An Expert Guide to Fire Hoses and Fire Hose Reels

Fire Hoses

Used for over 250 years, fire hoses started life as long strips of leather sewn together. They evolved into the efficient, high-tech fire hoses of today. Purchasing fire hoses and executing replacement plans can be confusing and complicated. It’s important to implement plans including colour-coding systems, uniform brands and models, recommendations of the NFPA 1962 and annual testing via reputable testing companies.  

In the UK, fire hose design is governed by a British Standard, BS 6391:2009. The male and female couplings on each end are also to a British Standard, BS336. The most common in the UK is the Type 3 hose, due to its durability. Hose types include: 

  • Type 1 hoses with no external treatments applied. 

  • Type 2 hoses with external coating applied to the reinforcement for protection against the absorption of liquids. 

  • Type 3 hoses with external elastomeric coating to ensure very low absorption of liquids and high resistance to abrasion and heat.  

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Hose selection 

For the high-rise environment, repeated tests and trials direct the use of UK-FRS to 15/52mm hose. It offers optimum performance in restricted places and is flexible for manual handling. Hose weight should be addressed and balanced with the ability of the hose to withstand the tough environment of high-rise fires. Other selections include: 

  • 38mm hoses that are light and manoeuvrable. They’re used at marine, ship and forestry fires. They exhibit very high frictional loss and shouldn’t be used for incidents at high-rises due to the inability to provide suitable flow rates.  

  • 45mm hoses are commonly taken inside buildings. Generally, they offer balance between flow characteristics, charged weight and manoeuvrability. It’s important to remember that when restriction is placed on the supply to a 45mm fire hose, which is common at high-rise incidents, high levels of frictional loss will impede performance. Hose lines may need to be deployed in high rise buildings over 50m.  
  • 51mm/52mm hoses provide the best balance of flow characteristics, charged weight and manoeuvrability in the high-rise environment. 

  • 64mm hoses are commonly referred to as 70mm hoses, though the diameter is 64mm. This is the mainstay hose for most UK fire services, with excellent flow characteristics. However, they’re heavy when fully charged and difficult to manoeuvre. It is extremely hard to deploy lines of 70mm into compartments for high-rise environments.  

Hose management: stowage and deployment 

How a fire hose is laid is known as hose make-up and it’s an important consideration before deployment. There are four common methods.  

Known as ‘hose on the coil’ over female coupling, rolled make-up systems have a proven record. However, a downfall is that the hose must be deployed via hand rolling. This requires space and creates restrictions in high-rise corridors and lobbies.  

Dutch rolled 
Referred to as ‘hose on the bight’, dutch rolled is where the fire hose is double-backed on itself then rolled towards the two couplings. This is a fast and convenient hose make-up. It requires extensive space to deploy, therefore it’s less than ideal for high-rise corridors and lobbies. 

Known as ‘zig-zagged’, a flaked hose is commonly used in the USA. Historically, UK fire services had quick deployment lines pre-made in the pump locker. Most often, this consisted of two lengths of 45mm hose flaked in a tray in the rear locker and a pre-connected branch.  

Often called a roundabout hose load, this stems from an American deployment technique used for wildfires. It’s a proven and beneficial method both in terms of hose management and deployment speed. Via restricted space tests, it’s been determined that this method appears to provide the easiest and fastest deployment in areas like stairwells, lobbies and corridors. It is by the far best make-up for high-rises and limited space deployment.  

Recent research in the UK has revealed that the preferred deployment is the Cleveland/Carmel carried over the shoulder. The most common make-up method with UK appliances are the conventionally rolled over the female couplings method and the dutch rolled. It’s important to ensure that the selected method of make-up is approved by the fire hose manufacturer, in order to prevent placing undue stress or loads on it.

Specifying and buying 

As frontline firefighters must put an extreme amount of trust in fire hoses, it’s crucial that thorough research is conducted into several factors prior to buying one. The factors extend far beyond the budget. Considerations include the construction of fire hoses, the material used, kink resistance, durability and ease of cleaning, packing and storing. New NFPA standard updates must also be considered.  

