The Life of a Fire Hose: Staying Safe to Save Lives

Throughout the mid-to-late 19th century, fires were typically fought using buckets full of water. Each bucket was filled by hand pumpers, which discharged water through a small pipe at the top of the pump tube, before being transported to the scene. It was not until the 1860s that hoses became widely available for use in firefighting. Since then, fire hoses have become a fundamental application used to effectively combat and extinguish all types of fires. In recognition of their importance, there are a number of practices in place to ensure that hoses perform reliably and keep firefighters safe.

Hose + Coupling World had the pleasure of speaking with Division Fire Chief William (Bill) Baker and District Fire Chief Steve Love regarding their experience with fire hoses in Toronto Fire Services (TFS), the importance of monitoring and maintaining the integrity of each fire hose, and their continuous effort to improve the safety of those in the line of duty.

By Angelica Pajkovic

Chief Officers, William Baker and Steve Love, have been firefighters with Toronto Fire Services since 1991 and 1996, respectively. With over 25 years of experience, both men have provided invaluable services to the city, and its patrons, and have risen through the ranks to achieve their prestigious titles. While their day-to-day responsibilities differ, both Division Chief Baker and District Chief Love strive to preserve the well-being of those around them by dedicating their efforts to developing and advancing the practices and technologies used to fight fires. Some of their shared focuses include the safe use, maintenance, and testing of fire hoses.

“After 27 and a half years on the trucks, I was promoted to the Division Chief of Training, where I am responsible for Recruit Induction and Return to Work Training, Operation Maintenance Training, Professional Development, and Academic Standards and Evaluations,” explained Division Chief Baker. “While I am responsible for training the firefighters in many different aspects, one of the primary focuses is on hose management. This consists of hose handling techniques, nozzle selection, and knowing your flow, as well as how to advance into, and back out of, fires with a hose line. At this moment, I am spearheading a change in hose specs for higher quality hoses at TFS.”

Division Chief William Baker and District Chief Steve Love. (Pictured from left to right).

“I am on a different side of the fence than Division Chief Baker,” relayed District Chief Love. “I began in the Mechanical Division, just shy of 25 years ago and am now responsible for the Equipment Section of TFS’s Mechanical Division. In this division we oversee the maintenance and testing of a variety of components, including couplings, nozzles, and of course hoses.”

Preventative Maintenance and Testing

To prolong the life of a hose, and ensure that it performs as intended, TFS tests and records all the fire hoses on a yearly basis.

“It takes us a full year to test all the hoses in Toronto Fire,” stated District Chief Love. “The process is really very organized. When a truck is brought into the testing station at Equipment Services, it is stripped of all its hoses, including all the spare hoses, a second or spare set, that would typically be left at the station. Each hose is then visually inspected, rolled out, and put on a large custom-made manifold. This manifold allows multiple hoses to be tested at the same time.”

The testing is very straight forward, explained District Chief Love. Each hose is connected to the manifold, which is a pressurized water source, and is charged for a minimum of 10 minutes. During this time the hoses are inspected for leaks and checked to ensure that the hose is not separating from the coupling. The hoses are then identified and marked, before being put back on the trucks, or in the fire halls as spares.

“We cycle through approximately 124 trucks a year; so, you multiply that by a number of lengths of hose assigned to that truck, spare hose included, and that is the amount of hose we test each year,” said District Chief Love. “It is important to test all of the equipment, you cannot just pick one application and focus on it. Although hoses are a vital component, everything has to work in harmony to effectively keep people safe.”

Types of Hoses

Since its inception, a number of different materials have been used to fabricate fire hoses. While at one point leather was a common material of choice, most modern fire hoses use a variety of natural and synthetic fabrics, elastomers, and rubber for their composition. These materials allow the hoses to be stored wet without moulding, and are resistant to the damaging effects of sunlight, chemicals, and abrasion.

Depending on the intended use of the hose, there are considerable variations in type and size. The two primary types of hose used to combat fires in emergency situations are discharge hoses and suction hoses. Discharge hoses are designed to operate under positive pressure and include: attack hoses, supply hoses, relay hoses, forestry hoses, and booster hoses. Suction hoses, conversely, operate under negative pressure.

