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Back to Basics: Nozzle management 101


September 16, 2008
By Mark Van Der Feyst

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With the advent of the pistol-grip nozzle came poor and sloppy nozzle handling skills. Everybody became a cowboy or a six shooter by holding the nozzle at the hip to direct the stream of water.

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By facing backward and putting his whole back against the nozzle man, the backup man is able to support the nozzle man, extend his endurance in holding the hose line and keep watch on the conditions behind them.

With the advent of the pistol-grip nozzle came poor and sloppy nozzle handling skills. Everybody became a cowboy or a six shooter by holding the nozzle at the hip to direct the stream of water (see the middle photo). I have seen everybody from the new recruit to the seasoned veteran hold a pistol-grip nozzle in this fashion. The nozzle with no pistol grip offers the same water delivery method as the pistol grip. The pistol-grip nozzle was designed to make it easier for one person to hold the nozzle but nobody should ever operate a nozzle alone. The pistol-grip nozzle is a good nozzle and offers many advantages. We have forgotten the basics of handling a nozzle correctly and efficiently because of the availability of the pistol-grip handle. If we stick to the basics of fire fighting or, in this case, the basics of holding and operating a nozzle correctly, we will maximize our efforts in fire suppression.  

Handling a hose line requires at least two people. The reactionary forces produced by the movement of water exiting the nozzle work against the person who is handling it.  This is why we always want at least two people handling a hose line. As depicted in the middle photo, the natural tendency is to hold the nozzle by its pistol-grip handle. Look at how close the nozzle is to the firefighter’s body. This firefighter will not be able to move the nozzle around to be effective. In order for him to move the nozzle up, down, left or right, he will have to move his whole body. Chances are the nozzle man is probably taking all the nozzle reaction because the backup man is not doing his job.  This increases the ineffectiveness of handling or directing the nozzle up, down, left or right.  The firefighter will have to move his whole body and control the nozzle reaction by holding the nozzle close to his body. 

Nozzle reaction is present with any type of nozzle. The amount of nozzle reaction being produced will depend on the amount of water flowing. The more water and  pressure being pumped, the greater the nozzle reaction. A single person cannot hold a nozzle for a long time without experiencing fatigue due to the reactionary forces fighting against him. This is where the backup man comes into play. He has an important job to do, and that job is to take the nozzle reaction away from the nozzle man. By doing this, the nozzle man will have the ability and the freedom to control and direct the nozzle. 

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Holding the pistol-grip nozzle at the hip has become the norm but it is incorrect and ineffective.

How do we accomplish this? We attain proper nozzle management by going back to basics. Whether you have a pistol-grip nozzle or just a plain nozzle, going back to basics will work every time. In the bottom photo, we can see the foundation of proper nozzle management. Look at the nozzle in relation to the firefighter. The nozzle is about an arm’s length away from the firefighter. When his arm is fully extended, it should be able to grip the bale of the nozzle in the closed position. With the nozzle in this position, the firefighter will be able to direct the stream of water in any direction he wishes. To move the stream up, down, left or right will be a simple matter of moving the nozzle and not his whole body. Once the nozzle is open, the left hand can move onto the hose just behind the coupling to aid in the control of directing the nozzle.

Next, notice the hose in the arms of the first firefighter. The hose is up under his armpit and close to his body. His right hand is on the hose, holding the hose close to his body.  He is resting his right arm on his right leg to help ease the burden of holding the hose line. This will maximize and extend the duration of handling the hose line. From this position, the firefighter will be able to flow water, direct it in any direction and advance it when needed. With the nozzle out in front of the firefighter as shown in the bottom photo, the firefighter will be able to hold onto the hose when the hose line is being pulled out. If the firefighter in the middle photo is holding the nozzle by its pistol-grip handle and the hose line is being pulled out by his crew, which is anxious to get the hose line out, he will lose the nozzle. If he is holding the nozzle as in the bottom photo, and the same zealous crew was pulling the hose line out, he will have a chance to hold onto the nozzle and not lose it – another point for safety. Advancing a hose line from this position is easier and more effective and is another topic for discussion. 

The backup man in the bottom photo has an important job. His job is to support the nozzle man.  We teach recruits to support the nozzle man by putting one arm on their back and one foot behind the nozzle man’s foot, as per the IFSTA Essentials book. What does this do? It makes the picture look pretty, but it accomplishes nothing. In the bottom photo, look at the backup man’s position in relation to the nozzle man. He has his whole body supporting the nozzle man and has both hands holding the hose. By doing this, he is taking away the nozzle reaction from the nozzle man, and, at the same time, is supporting the nozzle man. (When it comes time to discuss hose line advancement, this position is very crucial in the drive of the hose line.) The backup man has to ensure that the hose remains in a straight line. By keeping the hose in a straight line, the backup man is ensuring the nozzle reaction stays with him. This will give the nozzle man the ability to direct the nozzle. Once the hose line is not kept straight, the nozzle reaction is transferred back to the nozzle man. This is crucial when the nozzle man is directing the stream left, right, up or down. Whichever direction the nozzle man decides to move the nozzle, the backup man has to synchronize his movements with him to maintain the straightness in the hose line. Notice how straight the hose line is in the top photo.

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The foundation of proper nozzle management, with the nozzle about an arm’s length away from the firefighter.

So far we have shown pictures with a 1.75-inch handline. This size of handline is easier to handle versus a 2.5-inch handline. The techniques discussed above also work for the 2.5-inch handline. In the top photo, a different technique is being used from the backup man to support the nozzle man. By facing backward and putting his whole back against the nozzle man, the backup man is able to support the nozzle man, extend his endurance in holding the hose line and will be able to keep watch on the conditions behind them at all times. Another technique for the 2.5-inch handline is for the nozzle man to put his one knee on the hose (using his whole body weight) while keeping the same amount of hose in front of him. This aids in one man having to flow a 2.5-inch handline by himself for a short duration while waiting for his partner.     

By going back to the basics with our nozzle management, we will produce a better trained firefighter who will be more effective in fire stream application.
     



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. 


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