A side view of a Live Oak Fire Department fire truck connected to a fire hydrant—Mercedes Textiles Know Your Hose Resource

Knowing Supply / Large Diameter Hose

Right-Sizing Supply 1/3 : Advancing Supply Strategy for The Modern Fireground

Written by Captain Caleb Langer

[ This is part 1 of a three-part series. PART 2 | PART 3]

In recent years, the fire service has made tremendous advances in hose & nozzle attack packages. Departments, companies, committees and working groups have gone to great lengths to evaluate and select the right nozzle and hose configurations for their response areas, based on modern realities and scientific data.

But these same modern realities also call for a renewed focus on the supply side, and departments could benefit from a “package”-based approach for water supply, too.

The fireground requires speed and flexibility in response and tactics. A one-size fits all approach limits that flexibility and often slows things down with more-cumbersome-than-necessary solutions... A straight, unsupported forward lay with 5” is like driving nails with a sledge hammer!

While there is tremendous value in simplicity, as Einstein is often quoted as saying: “everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” We can keep the decision-making process simple while giving our crews more effective tools, enabling them to use the right tool for the job!

We have come so far on the fire attack side; our firefighters deserve better on the water supply side. It's time to make water supply sexy...


Supply strategies should match modern realities and reflect current science and best practices, prioritizing speed of deployment for interior crews, while taking steps to provide an adequate water supply. Strategies should be scalable to match the needs of the incident.

As we consider options, we keep in mind two guiding principles for any supply strategy: 1. Don’t delay interior occupation of the building (multiple crews) and 2. don’t run out of water when you need it. Save lives and get water on the fire.

For the progressive fire department, this can mean flexible strategies to best match local conditions, including:

  • Positioning for engine’s own hydrant

  • Backstretch (reverse attack lay)

  • Hand stretch

  • Reverse supply lay

  • Forward lay

To enable this, hose bed configurations should be optimized to support the above strategies. This can include:

  • Right-sizing supply setup to maximize hosebed space and ease operations (see Part 3)

  • Bulk beds that allow for backstretch/long stretch options

  • Including hand stretch options

  • Optimized forward & reverse lay options

Improving Your Short Game

Before delving into main hose bed configurations, it can be helpful to first optimize how we specify and utilize our shorter lengths of hose.

The terminology used to refer to short sections of large diameter hose varies greatly by region. Some departments call them “pony lengths", while others call them “jumpers” or “shorties”. “Soft suction” and “soft sleeve” are terms used specifically for hydrant-to-pumper intake lines.

One of the first considerations is the lengths selected for these hose lines. Local variations, such as street conditions and spotting practices will have an impact on length, but the following criteria have found significant success:

  • 25’ lengths: used as soft sleeves for front (or rear) intakes. The 25’ length allows the engine to stop 10-15 short of (or past) the hydrant and provides some forgiveness for imperfect spotting, as well as allowing the length to reach a hydrant that’s across a row of on-street parking.

  • 35’ lengths: as the shorter of two general-use pony lengths carried, the 35’ length allows hydrant spotting as above, but with the pony length reaching a side intake. Compared to 25’ lengths used for side intake connections, the 35’ allows some forgiveness in spotting or to reach a set back hydrant, and reduces the potential for hose to wedge under a front or rear tire of the engine when charged from the hydrant. When a coupling for hose laid from the main bed falls less than 20’ from the tailboard, the 35’ works well for making up the distance.

  • 50’ lengths: 50’ pony lengths work well as a complement to 35’ lengths. The 50’ can reach an unusually set back hydrant, but more importantly can reach from the hydrant to the far side of the apparatus to an intake or discharge. This allows the company to double- or triple-tap the hydrant (“heavy hookup”) utilizing the opposite side intake, as well as pumping a hydrant assist valve (“HAV”, Humat, Oasis valve, etc) when the LDH discharge is on the opposite side of the apparatus from the hydrant (and therefore the HAV). For hose laid from the main bed, the 50’ length can make up the distance to a coupling falling within approximately 35’ of the tailboard. When street conditions are particularly tight and unforgiving, the combination of 35’s and 50’s allow virtually any distance short of a full 100’ length to be made up to side, front or rear intakes.

When it comes to the quantity of short lengths carried, available space on the engine company is often the limiting factor. Ideally each front and/or rear intake has a dedicated soft sleeve stored in a purpose-built tray adjacent to it. For the 35’ and 50’ pony sections, having two of each length per engine is ideal, allowing for considerable flexibility in hydrant hookups, pumping hydrant assist valves, making up distance from 100’ lengths, feeding ladder pipes and other apparatus, and a variety of other tasks. Specifying engine company apparatus with hose troughs in both side running boards can accommodate these lengths with a 35’ and 50’ on each side. The troughs can be free floating and designed with angled bottom corners on the front and rear to help reduce the chance of damage. The troughs should include dry decking and drain holes, and hose can be pulled out, washed and re-loaded as necessary.

Hose diameter and thread types on short lengths will also be based on local configurations. For dedicated soft sleeves, 5” or even 6” hose is ideal to minimize friction loss and maximize capacity from the hydrant. These soft sleeves can utilize threaded long-handle connections, with a 6” female on the intake side, and 4-½” (or local standard steamer port size) on the hydrant side. If 5” LDH is utilized as supply hose in the area, the hydrant end can be a 5” Storz coupling married to a 5” Storz x steamer port thread adapter.

One practice that works especially well for storage of pony lengths is the use of a donut roll. This configuration is compact and stores readily in wells and compartments, and allows the couplings from both ends to be accessed without unrolling it. Given this advantage, the operator connects one end to the intake (or discharge) and simply walks with the opposite coupling to the hydrant or other point, allowing the roll to pay out as it spins. This eliminates the need to toss out a length to unroll it, and the associated potential for it to roll to an undesired location and the subsequent need to retrieve it.

The decision to pre-connect short lengths or not will depend on local practices and available intakes on the engine. Generally, front and rear intakes used primarily for hydrant connections work well with soft sleeves preconnected to them, while pony lengths for side intakes are typically best left without being connected, since side intakes are commonly used to receive feeder lines, and disconnecting Storz couplings is generally more time consuming than connecting them.

One final tip for the use of short sections involves how 100’ supply hose lengths are specified. Many manufacturers will allow the addition of bands stenciled around the circumference of the hose to indicate distance, often for minimal cost. For attack hose (50’ lengths), stenciling a band at the midpoint of the hose is helpful in a variety of applications, but for supply hose (100’ sections) a single band stenciled at the midpoint of the hose and double bands stenciled at the 25’ & 75’ points are also useful. When hose has been laid from the bed, these bands allow the operator to gauge at a glance how much of a length of supply line is on the ground and how much of that length remains in the bed, which in turn allows them to quickly and accurately select the proper pony length to make up the distance, or determine if one is needed at all.

Here we’ve discussed the idea of advancing supply strategies for the modern fireground, as well as how to improve your short game. In the next installment we’ll discuss considerations for jacketed supply line, and in Part 3 we’ll get in-depth on right-sizing your supply strategy.

About the Author:
Captain Langer joined the fire service in 1999 and has since worked for combination and career fire departments covering a range of response areas. He currently serves with the Northampton Fire Rescue Department (MA) where he holds the rank of Captain, having recently finished his tenure as the department’s training officer.

Caleb holds an A.S. in Fire Science from Greenfield Community College and is a graduate of Northeastern University’s Paramedic Program. His areas of focus in the fire service include engine company operations & water supply, fireground tactics and fire apparatus design, topics he has written on for Fire Engineering Magazine. He is rooted in a mission-oriented approach, dedicated to improving operational effectiveness.