Canadian Firefighter Magazine

Back to Basics: Firefighter Survival

By Mark van der Feyst   

Features Fire Ground Structural

Hose line running up from the floor below. Photos: Mark van der Feyst

Firefighters are searching for reference points when trying to find our way out of a structure. In this issue, we are going to look at the hose line and how it is a valuable reference point in firefighter survival.

The hose line will direct a firefighter in one of two ways: the way out or the way in. Depending upon the intended task of the firefighter, they can either follow the hose line into the building, leading them to the fire, or they can follow the hose line out of the building, leading them to safety and away from the fire. Whether the hose line is a preconnected line or a hose hooked up to a side discharge outlet, it is attached to the engine or pump with the other end going inside the building.

Whenever a firefighter is lost or disoriented, they may be able to locate a hose line if they were searching for one while trying to find a window or door exit. When they do locate a hose line, they then need to locate a set of couplings. The hose line will be charged and full of water, so trying to pull the hose toward you to locate the couplings will not be possible. It requires the firefighter to follow the hose line with their hands until they come across a set of couplings.

I mention using the hose pulling to locate the couplings because that is what we often see in training. In training, the hose line may not be charged with water (a dry line). Many times, the firefighter going through the course will sit in the one spot, and pull the hose line toward them in an effort to find the coupling. This type of action is only lending itself to a muscle memory habit. In training, charge the hose line, fill it full of water so that the muscle memory developed will be based upon a charged line, not a dry line.


Once the coupling has been located, the next step is reading the coupling. Just like a blind person feels braille to read, we need to feel the coupling in order to read it. Let’s look at photo one and start to work our way back from the nozzle to the pump. In the photo, you will see two styles of couplings married together – the one a male coupling and the other the female coupling. The male coupling has long distinct rocker lugs running the width of the coupling, whereas the female coupling has shorter rocker lugs.

Reading the coupling ensures we head in the right direction: back to the pump. There are many different sayings that firefighters remember to help them with reading a coupling. Mine is this: “run away from the woman.” When I feel the female coupling (shorter rocker lugs), I go in the opposite direction which will take me back to the pump. If I go with the woman, then I am heading towards the nozzle (the wrong direction). Another saying is “long way out, short way in.” The long rocker lugs are the way out, the shorter rocker lugs are the way in.

When you do find the hose line, make sure that do not lose contact with it. This is your lifeline out. If both of your hands are busy, place the hose line in between your legs so that you are straddling it. You will not lose orientation of the hose by placing in between your legs.

In photos two and three, we are seeing a standpipe connection in a building. So far, we have looked at a hose line in a residential structure where the hose line runs outside to the pump, but what about when the hose line is connected to a standpipe system?

There are two types of standpipes. They will either be located in the stairway or in the hallway. Either way, the hose line needs to be secured to the standpipe one floor below the fire floor. There are many reasons we want to do this but the main reason is for safety. This includes the safety of the crew working inside the building and safety of the crew to get out of the building.

By having the hose line run one floor up from the floor below (as depicted in photo four), means the firefighter(s) following that hose line to get out of the danger area will be able to follow it to a safer place, one floor below. In photo three, the standpipe cabinet is in a hallway located across from the stairway door. Some will argue that if they were to connect on the fire floor, they would be able to follow the hose line back to the cabinet, and then be able to locate the stairwell door to go down to a safer area. But, LODDs have sometimes resulted from firefighters becoming disoriented in a very small area, let alone in a high-rise building. Trying to locate a stairwell door in visible conditions is easy, trying to locate it in zero visibility conditions, coupled with intense heat, a need to get out now and tunnel vision setting in, will be a detriment to the crew. It is better to err on the side of caution and run the hose line one floor below the fire floor. Remove the thinking and allow for just the action to take place.

Practice reading couplings takes with your structural gloves on. This can be done at anytime in the day or night at any place in the station. Train on it.

Mark van der Feyst has been in the fire service since 1999 and is a full-time firefighter. He is an international instructor teaching in Canada, the United States, FDIC and India. Contact him at

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