Author(s): Ken Willette. Published on July 1, 2016.

Not Easy, But Essential

The challenge of improving attack hoses for the fire service

BY KEN WILLETTE

Drawing on his experience developing heat-resistant shields for NASA spacecraft, Anthony Calomino, a senior materials engineer at NASA’s Langley Research Center, understands the challenges of designing a better, more resilient fire hose.

“Just because it’s not rocket science doesn’t mean it’s easy,” he told attendees at the Fire Protection Research Foundation’s Fire Hose Workshop, held in May in Denver, Colorado. Determining revisions to NFPA 1961, Fire Hose, isn’t easy, either, as I learned later at a meeting of NFPA’s Fire Hose Technical Committee. As one longtime member told me, the committee is taking a new look at the performance characteristics of fire hose “in a way I haven’t seen in my 20 years on the committee.”

While not easy, improving attack hoses through research and codes and standards is vitally important for firefighter safety. This point was made painfully clear after Lt. Edward Walsh and firefighter Michael Kennedy of the Boston Fire Department died while fighting a blaze in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood in 2014. A subsequent investigation found that their attack hose burned through inside the building, rendering it unable to supply water to the nozzle. It is a firefighter’s nightmare to realize that the water needed to suppress a fire will not arrive. We must do all we can to make sure attack fire hose meets the demands of today’s firefighting environment.

Prior to its meeting to discuss code revisions, the NFPA 1961 technical committee joined dozens of others at the Denver Fire Hose Workshop and heard various presentations. Among them was new research presented by Worcester Polytechnic Institute and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives on thermal-induced failure of fire hoses. It is the first in-depth laboratory research into the characteristics of fire hose in decades. That work is compelling, but unanswered questions remain that will need to be addressed in future research.

The technical committee ultimatly requested approval to slip cycle, pushing the release of a new fire hose standard out one additional year, to 2018, allowing extra time to refine fire hose test criteria and other evaluative criteria.

There is a lot to consider. To meet the needs of the fire service, a fire hose must be thermal- and abrasion-resistant, flexible, and adaptable to the tactics of our largest and smallest fire departments. One challenge to achieving that is creating heat test standards that can be used to compare the performance characteristics of various brands of fire hose under specific conditions. A second is how to convert the results of those technical tests into meaningful statements that illustrate what a line firefighter can expect from attack fire hose in various fire conditions. Having that understanding will allow the fire service to be better informed in the selection and use of attack fire hose.

Despite the work left to do, the Denver workshop provided a wealth of information for the committee, which it will reflect on as it develops new recommendations. In the short term, the next edition of NFPA 1961 will contain new performance characteristics to allow users to compare different attack hose products and convert that into awareness training for those who use the hose. In the long term, it will motivate fire hose manufacturers to look for new materials to provide the highest thermal protection possible, paving the way for the fire hose of the future.

KEN WILLETTE is fire service segment director at NFPA. Top Photograph: iStockphoto