routine responses, even if there is no fire.  That way if the hydrant doesn’t work, it can be brought to the attention of the proper organization to fix it.  This is better than having it fail when we need it.

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Is this hydrant in service or just in detention? First you have to get to it, then you better check it before using it.  We should know if it is usable before the fire  (Photo by AA)


Bumping is a term we use in North Hudson for one of the ways of establishing a water supply. We utilize this style of water supply most of the time in fact.  You might call this technique by another name,  but for us, it came from the pre-regionalization days of the old Union City (NJ) Fire Department.  I remember as a young firefighter when I was back in the Weehawken Fire Department, we used to hear this term on the radio and wonder what they were talking about.  It turns out that bumping is a term used to describe a two-engine reverse lay.  It can be accomplished in any situation, but works best on a narrow street.  The key is that the first two engines must arrive before the first-due ladder company.  In this case, the first engine pulls past the fire building and establishes command.  The second engine enters the block (ahead of the ladder company) and “bumps” the first arriving engine to water supply duties.  The second engine now becomes the attack engine.  If you listen to North Hudson on the scanner, you will often hear transmissions such as, “Engine 5 is on the scene, (size up information is then given with command establishment), Engine 5 has the attack.”  The next transmission might be, “Engine 4 is on the scene, Engine 5, we are bumping you, Engine 4 has the attack.”  Engine 5 will then acknowledge that they have been bumped and calls the water supply.  It is a good system, but there are some traps for the officer who is not paying attention to the radio.

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Here at this job, Squad 1, the second-arriving engine, is just past the fire building and is being used as the attack engine. Ladder 3 has the building.  The supply line for Squad 1, which bumped the first-arriving Engine 17 (at the hydrant below), can be seen off to the left of the apparatus.  (Photo by Ron Jeffers)

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The key to the bumping technique is that the first two engines arrive in quick succession. If they don’t and the first engine has pulled hose, the second engine will get stuck behind them and block the access for the first-due ladder.  It is a dual responsibility here.  First, the initial arriving engine officer has to announce over the radio that he or she is “stretching a line” so the next engine will know that the first engine is committed to the attack.  He then has to get the water supply by going around the block and backing in.  This means that the second due engine officer must be paying attention to the transmission of the first-arriving engine so he knows not to pull into the block if hose is being stretched.  Where narrow streets are encountered, it is a very efficient way to establish a water supply, provided communication is effective.  When it is a routine part of the operation, it is second nature.

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As a pump operator, sometimes you have to do what you have to do (Photo by Ron Jeffers)


Enough for now

Be safe out there

Quote of the month: A successful person can lay a foundation with the bricks that others throw at him

Questions, comments, column suggestions, kudos, or criticism – email is deputy1@optonline.net

Tune in with me and Chief Jim Duffy from Wallingford, CT to Fire Engineering Blog Talk radio for Fireground Strategies and Other Stuff from the Street.  Our next show is August 1.


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