How much fire hose should a pumper have?

Stepping outside the “that’s how we’ve always done it” mindset will set the rigs up for current and future needs

How much thought has really gone into the amount and type of fire hose carried on your department’s Type I engines? Unpacking this question is a good exercise for any department to undertake whether it’s outfitting a new pumper or evaluating what they currently have.

For those who are looking at the existing hose that’s carried on your department’s Type I engines, it helps to be mindful of confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is the tendency to favor information that confirms existing assumptions, preconceptions or hypotheses whether those are true or not.

In the context of fire hose, when evaluating the amount and types of hose that’s currently on your apparatus — which you’re likely very familiar and comfortable with from your experience using it — confirmation bias might prevent you from taking an objective look.

NFPA 1901 is the best place to start when determining how much hose is needed for your engine.
NFPA 1901 is the best place to start when determining how much hose is needed for your engine.

When looking at how to stock your new apparatus with hose, confirmation bias might hold you back from outfitting the new pumper with the hose you need for today and tomorrow, rather than what worked yesterday.

With that understood, it is best to begin with what is required. NFPA 1901: Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus (2016 edition) specifies the following hose and nozzles for pumper fire apparatus in Chapter 5.

  • 800 feet of 2½-inch or larger hose.
  • 400 feet of 1½-inch, 1¾-inch or 2-inch hose.
  • One handline nozzle, 200 gpm minimum.
  • Two handlines nozzles, 95 gpm minimum.
  • One smooth bore or combination nozzle with 2½-inch shut-off that flows a minimum of 250 gpm.

Chapter 6 of the standard sets these minimum hose and nozzle specifications.

  • 300 feet of 2½-inch or larger fire hose.
  • 400 feet of 1½-inch, 1¾-inch or 2-inch fire hose.
  • Two handline nozzles, 95 gpm minimum.


Why the discrepancy? Chapter 3 of the standard provides the answer to that question.

“Pumper. Fire apparatus with a permanently mounted fire pump of at least 750 gpm (3,000 l/min.) capacity, water tank, and hose body whose primary purpose is to combat structural and associated fires (3.3.146).

“Initial Attack Apparatus. Fire apparatus with a fire pump of at least 250 gpm (1,000 l/m) capacity, water tank, and hose body whose primary purpose is to initiate a fire suppression attack on structural, vehicular or vegetation fires, and to support associated fire department operations (3.3.93).”

The former refers to Type I and Type II engines while the latter refers to Type III engines. For our purposes, we’ll focus on Type I and Type II engines.

FEMA’s Resource Typing Definition for Public and Private Services and Resources: Fire and Hazardous Materials has its own specifications for Type I and II engines. Those are pretty much in line with NFPA 1901 and calls for 1,200 feet of 2½-inch hose, 500 feet of 1½-inch hose and 200 feet of 1-inch hose. 

If your Type I or II engine could participate in operations at federal incidents, and your department wants to be eligible to file for compensation, it must be NFPA 1901 compliant and meet the minimum FEMA Resource Typing Definition.

Plan tactically

The type and amount of hose that your department carries aboard its Type I or II engine should be based upon the department’s tactical needs. Here are some questions to ponder, starting with water supply hose needs.

  • Is your department staffing career, volunteer or a combination?
  • If your department operates primarily from a municipal water supply, what are the typical hose lay lengths and what is the average available fire flow from hydrants on the system?
  • If your department uses primarily rural water supply, what is the average on-scene fire flow that your department (along with mutual aid departments) is capable of providing?

Pre-connected 1¾- or 2-inch hoses have become the norm across the fire service for attack lines. Typically, these are loaded with hose 200 to 250 feet in length.

If your jurisdiction has a significant number of single-family residences that are greater than 4,000 square feet — “McMansions” — determine if a pre-connected line of 200 to 250 feet will reach all areas of such structures.

Likewise, it is important to inventory the number of commercial structures that are 40,000 square feet or larger. That’s a structure that’s at least 200 feet wide and 200 feet deep. Again, can a preconnected line of 200 to 250 feet reach all areas of such structures, even if the pumper is located right at an entrance door?

Do you have multi-family residential dwellings like apartment complexes that have multi-stories, have significant building off-sets from parking areas or have limited access to the C side? If so, you’re going to need the ability to stretch supply lines that can be gated down to supply your smaller handlines.

Does your community have residential dwellings located in the wildland-urban interface or a significant amount of forested land? If so, you should be carrying at least several hundred feet of 1-inch forestry hose with the ability to lay supply lines and gate them down to supply that forestry hose.

These are just a few issues fire department leaders must consider when deciding the types and amount of hose to carry aboard the Type I or II engines. Don’t be surprised if addressing these issues brings up many others that you’ll want to consider.

Keep an open mind and be aware of your personal and departmental biases.

This article, originally published in 2016, has been updated.

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