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Back up line vs 2nd line: What is the difference?

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Have you ever pulled on a fire scene as the 2nd or 3rd due engine/quint and been told to pull a “backup line” or a “2nd line”?  Have you ever wondered what exactly the difference is?  Well the answer is actually quite simple but your definition must match up with the Incident commander’s definition.  You must clarify your orders with the IC; this can be done effectively by repeating your orders back to the IC via radio or face to face.

            The engine company is the most vital part of any successful fire operation.  As I was once told by a firefighter who’s smarter and wiser than me that “If you put the fire out all the other problems go away”.  This means that you could have occupants trapped and hanging out of windows and if the fire is put out quickly and efficiently then these problems fix themselves pretty soon after.  Getting attack lines into strategic positions as quickly as possible is the #1 priority for any engine/quint company on the fire ground.  Now if you’re the officer in charge of an incoming engine/quint company and your crew is tasked with providing a “backup line” or a “2nd line” YOU need to know the difference.  It could be the difference in the fire going out quickly or being on scene with a “Surround and drown”. 

            A “backup line” does exactly what it says and backs up the initial fire attack team.  The rule of thumb for deploying a “backup line” is that it should be of the same size or larger than the 1st line, for example if the 1st due engine/quint pulled a 1 ¾ but the conditions call for a larger caliber line than the backup line should be a 2 ½.  If conditions do not call for a larger line it should at least be equal size.  Remember the following acronym when deciding what size hose line to deploy in these situations; ADULTS

Advanced fire conditions upon arrival

Defensive operations

Unknown location of the fire

Large structures

Tons of water needed

Standpipe system

If you have one of the above situations than more than likely the 2 ½ should be the line of choice, with a smoothbore nozzle of course but that is a totally separate discussion. Now some doubters will say the 2 ½ is too big, cumbersome, and manpower intensive but the bottom line is that if it is pumped at the right pressure and is trained on regularly the 2 ½ is a very versatile tool to quickly deliver a knockout punch to a rapidly growing fire.

            To summarize the purpose of the “backup line”, it should go in the same direction as the initial attack line and its sole purpose is to protect the fire attack team as they make a push on the fire. 

            The “2nd line” is another option for the IC.  When asked to deploy a “2nd line” you as the engine/quint boss should be thinking about where the fire is going next.  The “2nd lines” purpose is to fight fire where the 1st line isn’t, its primary duty is to go wherever the fire might be heading.  A good example of this would be a fire on the 2nd floor of a 2 story residence.  The hose layout would go as follows; 1st line would go the 2nd floor to the seat of the fire and is  placing  a hose line in between the fire and any potential victims, backup line would go to the top of the stairs to protect the fire attack team, and lastly the 2nd line would go to the attic to check for vertical fire extension and also suppress fire along the way.  The same rules apply for the 2nd line just as they do for the backup line when selecting the proper hose line size.

            In conclusion the very simple task of providing a “backup” or a “2nd line” can become very confusing if everyone’s vocabulary isn’t on the same page.  It is vital to know exactly what your assignment is when given by the IC.  If your unclear do not be afraid to ask him to clarify what he/she needs done.  The proper placement of all hose lines is in fact a matter of life and death and in the end you be saving your own life.

 

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