“At TFS we have a particularly diverse range of hoses available to ensure we are prepared for the unique assortment of challenges firefighters face in the City of Toronto,” explained District Chief Love. “We have airports within the city, we have subways, and we also have two fire boats, so TFS hoses need to be prepared for any situation. Our biggest challenge, however, is the number of high rises in the city. Toronto, one of the most vertical cities in the world, poses extra difficulties in terms of efficiently getting the water where it needs to go. Specialized hose packs are carried into high rise buildings to combat fires.”

In preparation for emergency response, TFS typically pre-connects four lengths of hoses, roughly 60 m, that sit in the bed of the trucks and can be used for fast deployment.

The lengths of hoses that are not pre-assembled are referred to as ‘dead loads’ and can be connected on site if additional length is needed.

“Where the hose is going to be used is one of the primary factors we consider when choosing which material hose is most suitable for a particular response,” continued Division Chief Baker. The two most commonly used materials at TFS are all-rubber hoses and jacketed hoses. “On a typical pumper truck there is: 13 lengths of 100 mm hose (195 m); 16 lengths of 65 mm double jacket hoses (240 m); 19 lengths of 45 mm jacketed hose (285 m); and 3 lengths of 45 mm rubber hose loads (45 m). Each section of hose is approximately 15 m long and connects to each other using male and female couplings.” On a small rubbish fire, the front bumper hose, which is all rubber, is commonly used as this hose is easily cleaned when re-loaded into the bumper compartment. At larger structure fires, the jacketed hoses are primarily used.

A Look at Toronto Fire Services

Fire hoses undergoing pressure test at Toronto Fire Service’s Equipment Service station.

Until the 1870s, fire response teams for the City of Toronto, Canada, were composed of volunteer companies, with limited resources and training. In 1874, the Toronto Fire Department was established in the original City of Toronto, to provide fire protection. The current fire service was not established until 1998, when the City of Toronto was formed through the amalgamation of the original City of Toronto with the other cities and boroughs of Metro Toronto. Now, Toronto Fire Services (TFS) operates out of 83 fire stations.

On a daily basis, Division Chiefs, Commanders, Platoon Chiefs, District Chiefs, and Captains oversee the firefighters. TFS is currently the largest municipal fire service in Canada and has a wide range of emergency response vehicles, including: pumpers, rescue pumpers, aerial trucks, ladder trucks, aerial towers, aerial platforms, high rise response units, squads, hazardous material response units, fire boats, and associated support vehicles, to effectively manage all of Toronto’s unique fire challenges.


While in the past there was a significant difference between jacketed and all-rubber hoses, the materials used today make the choice between rubbers or jacketed relatively negligible. “The principal advantage of rubber hoses is that they are easy to clean and store,” said Division Chief Baker. “Our biggest issue with the old style of jacketed hoses was the amount of time that was required to clean and dry them prior to reuse. Once this type of hose got wet and dirty, it had to be washed and hung to dry. As fire apparatus strive to remain in service, each truck had to have two sets of hoses, the alternative to be used while the first set dries. As hose manufacturing processes have improved, the coatings on the jacketed hoses have evolved to prevent the jacket from absorbing water, oil, or greases. This improvement eliminates the need for a second set of hoses, as the coated hose can be cleaned and loaded back onto the truck without drying.”

Toronto Fire Services is therefore in the process of procuring jacketed hoses with new coated material. “There are three advantages to switching to the new fire hoses,” stated District Chief Love. “First, the maintenance and testing required on the hose is reduced as the amount of testing time is cut in half. Second, the safety aspect for firefighters is improved, as the new hoses absorbs less carcinogens and toxins, and third, there is an improvement in the quality of the hose; it is not damaged as easily and therefore has a longer lifespan.”

Progressive Standards

To ensure that fire hoses perform reliably, and to mitigate the risk of potential injury or failure, Toronto Fire Services refers to National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) standards. The NFPA is an international non-profit organization devoted to eliminating death, and injury due to fire, electrical and related hazards.

“TFS hoses follow NFPA 1962 standard, for Care, Use, Inspection, Service, Testing and Replacement of fire hoses and fire hoses appliances,” explained District Chief Love. “This standard also details the required test pressures of each hose type; we test to 2,100 kPa and the hose must be able to withstand this pressure for a minimum of 10 minutes to pass. Generally speaking, the working pressure of a firehose can vary between 350 and 1,400 kPa.”

