Does your department lay its own line from a hydrant or do you bring it to the scene via Tankers? Each has its own challenges. First let’s look at laying a supply line. Some departments require the first in engine to lay a dry line and the second due charges the line. Others require the first in engine to establish their own water supply. While other departments have the second due catches the hydrant and secures the water supply. When catching your own hydrant, some issues arise.
Does the hydrant:
1. Sit on the same side of the road as the incident?
2. Located on the opposite side of the street?
3. Located across the intersection?
The second and third points listed can cause some major problems if not identified early. These can cause access for additional companies (engine or truck). In the event that the points number 2 & 3 are in a subdivision with a dead end street this can be devastating to the cause. Understanding these choke points in the initial stages of the incident is critical and the information needs to be relayed in the event that the first due decides not to catch their own hydrant and requires the second due to accomplish the task at hand. Making sure that the second due engine is aware of the situation can simply be accomplished by having them acknowledge the radio transmission.
Another point to bring up, does your department dress the hydrant or just make a single connection? We respond to fire alarms, expecting the worst. Why not dress the hydrant and allow for multiple connections at the hydrant to allow maximum flow (not pressure) to the fire attack engine. A few extra seconds on the front side, will allow things to run much smoother ten, fifteen or thirty minutes into the operation when things go south and “big” water is required.
Engineers or apparatus operators need to understand how much water can truly be flowed through the pump when dealing with low pressure or crappy hydrant pressures. Understanding what type of hydrant system you are on also helps in making the decision to catch multiple hydrants (loop or dead end main).
Have you practiced for those situations where you have a large house or a “big box” in your first or second due, establishing a water supply with hydrant locations/poor water pressure. Have you discussed this with your officer riding the seat or shift supervisor in any contingency plans? Does your department allow you to make those decisions? Or do you respond and lay line because that is the way it has always been done? Does your department have a contingency plan for a “dead hydrant” scenario? You are on the first in engine, catch the hydrant and lay 800ft to the scene. Your hydrant man radios to the officer and states the hydrant is dead. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, this should be expected. Nothing ever seems to go right on a fire scene. The engineer and officer do not need to allow frustration to set in. This will make the scene go from bad to worse. Communication with the second or third due engine companies will help make this bad situation better. Without communication or a plan in place, things will not go as planned. We as firefighters like things to go as planned.
Now let’s take a look at rural water supply. Some things need to come into consideration when dealing with fire flow and the needed water at the scene.
First what does your department have for resources? Is it a standardized fleet of tankers or a makeup of different size tank capacities and dump/fill times? What does your mutual/automatic aide departments have and when was the last time you trained with them?
Where are the locations for your static water sources? Are they ponds, streams or dry hydrants? Are the dry hydrants well marked and maintained? When dealing with a mobile water supply, you need to realize that this is an incident within an incident. A water supply officer needs to be appointed to handle and coordinate the operation. Based on water tables at the static source, water supply points may have to be changed during an operation. An additional engine is needed for the water supply point. All of this has to taken into consideration during a either a large or small scale incident.
Positioning is just as critical for mobile water supply as catching a hydrant is. In the event that the first in engine positions wrong and does not have good access to the incident itself, not having good access for the tankers to come in and drop their water and be able to turn around or make a loop can be just as devastating to an incident as large diameter hose blocking the road. Stagger your tankers if at all possible. Have at least one of them at the water supply point with that engine to help set up the site, while the other one is at the fire scene. This will help to start a loop of a never ending water supply. As additional tankers arrive the water supply officer needs to place those in the loop as needed. The determination needs to be made early if you are going to do a truck to truck supply. Again, plan ahead and be thinking of that mobile water supply and how to transition from truck to truck to the mobile water supply.