Fire Fighting in Canada

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Fire IQ: October 2011

If you’ve been around the fire service long enough, you realize that there’s almost nothing that’s too basic to review from time to time.

September 28, 2011 
By Peter Hunt

If you’ve been around the fire service long enough, you realize that there’s almost nothing that’s too basic to review from time to time.

For the purpose of this column, pump operations will refer to checking the apparatus and equipment, driving the apparatus in emergency and non-emergency situations and emergency-scene apparatus placement and pumping.

As with any other aspect of fire fighting, maintaining a condition of readiness that includes thorough maintenance of the apparatus and equipment will go a long way toward reducing the likelihood of problems when we can least afford them. Despite this obvious assumption, how many of us have occasionally rushed through or even skipped a truck check due to call volume, training schedules or complacency?

Whether you are an urban, rural, career, part-time or volunteer firefighter, anything less than a thorough check of the apparatus and every piece of equipment at the start of the shift or on training days simply indicates that you are not committed to your sworn obligation to protect the lives and property of those you serve.


While some jurisdictions have created specialized positions of engineers or chauffeurs that come with a slight pay increase, most of us rotate through the position of pump operator while also developing our skills on the nozzle. Whatever the case in your department, the skills required to do the job safely and effectively include mechanical aptitude, defensive driving and a strong knowledge of friction loss and hydraulics.

No discussion concerning pump operations (and specifically the driving/response aspect) would be complete without a reminder that some of us are still not buckling up, and senseless and unnecessary injuries are still occurring. It requires a serious commitment on the part of pump operators, with the support of their officers, to ensure that the apparatus does not move until everyone is seated and seatbelts are fastened.

Arriving at the fire building is always a source of stress for operators as they search for the perfect location to ensure the speedy placement of the initial-attack hoseline, while also allowing for adequate space for the ladder truck. Most fire-department pumpers are designed with transverse beds or cross lays, which are generally 60 metres (200 feet) long, for the initial attack. They are rarely used in my department, as the pumper usually goes so far past the fire building to accommodate the ladder truck that we are forced to stretch a 120-metre (400-foot) line from the rear. Although it’s often not doable, I remind my pump operators to consider the possibility of stopping short instead of driving past, which might streamline the operation. This will allow the nozzle team to stretch the shorter and more manageable cross lay while also placing the apparatus closer to the hydrant (or, at least, eliminating the large-diameter supply line from the street immediately in front of the fire building where the ladder is setting up).

Whether stopping short or driving past, pump operators need to understand that they are not spotting the apparatus as much as they are placing the hose bed and/or the rear of the apparatus in the best possible position to facilitate the stretch and make the hydrant connection. We all have that special building in our district – usually a low-rise residential complex without standpipes – that requires every metre of our longest attack line to reach the farthest apartment on the top floor. Apparatus placement can make or break the timely arrival of the nozzle at the unit of origin in buildings like these.

Once the pump operator has spotted the apparatus, the initial-attack hoseline has been stretched and the hydrant connection has been made, a safe working pump pressure must be established. While space does not permit a discussion of friction loss and hydraulics, pump operators must have a thorough knowledge of the subject to ensure the correct nozzle pressure for the attack team. In addition, it’s essential to know the correct pump pressure for those times when we may need to deviate from it – such as a pot-on-the-stove situation, in which the nozzle team needs an adequate water supply but the correct pump pressure could be counterproductive.

If the pump operator supplied the initial attack hoseline from the booster tank prior to securing a water supply from a hydrant, it is imperative that the booster tank be refilled immediately upon doing so. The 2,250 litres (500 gallons) of water carried on board could be the difference between life and death if there is a failure in the water supply and the nozzle team has to bail out. For reasons such as this, it is critical that the pump operator carry a radio at all times during an operation to maintain contact with the crew inside.

It’s also worth mentioning that it’s dangerous to drive past a hydrant with the expectation that the second-due pump will catch it and supply firefighters upon arrival. I have run out of water at a fire and although it is embarrassing at the very least, it could be deadly at worst, jeopardizing the lives of civilians or firefighters in the building.

There’s an old saying in the fire service that the single best tactic to save the largest number of people and keep property damage to a minimum is to get water on the fire as quickly as possible. Pump operators can go a long way toward ensuring this occurs through proper maintenance of the apparatus and equipment, safe driving practices and a thorough knowledge of pump operations. Good luck.

Peter Hunt, a 29-year veteran of the fire service, is a captain in the Ottawa Fire Department’s suppression division. He can be reached at

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