In order to begin the process of selection, it’s important to understand how fire hoses are classified. This can be broken into the two general categories of supply and attack. Some large diameter hoses are dual-purpose and are usually 3 - 5 inches in diameter. Attack hoses typically have diameters of 1 - 2.5 inches. Supply hoses are usually 3 inches or more in diameter. 


Diameter variance 

According to current standards, manufacturers can provide fire hoses of varying internal diameters that may not be identical to the diameter stamped on the outer jacket. Depending on the construction of the hose, radial expansion may occur, which results in a larger internal diameter under pressure. It’s important to specify the desire for a hose true to its diameter.

Jacket selection 

There are two common types of jackets for modern fire hoses, including rubber and woven jackets. Synthetic woven jackets are available in nylon and polyester. Nylon is strong, however, requires abrasion-resistant coatings. Polyester is more durable and budget-friendly. Jackets are available as single or double jackets. Single jackets are used for supply hoses and forestry hoses, however, double jackets may be better for standpipe operations.

Liner options 

The most common fire hose linings are ethylene propylene diene monomer, thermoplastic and extruded polyurethane or nitrile rubber. EPDM is usually cost-effective and applied with adhesive to the inner jacket. They can be subject to delamination over the life of the hose. The best way to detect deterioration is to flow test it.  

Thermoplastic liners are also applied with adhesive and offer a lighter liner that’s prone to less degradation. However, they may be subject to faster burn-through. They don’t stretch as easily as EPDM liners and are more likely to delaminate across time. Extruded liners are popular and applied in a liquid state to the fabric. These liners offer a hydraulically efficient waterway, but this means that the friction loss values differ from the actual flow performance of the hose.



Coatings protect fire hoses from things like hot embers, extra water, other fluids and abrasion. Coloured coatings often come at an added cost. Different materials are used and each may have a different feel. When specifying coloured hoses with different coloured stripes, it’s good to know that the colour coating applied after the hose is woven may change the colour of the woven tracer stripe.


The most common lengths for attack fire hoses are 50 and 100 feet. The choice depends on ease of storage and rolling, along with flexibility needs. The length of supply hoses largely depends on the diameter. For example, a large diameter supply line is often best specified in 100’ lengths. Carrying two of each offers flexibility when connecting to four-way valves or multiple supply lines to the rig. 

Host fit 

Due to variations in width and thickness from manufacturers, consider how the fire hose will fit in the hosebed, troughs or wells. This is determined via a volumetric calculation that’s used to determine the amount of fire hose that fits within a given space.

Other tips 

Local fire equipment vendors offer the best resources for specifying and buying fire hoses. It’s a good idea to contact manufacturers directly for information and demonstrations. Always compare brands during the process of selection and ask for supply proof testing. Before you purchase fire hoses, be familiar with local requirements and laws. NFPA 1962 governs the use, care, inspection, testing and replacement of fire hoses, nozzles and appliances. NFPA 1961 covers fire hose construction.

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The weight of a fire hose matters when you’re transporting it. To determine how much it weighs, you must calculate the weight of the hose plus the weight of the water, which tends to be 8 Ibs per gallon. For example, a fire hose may weigh 85 Ibs and the water might weigh 120 Ibs.  

Yes. Cutting a fire hose is one of the ways they are recycled after going out of service.

Rolling hoses is done for storage on fire hose reels and direct use. Use a donut roll for direct use and easy unloading in order to connect to couplings. The straight method is used for storage at the firehouse or loading hoses onto trucks. It features a coiled effect to make it easier to fill with water. 

Fire hose pressure is tested when preparing a fire hose to work and should be tested every six months and once a year according to requirements.  

Techniques for cleaning fire hoses include using warm water and detergent to rinse the exterior. Ensure hoses are completely dry before storing them.  

The most common lengths for fire hoses are 50 and 100 feet.  

Depending on the material, length and weight, fire hoses offer different levels of flexibility suitable for a variety of uses.