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Back to Basics: Backup man plays key role

Last month we discussed the proper techniques for effective nozzle management. In that article, I mentioned that we would look at the job of the backup man in more detail.

September 18, 2008
By Mark Van Der Feyst

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Last month we discussed the proper techniques for effective nozzle management. In that article, I mentioned that we would look at the job of the backup man in more detail. This person is going to be the workhorse of the team. Without this person, the task of advancing a hoseline becomes much more difficult and more time consuming. Whether you are advancing a hoseline with two people or with three people, the amount of work being performed by the backup man will be the same. In the full-time departments with fully staffed trucks, you will have three to four people advancing a hoseline; in the smaller departments, career or volunteer, you will have the two-man team advancing a hoseline into the structure. We need to practise the basics of the backup-man position so that we master the skill of this important job. With the number of fires decreasing, our chances or opportunities to practise this position are rare, other than in training. This position can be practised anywhere you have access to a hoseline, an engine to pump, and an open area in which to practise the backup-man job. Add in a few stairs, a standpipe or a few corners and you will have an excellent training session with real-life circumstances.  

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As mentioned, the backup person has a very important job to do. He is the sole support for the nozzle man. The job of the backup person is to take the nozzle reaction away from the nozzle man by supporting him with his full body weight. As depicted in photo 1, the backup person is right behind the nozzle man. Look at how he has his upper body buried right below the nozzle man’s shoulder. His whole body is supporting the nozzle man, thus taking away the nozzle reaction and stopping the nozzle man from moving back from the nozzle reaction. The only thing the nozzle man has to worry about is controlling the nozzle and suppressing the fire.

The hands of the backup man are on the hose – both hands, not just one. Many times we find ourselves having just one hand on the hose and our other hand on the back of the person in front of us. Why do we do this? Because we were taught this back in basic training (IFSTA 4th edition page 435, IFSTA 5th edition page 679). We were taught to have our one hand on the hose and the other hand on the back shoulder of the man in front of us so that we had proper spacing between the nozzle man and the backup man. We were also taught to have one foot placed behind the nozzle man’s to provide support. That works well if we are standing up posing for a picture, but when we are pumping 130 to 150 psi (900 to 1,000 kPa), we need to have both hands on the hose so that we are giving full support to the nozzle man. Without both hands on the hose, we are not taking away the nozzle reaction and not backing up the nozzle man effectively. Most times we are kneeling on the ground when advancing a hoseline for interior attack. Putting one foot behind the nozzle man’s foot does not work; we need to use our whole body.  

We wear bulky structural firefighting gloves. Our gloves hinder our ability to hold the hose effectively to provide support. Our structural firefighting gloves take away some dexterity from our hands. Usually, our gloves are too bulky, too big for our hands, not sized properly, too wet or too stiff (if they are dry). Our gloves work against us in some ways. They provide us with thermal protection, abrasion protection and weather protection but at the same time they take away our ability to use our hands to their capacity. If you have small hands to begin with, this will be your No. 1 enemy and will make your job even tougher. So, make sure you place both hands on the hose to support the nozzle man as depicted in photo 2.

The stance that the backup person takes is important as well. Look at photo 3. Notice how the backup person is kneeling. He has both knees firmly on the ground, which will allow him to support the nozzle man and support himself. He is rooted like a tree, which gives him more stability and will also give him more endurance for supporting the nozzle man. In martial arts, you are taught to take the horse stance when fighting. This stance allows you to have stability when fighting, giving you the advantage over the enemy. The same application can be used here; by having both knees on the ground, we are giving ourselves more stability and gaining a better advantage for hose advancement. In the August article, I showed a picture of the back-to-back position. This position also has great advantages for the backup person. In the back-to-back position, the entire lower body is on the ground, giving us great stability. From the kneeling position, we are able to drive the hoseline as we advance it. We will discuss this later.   

The backup man can also act as the eyes behind the nozzle man. He will be able to see what is going on around and behind the two-man team. The nozzle man is going to be busy trying to find the seat of the fire and then applying water to it. Sometimes we get into tunnel vision mode in which we ignore our surroundings and focus on one task – the fire. The backup man should be checking the environment at all times as a precaution. 

The backup man is also the communicator of the team. He will be the one communicating with the members inside the structure, who will let him know when they need more hose, need hose taken out or if they need more help. He will also be the one doing most of the work on the hoseline. When more hose is needed, the backup man will be responsible for feeding it; the opposite is true as the firefighters retreat from the structure. When team members are hooking up to a standpipe system (see photo 4), the backup man will be responsible for establishing the hook up and then making sure that all the kinks are out of the hoseline as it being advanced into position. He will also be the one turning on the water supply.

In the 5th edition of the IFSTA Essentials book, we are shown some techniques that replace the backup man. On page 652, we are shown the use of hose straps. These straps are designed to aid the nozzle man with full control of the hoseline and the nozzle. This method of hoseline control may seem innovative, but does it really work? The hose strap will take away the nozzle reaction, but it will not allow the nozzle man to have full control of the nozzle. As discussed in the August article, the main objective of the nozzle man is to control the nozzle. This is done only with the aid of a backup person. For defensive operations, one person can operate a hoseline but not with a hose strap; he is better off looping the hoseline under itself and sitting on it. This way he will be able to control the nozzle and not have to fight against the nozzle reaction.

The position of backup man is always overlooked and is never the glamorous spot on the hoseline. Everybody fights for the nozzle so that they can fight the fire; I have never seen nor heard of fights breaking out over the backup-man position. Just as in football, the quarterback or running back gets the glory for scoring touchdowns but the offensive lineman who created the hole or blocked a tackle is a needed asset on the team. So is the backup man on the hoseline.



Mark van der Feyst  began his career in the fire service in 1998 with the Cranberry Township Volunteer Fire Company, Station 21, in Pennsylvania. He served as a firefighter and training officer for four years, then joined the Mississauga Fire & Emergency Services, where he served for three years as a firefighter and shift medical instructor. He is now the training division captain for the City of Woodstock Fire Department in Ontario.


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