The First Due Rural Engine: Laying the Line

I recently have had a lot of suggestions and requests to post on some volunteer, rural, combination issues that the fire service faces. I started and am still a member of a mostly rural volunteer, now combination, department. My earliest exposure to the fire service was at this mostly rural department.

 We had a large majority of our fires outside of our public water area and our staffing was limited, just like it is today. Most of our trucks were single cab trucks that would seat two or three, depending on if the seats were buckets or benches. This was the fire service I was raised in. As time went on this department has become a functioning combination department.

But, it still has the same demographics of a large rural response area with the challenge of staffing after the first arriving unit gets on scene. In some cases those first firefighters will have to wait for over 20 minutes for the nearest mutual aid company. This, of course, causes issues with water supply, interior attack and other critical firefighting functions.

These are issues that the American fire service is facing all over this country. Along with the posts that I will be posting in the coming weeks, there is another great resource for rural to suburban tactics at County Fire Tactics. Be sure to check them out on their web site and on Facebook. This post will highlight some first due engine ops for water supply in the rural setting.

 Some of you may not agree with all of these suggestions, but these have worked and have been tested. But, if you have a better way, feel free to share.

 One of the biggest challenges for the first due engine, besides staffing, is securing a water supply. There are no hydrants and we don't always know when the first tanker will arrive. (In the Midwest we use the term tanker as a ground apparatus that carries at least 1000 gallons of water.) When operating in a response area that has public water, it is not uncommon for the second arriving unit to lay into the first apparatus from the hydrant. Our additional units are usually quicker to arrive and the fire has not progressed as far because our response times are faster. In the rural setting our response times are longer due to proximity and road miles allowing the fire to grow longer, thus consuming more of the structure.

 So, we will need big water sooner than what might be required in a hydranted area. We have to prepare for this situation before the call comes in. How we carry and load our supply lines is critical. So many times our hose and the loads we use are set up for our hydranted areas; because its easy and there is a lot of information out there on how to lay into and from a hydrant. Additionally, we usually don't have to got too far to get to a hydrant. This is not usually the case when we get into the rural setting. I'm not going to tell you what you should or shouldn't do, your department has specific needs. But, I will offer some examples that have worked. When setting up your hose bed, you need to know what appliances will be used to distribute water to multiple apparatus. Have those appliances readily available and ready for deployment. Don't hide them away in the twilight zone that requires a heavy mover to get to. Make them accessible. This will speed your hose deployment and get you water faster. You need to have a good familiarity with your rural response area. Laying 900 feet of hose and still having 400 feet to the fire can cause a delay in getting water. Ideally, we want to be able to get to the fire building as the first due engine. So, you may have to be deliberate in where you lay your line. In doing that, laying away from an intersection or half way up a road or drive, leave a cone at the coupling for visibility. Have enough hose! As the first due engine dropping line can be a very smart move, if done right. When laying your line the first issue is to not take up the road or drive. Get to one side of the road or drive and lay it out on that side to allow other apparatus access. It might be worth having a firefighter follow the truck to guide the hose to one side of the road. This will pay dividends later. Doing this also gives you a guide to how much hose your laying and can relay that to the next in unit or your water supply tanker. You need to communicate to your next arriving unit what side of the road your laying, how much hose and if you reached the fire building or not. This will determine if the second unit will be your relay or if it needs to finish the lay. Depending on your department's capabilities, you may choose to lay a 3" supply line, dual 3" lines or large diameter hose. We typically will lay dual 3" lines. This takes preparation for you hose loads and can shorten your lay.  

Additionally, if using LDH, a good rule of thumb to remember is that every foot of LDH holds one gallon of water. So, you see how this might be a problem in filling the line initially depending on how much water your supply truck carries. Finally, the first arriving engine needs to try to place their apparatus in a position that is conducive for additional units, access to the fire and possibly room for tankers to maneuver in and out of.  

This post is very basic and only outlines an option for the first arriving engine or apparatus. We will cover more rural topics in the coming weeks. In the meantime, let us know what you want to read about. Also, share if you have tactics that you have found to be beneficial. Thanks and train hard.


  • Jim Pisca says:

    I’m a chief in Wi., Northern Half.
    Our Department has 326 sqr mile coverage area, we have all the challenges in the world by us. Mutual Aid- 30 to 45 min. away. 25 yrs ago we covered the area w/ 900gals w/2 trucks. Today- we cover it with 5000gls, 3 trucks. The training has helped also, with better attacks and more & better results for the public. All of 2.3 sqr miles is Hydrant supported.. The City, has an ISO Rating of a “5”—-were proud of…. Foams have been a great VALUE toward our result also.

  • Mike Smith says:

    Our all volunteer dept does not have any public water supply to work with. Our first out engine carries 5 persons and 1000 gal. We operate 2 3000 gal tenders and the first one carries a 3500 gal. Drop tank. When it arrives, the 6″ hard suction is ready and waiting. We can draft off either side or the rear of the engine which makes positioning much easier. Our tenders have drivers side and rear dumps to give us best dumping options. All told, what we have seems to work well for our rural dept.

  • Sam says:

    Coming from a department that operates in a large area without hydrants, we almost exclusively use a tender shuttle system in the county. If your department has a tender or the capability to access one, a droptank can significantly increase your water supply and reduce your turnaround time for resupply. We will set a droptank at the operating engine and have the tender fill the droptank immediately. At this point our tender can return for water while our operating engine can draft from this supply. It will usually provide enough water to account for turnaround time for the tender. As the tender returns, they continue to fill the droptank so our operating engine consistently has an additional 1000-2000 gallons on top of tank water. We are fortunate enough to have enough tenders to supply these tanks in series (since turn around distance may be up to fifty miles), but even with one tender it allows you to start resupply without having to wait for the tender to be empty. This can also be done with additional engines if tenders are not available. One final thought is to consider additional water sources in non-hydranted areas. If your tender can draft then look to stock ponds, private ponds, lakes, rivers, etc. to decrease turnaround time and prevent your tenders from having to travel all the way into town for water supply.

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