The test pressure on the hoses used at TFS are:

  • 100mm Rubber Jacket – 200 PSI/1,400 kPa
  • 65mm Rubber Jacket Blue High Rise – 300 PSI/2,100 kPa
  • 45mm Rubber Jacket Bumper hose – 300 PSI/2,100 kPa
  • 65mm Jacketed – 300 PSI/2,100 kPa
  • 45mm Jacketed – 300 PSI/2,100 kPa

While these standards are excellent guidelines for preserving the integrity of the hose, Division Chief Baker believes there is always room to improve. “As you probably know, other than their Self Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA), hose is the biggest safety feature firefighters have when they are advancing into a hostile situation. Because of this, TFS wants to do everything possible to make that hose reliable. That is why TFS is actively working towards improving the performance of the hoses, and is doing this in two ways.”

The most recently adopted change to improve hose performance, was the transition from higher to lower water pressures. “By lowering the water pressure and increasing its volume, firefighters are able to handle the hose more easily while discharging greater amounts of water. This, in turn neutralizes the threat more quickly,” explained Division Chief Baker. “The big push that TFS is currently working on is to improve hose performance by sourcing higher quality hoses. Due to their weight, resistance to kinking, and ease of use, TFS is attempting to adopt the use of true internal diameter hoses. The true internal diameter hose maintains the diameter that is stamped on the hose, and therefore does not expand. This feature is important as expansion creates issues with excessive water weight and therefore impairs the handling of the hose. With the advances in fire science, fire services are also striving to accurately know the water flow needed to suppress modern day fire loads. For example, as per NFPA 1710, the amount of flow required for a two story dwelling is 1,140 lpm. TFS currently meets this requirement, with two 45 mm hose lines that flow 570 lpm at 350kPa, each. These are just some of the goals that TFS is striving to accomplish in order to continually improve our processes.”

Essential Applications

While the hose is arguably the most important application for firefighting, the nozzles and couplings cannot be overlooked. On TFS hand lines, there are three different nozzles predominantly used: the 65 mm combination nozzle, which discharges 950 liters per minute (lpm) at 350 KPA; the 65 mm smoothbore nozzle, which discharges 1,003 lpm at 350 kPa; and the 45 mm combination nozzle, which dischargers 570 lpm at 350 kPa. It is important to understand how each nozzle operates and to ensure that the required pressure and flow of water reach it; this flow and pressure are ultimately affected by quality, friction loss and size of the hose.

While an inadequate flow provides a weak, ineffective stream that could fail to reach the seat of the fire, too much water flow can create an excessive nozzle reaction. This in turn can make the hose line more difficult to handle and potentially jeopardize the safety of the nozzle crew.

There are various coupling and adapter sizes used by TFS. All couplings used on 65 mm hoses are CSA threaded, while those used on smaller hoses, such as the 38 mm couplings, are NPSH threaded. The 100mm hose uses Storz couplings.

Final Thoughts

Despite the fact that hoses are often dismissed as simple applications which warrant very little thought, they are an essential component of a system. Fire hoses, in particular, are not only integral to the system but are generally considered one of the most import applications for extinguishing a fire. It is therefore important to recognize all of the work that goes into monitoring and maintaining the integrity of a fire hose, and to recognize the individuals that establish the training and protocols used to protect the firefighters’ well-being.

All rubber lightweight 65 mm fire hose, typically used in high rise firefighting.

“I love technical things and the job allows me to come in every day and hopefully provide something better for the firefighter,” stated District Chief Love. “I am able to interact with a number of different divisions within Toronto Fire, and it gives me the chance to put out better, safer hoses. My goal is to have a safe piece of equipment tested, calibrated, recorded, loaded and ready for the firefighter on their day of work. That is my goal and that is what I face each morning.” “All you have is your hose and your nozzle when you advance on a fire. This is the firefighter’s protection, and it is a great feeling when you are able to use it to save lives. The chance to not only train individuals on how to properly handle the hose, but the ability to develop new protocols and specs to improve the safety of the hoses themselves, is a very rewarding opportunity that I look forward to continuing for a long time to come,” concluded Division Chief Baker.


  1. Matheson, Ewing. Aid book to engineering enterprise abroad. London: London New York, E. & F. N. Spon, 1878. Print.
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